Improve Yourself, Improve Your Writing

Improve Yourself, Improve Your WritingIn a market as competitive as the writing world, we’re all striving to be the best writers we can be. But would you be surprised if I told you the only way to improve your writing is to be a better person?

Remember all those admirable self-improvement goals that always end up on your resolution list?

Lose ten pounds, clean the garage, learn to play foosball.

At first glance, they may not seem to have anything in common with writing, but, in fact, they’re related in several ways. They all require discipline, hard work, pragmatism, and a long-term vision.

These are all traits everyone could do with a little bit more of. You will be better people for possessing them—and, as a result, you’ll become a better writer.

You Can’t Separate Your Writing From Your Life

It’s easily to get into the habit of looking at your writing separately from the rest of your life. But if you hope to be dedicated to your writing, you have to establish corresponding habits in every corner of your lives.

You might like to think you can eat Twinkies for breakfast, leave your home and workspace in a state of disarray, and knock off commitments without a second thought—and still somehow be an ace writer. But the patterns you establish in other areas of your life will spill over to your writing.

You might possess all the talent in the world, but if you’re not willing to back it up with 110% effort, you can hardly expect—or deserve—success. Ecstatic as the pinnacles of inspiration may be, writing, at its core, is more grit than glitz, more work than riches.

It’s the same in all art fields. In his article “How to Be a Professional Cartoonist,” Hugh MacLeod makes five points that every serious author would do well to take note of, including the unappetizing:

Wake up early in the morning, head straight to the studio and crank stuff out relentlessly…

What Are the True Qualities of a Great Author?

If you were to list the “Qualities of an Author,” the traits mentioned above probably wouldn’t be the first to pop to mind. Your list might include idea such as:

Beautiful prose, sharp characters, mind-bending plots, and zinging dialogue.

And rightly so. All good authors need these in their bag of tricks. But these skills won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t also possess the ability to apply them. In A Writer’s Space, Eric Maisel, Ph.D., comments on the list of qualities every serious writer must possess:

Of course, [you] already knew what those qualities were… You just needed to heroically listen to your conscience… Become more creative by improving your character.

Millions of people want to write stories. Many do put pen to paper. But only those who are willing to cultivate a responsible lifestyle will take full advantage of their talents and their dreams. So here’s to a little self-improvement for all of us!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What responsible character traits have made you a better writer? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Very interesting article here!

    I have to say, I struggle to write anything in a mess – I need to have a good tidy, airy space to give me room for thinking.

  2. Great post, K.M.! 🙂

    Though I love writing, I still try to balance that out with my social life, health, faith, responsibilities, hobbies, etc. (not necessarily in that order) 🙂

  3. This is an interesting point–I knew someone who wanted to be a published writer. Wanted to be a best selling writer (doesn’t everyone?). When he talked about writing the book, it was about how he was going to market it after it was published. Problem: He didn’t put writing on any priority list. Everything else was more important, so nothing got written unless he had someone else prod him into doing it. He had a book done, and then, like on the cartoonist’s blog, he kept looking for shortcuts to bypass the query/agent system. Just didn’t want to discipline himself to do the hard work.

  4. Very good point, here–thanks for bringing it up. You say writing “at its core is more grit than glitz, work than riches…” So true. And as in any thing worth pursuing, it takes discipline, courage and tenacity.

    Characteristics needed, it would seem, in all areas of life!

  5. What a great post! I think you are so right, no wonder lately my writing hasn’t been fantastic, my mood has changed because it’s been a rather busy week!! Gives me things to think about!

  6. @Bethany: A neat writing space is important to me too. Neatness contributes to beauty, and beauty always encourages my creativity.

    @Mia: Sometimes it feels regrettable that we can’t always give writing first place in our lives, but our writing is all the better for having to develop other important aspects.

    @Linda: Exactly. There are few shortcuts in life and even fewer in writing. Success comes to those who work hardest for it.

    @Kenda: Successful people in all walks of life generally have to possess those qualities. What makes us think writing is any different?

    @Jenn: You raise another good point: When the rest of our life comes calling with its duties and responsibilities, forcing our writing to the top of the pile is sometimes the worst thing to do.

  7. Never thought of it that way, but you make an excellent point. Thanks for the post.

  8. When you think about it, it’s something that would apply to any profession of passion. If we’re faithful in the small things, we’ll have a better chance of being faithful in the large ones as well.

  9. Thanks for the link.I do see it as separate from the rest of my life, need to incorporate it with the rest. :O)

  10. I do consider writing a lifestyle – even if it’s never a primary source of income. (The dichotomy of money and art is another discussion altogether!) In order to take writing (or anything else) seriously, we have to be willing to seriously invest ourselves in it.

  11. Thank you for your thought-provoking (and convicting) comments. I so appreciate your desire to help us out who are just beginning. Thanks.

  12. You’ve made several good points that I hadn’t thought of previously. I can write just about anywhere regardless of the tidiness of my surroundings. I spent two years writing in coffeehouse in Hong Kong, and now I know I prefer to write in the quiet.

  13. @Nancy: It is my pleasure. Writing has given much to me. I’m happy to give back in whatever way I can.

    @Kay: I can write in busy surroundings if I have to, but only if I manage to summon an iron curtain of concentration. I’m much more relaxed, and therefore generally more creative, when I’m able to write in the quiet of my own space.

