What You Can Learn From the Habits of Successful Writers
Success is the achievement of a specific aim or purpose, and the accomplishment of goals often requires a change in behaviour or forming new habits. Luckily, many people share similar goals, and have already attempted or achieved them, allowing us to learn from their successes and failures.
But learning is not about copying; the circumstances of each individual are unique, so true learning requires observation and adaptation. Each industry has its own set of top, or highly respected, bloggers that you can learn from. Some have risen to prominence in a relatively short period of time, but most have put in considerable effort, over a long period, to achieve success.
Let’s look at some of the habits they have nurtured, and what you can learn from them, before you explore how to adapt them to your own circumstances.
Turn Writing Into a Daily Habit
Habits are formed by doing something regularly, and repeatedly, until it becomes almost automatic – you do it without really thinking. Popular opinion is that it takes 21 days to form or change a habit, but in his book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits, Jeremy Dean discusses a recent study:
In a study carried out at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit […] The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. As you might imagine, there was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do […] What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.
The most important habit, and the one advocated by almost everyone, is to write frequently.
Every day if possible.
Not everything you write needs to be published, but by writing every day you increase the automaticity of the habit, especially if you have never written much in the past. There is no magic number of words you should write each day, that is for you to determine, and possibly set as a goal for yourself.
Publish Regularly, not Frequently
Publishing new articles according to a consistent and easily identifiable (to your audience) schedule is more important than publishing new articles every day; remember the old truism of quality over quantity. Even though we advocate that you write every day, this is intended to help you turn writing into a habit, and to help improve your writing skill.
The ideal publishing schedule is one that you can comfortably maintain, with many top bloggers themselves not publishing a self-written post every day. Once you have built up an audience you can start following the example of many established bloggers and allow guest contributed articles. Note that guest contributions still require a fair amount of work, since you remain responsible for ensuring that the topics and articles match your audience expectations, and that the article won’t see your site being penalised by Google.
Implementing an editorial calendar will not only help you to stick to a regular schedule, it will also help you to plan your posts well in advance.
Read as Much as Possible
The second habit of successful writers – and one that is almost as important as writing frequently – is that they read extensively. They read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers and blogs, and most won’t limit themselves only to their area of interest, or only reading for research.
Reading widely not only improves your knowledge, it also exposes you to different ways of interpreting ideas and subjects. Reading widely also:
- exposes you to a variety of writing styles,
- helps you formulate your own opinions, and
- increases the range of your vocabulary.
Learn to Adapt to Changes Around You
Industries, audiences, technology and trends all change; some shift rapidly, while others undergo an incremental transformation. Successful writers and bloggers know this, and are able to adapt to the changes without grousing.
This is one of the other benefits of reading extensively; you will pick up on shifts as they happen. The SEO landscape has changed dramatically, especially in the last four years, and bloggers that read widely have, for the most part, been able to respond to these changes quickly, minimising any negative impact on their ranking.
Focus on Writing for an Audience
Seth Godin recently wrote about discovering a freelancer whose output consisted solely of formulaic headlines and over optimised articles. The freelancer was not writing with an audience in mind, he was writing with rankings and page views in mind.
There have been many informal studies and experiments that claim to have found the ideal length of a blog post, or the perfect headline formula, but what really works is what your actual audience responds to. You should experiment – learning, and adapting, depends heavily on experimentation – but you should also stop short of merely implementing what everyone else is doing.
Are you trying to build an audience of people who are interested in your product or service, or are you simply out to attract random page views?
Remember your blog is not Disney World, it doesn’t need to appeal to everyone.
Set Goals for Your Blog and Your Writing
You no doubt have goals, but how many of them relate to writing and blogging?
- What growth in audience size do you hope to achieve this quarter/year?
- What growth in page views do you hope to achieve in the same period?
- How many posts do you hope to publish in this period? (broken down into post type, for example, knowledge sharing, how-to guides, videos, etc.)
Consider all the things you want to achieve in relation to your blog and your writing, and translate them into SMART goals:
- Specific. What are you targeting, or aiming to improve?
- Measurable. Is there a way to monitor progress?
- Achievable. Can you realistically accomplish this?
- Relevant. Is it important to your business?
- Time-bound. When can you realistically achieve it?
Don’t fall into the trap of setting challenging goals that are overly ambitious, or unattainable, as these will frustrate you, and do more harm than good.
As we mentioned earlier, you can learn from the habits of other people; not by copying them, but by adapting them to your circumstances. You should never aim to be the next [name of favorite website/blog], but rather to best serve the needs and wants of your particular audience, in a voice and style that is unique to your website. Focus on the reading and writing goals first, and once you have an established routine built around them, you can start adapting the other habits to find what works best for you.