The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Writers


It’s that time of year again, for making resolutions and promising to rid ourselves of our disgusting habits, purge ourselves of seasonal excess, and emerge on the other side as glowing and pure as the blank page. It’s the second week in, and for me the first back to work, so now’s when resolutions made bleary-eyed on January 1st are truly tested.

In past years, I might have made resolutions to find a new job, or learn a new language, or do more exercise. But this year I’ve realised that rushing round to night classes isn’t going to make me happier, and I can survive quite contentedly without ever learning Pilates. When making improvements to my life, I’ve found it’s best to focus on small things I can do every day. Accordingly, many of my resolutions are about writing. So here’s the bad writing habits I need to detox from in 2012. If anyone has a raw-juice diet of pure motivation, let me know.

Getting Distracted

I was disconcerted last year when, on leaving my job, I found that I didn’t, in fact, have the discipline to work at home all day on my own and be entirely productive. Before this I’d always thought of myself as fairly self-motivated. It’s true I tend to sit at my desk all day and I don’t watch daytime TV or anything like that, but I waste far, far too much time on emails and other distractions. I need to stop. Maybe I’ll go out, or switch off the internet (imagine!). BUT I’ve been ill this week so it hasn’t gone quite as well as I’d hoped. Maybe tomorrow.

Being Insecure

It’s a nice thing about writers that everyone is very supportive and pleased when someone else does well. And it’s all genuine – it’s lovely to see success. But sometimes I wonder if the supportiveness is the whole truth. It’s like there’s a taboo on saying we ever feel insecure, or threatened, or jealous. And I know that we’re bloody lucky to be allowed to do it at all, and I often tell myself this to try and buck my ideas up. But all the same it’s sometimes hard not to compare yourself to others and feel a bit wibbly as you Google yourself obsessively and check your Amazon ratings for the thousandth time that hour. I mean the book isn’t even OUT yet. This is foolishness taken to new extremes! This year I will try to focus only on the words and not even notice when other people get million-pound film deals/win the Booker Prize. I’m sure this will go very well indeed. Uh huh.

Being Lazy

Writing a book is hard. Pushing yourself to be better and better is hard. When I used to go to the gym I tended to coast along on the same speed and incline, unless I had a target to work towards. I would think, Oh well, I’m reasonably fit, I’m reasonably slim. I don’t need to be the best. This attitude might be fine when it comes to fitness (‘have one doughnut not two and go for a walk’ seems to generally work for me), but in writing we have to be better and better. I know that getting a book published doesn’t mean I don’t have to keep working and learning. I’m an apprentice. At the same time though, I don’t often hear writers talk about continuing professional development. Does anyone still take classes or do any form of study?

Being Afraid

As with exercise, going outside of your comfort zone can be difficult. I write novels because I think I know where I am with them. I’ve spent decades reading them, so it’s natural that when I write, that’s what comes out. But what about other forms? What about screenwriting, short stories, or even journalism? I’m going to start a screenwriting course next week, and it feels like starting at the bottom again, but in a way I think I’ll enjoy that. It will remind me of how much I still have to learn.

Being Disorganised

Here’s one thing I learned last year: it’s truly astonishing how much, and how little, you can get done in exactly the same space of time, depending on how scared/pressured/distracted you are. I resolve to organise my time better so I can fit in writing, work, online faffing (I can’t give it up altogether), and all those lovely hobbies you’d like to do but never have time, like learning to make your own felt or dance the rhumba (Damn you, Kirstie Allsop).


This may seem like a contradiction in terms to my next point, but bear with me. Being self-employed is mostly lovely, but as I won’t have to pay tax till next year (note to HMRC: if I’ve got this wrong do let me know, ta), I’ve so far been spared the worst aspects of it. I’m quite organised in some ways, but when I open a letter and see a form it brings me out in a rash and I have to go and lie down for a while.  This year I vow to grasp the nettle and also the bull by the horns (will I have enough hands for this?) and sort out all that horrible tax, pension, and savings stuff that is the dark side of lovely days spent ‘researching’ grisly ways to kill people.


Just as I could do with worrying more about my admin, I should worry less about the future. I can’t control what’s happening in publishing and I have no idea how long I’ll be able to do this for. I suppose none of us do. So I better just enjoy it while I can and be grateful for the chance to earn my living while wearing fingerless gloves. It’s either that or open my own scrapyard.

Happy New Year and may all your writing resolutions come true!*

*Unless it is to win the Booker Prize while also getting a million-pound film deal. That one is MINE. 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Claire
    As someone whose major goal has been, for years, to get published, it’s so interesting to see that publication is not the point where all your problems end. I think I knew this anyway but I believe it’s brave of you to be so open. I have found twitter writers to be very supportive and I have learnt a huge amount from seeing what they say to one another, but surely we are all as jealous as hell. I mean, I’m so jealous of you for instance,but am promising not to go for the Booker of the film deal. Best of luck for the New Year!

    1. Oh yes, there’s plenty of neurosis around for us all to be gibbering wrecks. Maybe we can make the jealousy productive to spur us on to greater things!

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