15 Habits of Writers Who Are Mentally Tough
by Aneeta Sundararaj

Earlier this year, I read an article by Travis Bradberry (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248234) where he sets out 15 habits that mentally tough people should have. I analysed the same 15 habits, but applied them to the writing/publishing industry. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. They’re emotionally intelligent

From what I understand, EQ is a person’s ability to accurately identify his emotions. This includes being aware of, controlling and expressing those emotions. In ‘Why the best writers have the most Emotional Intelligence’ (http://www.publicationcoach.com/emotional-intelligence/) the two points that jumped out at me were these:

  • Successful writers are not cocky. Instead, they have a realistic understanding of their own self-worth.
  • Their ability to put themselves in the shoes of others makes them exquisitely sensitive to the needs of their readers.


  1. They’re confident

I’ve observed that confident writers have the following in common:

  • They don’t try to succeed. They just succeed.
  • They don’t waste time.
  • They are able to separate actual criticism from the person making the criticism. The classic example for this is when you receive an editor’s response to your work. When you can remember that it’s the work they’re criticising, and not you, you will be able to work out the problems (if any) in your work and gain a lot of confidence.


  1. They neutralise toxic people.

A long time ago, when I was on Facebook, I read wonderful my ‘friends’ lives were. I read about their ‘shiny, happy husbands/wives’, luxurious holidays, beautiful homes and vacuous praise for how beautiful they’d become. I began to feel inadequate and I felt that my dream to be a successful writer was a humbling one, but in a miserable way.

Out of the blue, one friend said she’d give up everything to have a child. And I learnt about ‘filters’ which meant that most of their images had been modified. It hit me that their lives weren’t all they said it was. And I accepted that there was absolutely nothing wrong with mine either. These couldn’t be friends in the true sense of the word as they were never going to be there for me when I needed them. Why share anything at all with them? So, I neutralised a toxic situation by deleting my Facebook account and I’ve never been happier.

  1. They embrace change

When I attended a writers’ festival in 2014, one of the topics discussed was the success of eBooks. Some traditional publishers were adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. But one e-publisher asked them to embrace change and keep an open mind. He warned that we may make many mistakes, but e-publishing could also make these traditional publishers pioneers in this ‘brave new world’ of publishing. From experience, since most of my books are now eBooks, life is very much easier.

  1. They say ‘No’

In the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, Andrea (the protagonist) started work in her dream job. As it became demanding, others parts of her life floundered. In the end, she learned that to stay in balance, she needed to say ‘No’. And this is where I’ve learnt that if I have to do something that will shift the balance so far away from my equilibrium, I will say no.

  1. They know that fear is the No. 1 source of regret.

What’s the worst that can happen to an author? Your book never gets published. But you’re never going to know unless you try. Ask yourself this: wouldn’t it be worse to wait 20 years and say with deep regret, “I could have submitted it then, but I was too scared.”

  1. They embrace failure

I could wax lyrical about the amount of times a successful writer has failed. But there is a saying I read on the internet which I love: “When the world says, ‘Give up hope,’ Hope whispers, ‘Try one more time.”’

  1. …Yet, they don’t dwell on mistakes.

A successful author’s response to a criticism made about him years before was to say that he’d learnt from it and never repeated his mistake. He no longer remembered the person who made the criticism (see Habit 2 above), but was grateful for the lesson’s he’d learnt. That, he concluded, was part of the reason he achieved much success.

  1. They won’t let anyone limit their joy.

This is simple for me: I got Ladoo. There were people who told me not to get a dog because she would inhibit my chances of securing writing assignments. On the contrary, the opposite happened – I was able to collect many stories about Ladoo and publish an eBook about her (http://howtotellagreatstory.com/nstarticles/ladoo-dog-tales-of-a-sweet-dachshund).

  1. …And they don’t limit the joy of others.

Back to Facebook. Writer A and Writer B worked together. It was a relationship based on loyalty and mutual respect; or so I thought. As it happened, Writer A made the choice to resign and Writer B was promoted. In time, Writer B decided to launch a new product, announced it on Facebook and received praise from everyone, except Writer A. The conclusion we’ve all made is that Writer A cannot stand Writer B’s success and refuses to be happy for Writer B.

  1. They exercise.

Haruki Murakami said ‘As being a writer requires sitting at a desk for hours a day, without getting some exercise you’d quickly get out of shape and gain weight, I figured’ (http://www.runnersworld.com/celebrity-runners/im-a-runner-haruki-murakami). I doubt I’m ever going to run a marathon. That said, I try to exercise daily and I find that it has helped me be more alert. I get to meet other people and the bonus is that I’m happier in my body.

  1. They get enough sleep

For this, I’ll refer to the work of Joseph Murphy and his book, ‘The Power of Your Subconscious Mind’. He writes about Robert Louis Stevenson and says: ‘He was a vivid dreamer. It was his persistent habit to give specific instructions to his subconscious every night prior to sleep. He would request his subconscious to evolve stories for him while he slept.’

  1. They limit their caffeine intake.

This is hard for writers, me included. Especially when we’re surrounded by ‘coffee snobs’. I learnt this term last year. These are the people who have to have proper coffee – they cannot have instant coffee. What’s your experience with caffeine?

  1. They don’t wait for an apology to forgive.

On the one hand, if you can’t remember who has hurt you (like in Habit No 8), then you would forget you’ve even been hurt at all. There would be nothing to forgive. On the other hand, here’s the best advice someone gave me when I continued to be hurt: “You are in all this pain. But do you think the person who hurt you is going through the same? They are living their lives. So if you don’t want to be hurt, stop hurting yourself by being so sad.”

  1. They’re relentlessly positive.

Here are 5 affirmations I’ve modified from this website (http://writersrelief.com/blog/2012/07/10-creative-writer-affirmations-and-tips/) to help you remain positive:

  • Say aloud, “I’m a writer.”
  • Constructive criticism makes me a better writer.
  • Rejection teaches me valuable lessons.
  • My words flow easily every single day.
  • My writing is inspired, beautiful, authentic and lyrical.

When you put all this together, there should be nothing to stop you from achieving and enjoying publishing/writing success.

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