1. They read. Great writers not only read for pleasure in their formative and later years, filling their minds with great ideas and great voices, but they also read like a writer, meaning that they use other great writers to teach them lessons about the craft. A writer who's reading another writer won't simply think, "wow, this is a great article or paragraph or sentence," but will take things a step further, asking "what was it about this article or paragraph or sentence that worked?" Oh, and by the way, what can I steal/borrow/adapt/integrate/absorb/emulate/copy ("you say potato, I say potata") in order to improve MY writing. A voracious appetite for reading will teach a writer about all the available options the craft presents, and allow the writer to find what works best for them. Reading taught me that I admire the ornate, often poetic prose style of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I prefer the lucid, humble, pared-down brilliance of George Orwell.
2. They're Creative. Writers find a way to get from point A to B, and to bring their readers along with them. Creativity means you can do this in multiple ways, like McGyver escaping a locked room, that you can surprise readers with humor, poetry, insights into the human condition, empathy, and more. Writers are challenged to make things new, to do things differently, constantly. If they don't, readers get bored and stray to cute cat videos (we're all weak when it comes to fluffy kittens). Content is everywhere and attention spans are shrinking. Creativity is needed now more than ever. Alas, most writers seem to be following a formula of what worked last year or last month. Readers tire quickly, and last month has a shelf life of about two minutes. Bring me something different, and you'll have my attention. Being creative takes imagination and courage.
3. They Learn. The world is moving so fast these days, and having the ability to adapt and learn new things is a core skill every writer needs. When I was a child, I dreamed of being a print journalist -- and I did that. But now the world is different. Readers have moved away from print, along with advertisers and dollars. I've also moved away from print journalism, but continue to use my journalism skills as a digital content marketer. If you asked me four years ago what a digital content marketer was, I would not have known. I'm still learning, still adapting. Does, the fast pace of change frighten me sometimes? You bet. Does it thrill me too? Yep. Will I need to keep learning new things every single day, about myself, about others, about business, about the craft of writing? Yes, a thousand times.
4. They Network. The idea of the writers working alone in a basement somewhere is long gone. Writers need to be out there networking, making connections with other writers, potential clients, editors, entrepreneurs, and everyone else. Writers are as much a part of the business community as everyone else, and they need to be skilled at building solid social and business relationships. A solitary writer isn't just blocked in his career, but may face health problems too. You can't permit yourself to be isolated. Others need you, and you need them. We have things to teach and learn, all of us. Go to events and talk to people. Maybe try to listen 75 percent of the time and talk 25 percent of the time. Trust me, people remember listeners far more than talkers. Try to help someone by offering insights and your time. Don't just look for "important" people -- that shows you're a user. Think sharing. Try to remember and use names, say "hi" to people in the elevator, smile and nod at strangers. This is all networking, and will not only pay "dividends" but can make you happier and healthier too.
5. They work hard to meet client needs. You need to write well, of course, but you also need to work well with clients. Understand what your clients want. If you don't know, try asking them. Content marketing is a service job -- first you serve your readers, but you also serve your clients who seek to serve the same readers. Be responsive to requests. Do favors when you can. Approach every assignment with the same professionalism and drive. Just because you're creative doesn't mean you get to kick back and lord it over everybody. Be professional at the very least, and always be nice when you can. Your clients will appreciate it, and keep coming back to you. Nobody likes to work with a jerk, whether that jerk is a plumber, a personal trainer at the gym, or a prima donna writer.
6. They Take Breaks. Writers are people too, and can feel overworked and stressed out. Creativity requires actual thinking and executing upon ideas, and is draining on one's mental energy. You need to take breaks that restore your energy and creative juices. For example, I write for 3 to 3.5 hours in the morning. Then I stop for lunch. I typically write my hardest pieces in the morning. After lunch, I write something easier, which requires less research and thinking. This system has worked for me. If I'm feeling tired, I might sleep late and arrive at the office around 10am. I listen carefully to my body, tracking my energy and creativity. As a writer, I need these resources badly, so I need to restore after I've emptied the tank. I'll go for a walk. Hike a mountain trail. Have a long lunch with a friend. Play a video game or listen to Bob Dylan. Go outside and listen to birds, or meditate.
7. They know when to stop. As I will do here. How about you, reader -- what habits keep you creative and energized? Share below . . .