  14. You make a good point.

  15. Thanks for reading!

  16. Oh darn. You mean letting my housework slide to work on my writing is a bad thing? But I don’t wanna clean my house. 😉

    My writing space is clean, will that be enough? 😉

    *grumble* *grumble* I’ll go do a load of dishes before I write today. =)

  17. Bummer, huh? I’m right behind you with a load of laundry…

  18. I have been writing on the bus with my laptop the past since months. I finished the first draft of 2 books and I am currently working on my next 2 books. I hope to be finished all 4 by the end of the year.

    As for other areas of self improvement, I work out at a gym 2-3 times a week. I am also currently rehearsing for a production of Seussical the Musical on the weekends.


  19. Although I realize it’s a habit that doesn’t work into everyone’s schedule, I can’t speak highly enough about the benefits of writing every day. Even you have to cram it into a commute, it’s worth it!

  20. Anonymous says

    Discipline is my weak point. I have the determination (because I really like my story), but I am TREMENDOUSLY lazy! I love it when I can get some writing done. Just finished the last four pages of a chapter yesterday. Posted it on AN. Nadine Liamson

  21. Four pages in a day doesn’t sound too lazy to me! The trick is to start stringing four-page days together simultaneously.

  22. Thanks for the great post. I think that you are spot on! Habits are choices and wise choices will become good habits.

  23. Exactly. All of life is connected. We can’t make a bad decision in one area of our lives and expect it not to affect everything else – writing included.

  24. Never thought of it in this way before!

  25. It hit me as a new concept (and a no-brainer at the same time!) when I first thought of it myself.

  26. Interesting post.

    DH painted inside our home, I have made a huge effort to keep it tidy. He and our friends are amazed. It has paid off, I have more writing time each day. It has been several weeks now, so I know this is a new habit for me. A positive thing.
    DH is also happy with my new ‘switch off computer’ time. We spend it together. This way it leaves us to both follow our personal ventures, again more writing time. It also means we have things to chat about. We do not work, and we would go insane if we were side by side 24/7.
    I have switched my diet, I eat a protein for breakfast. It was advice from another writer. My exercise has increased. I am concentrating for longer.

    The new organised me, is regretting not doing it sooner. 🙂

  27. After years of struggling with chronic fatigue, I finally started giving my body a better sleep schedule. It’s paid huge dividends in my life in general – and my writing, in particular.

  28. That’s why I (and as far as I have come to know you, you too) give a strong emphasis in writing time and space.

    Former helps to balance your work with your life. And life add layers of richness in the art.

    As for latter, it helps me to do my work better and more efficiently.

    Writing is not a job, it is a lifestyle 😉

  29. It’s so true that you can’t separate your writing from the rest of your life. It’s both a blessing and a curse in my mind. =P A blessing because it has the capacity of adding additional dimensions to the rest of your life. A curse because it means that the bad habits of the one will certainly flow into the other. There have certainly been points in my life where I just couldn’t write because there were other things going on in my life that I needed to take care of first. Thanks for this reminder!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s definitely a balance, as are so many things in the writing life. Learning how to make every part of life benefit from every other is a step up the ladder to all different kinds of success.

  30. In that case, I am in deep trouble! Born absentminded, I am by personality much more creative than orderly. Society, a career, and the needs of the family have forced on me a certain organization and discipline, but it’s a constant battle that leaves less emotional energy for self-care than I would like. I had so very much hoped that at least in one arena, letting the hair down might be something of an asset! At least so far, putting words to page has been more energizing than draining.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Well, I have seen studies that suggest messy desks are signs of a creative mind. It doesn’t work for me, but I know it does for others!

  31. Tony Findora says

    I never really thought of it that way, but it makes sense!

    On a personal level, I feel like having a healthy faith leads to healthy writing. For awhile I would typically keep god and my writing separate. But I just can’t do that anymore. It never occurred to me I had been doing it either. But when I finally realized it, I decided to let God have it. I’ve seen a huge improvement and I’ve been led to amazing resources to assist. Whether it becomes a best seller or not, I’m not sure I will mind too much. I just want it to be something my Lord influenced and approved of. And I love doing it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think it was C.S. Lewis who commented that it was impossible for a writer to separate his writing from his deepest beliefs. How they can not help but inform what we’re writing–even when we’re not writing directly about those ideas?

  32. My cluttered desk is a sign of my cluttered mind. A strong INTF, there is always more going on inside than out. I am making efforts to manage the morass roiling in this cranium. I have issues with maintaining focus on a single task. Writing a novel is reducing the clutter as ideas go on paper and is providing something concrete and measurable to hold to.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I do think personality has a lot to do with the needs of clutter vs. neatness. I’m an INTJ, and I know that’s a large part of why it’s so hard for me to find inner organization amidst outer chaos.

  33. I found it worked the other way round – the commitment I made (years ago now) to finishing my first ever Nanowrimo, proved to me that I had enough stamina, willpower and organisation to achieve anything I wanted. Now my writing projects are the strongest part of my life, giving me self-confidence and drive in other areas.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! It totally does work the other way around too. I am *sooo* much better a person for being a writer. It has taught me stamina, discipline, patience, even kindness.

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