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Bad Author Habits to Avoid

Some habits make it harder to succeed. Here are the ones to avoid!

Habits are activities our brain systematises to improve its processing efficiency for actions or behaviours we repeat on a regular basis. The more you repeat an action, the more ingrained it becomes as a habit. That’s why many of us automatically remember to clean our teeth each morning, or why we can’t stop clicking our knuckles once we start. A neural pathway in our brain forms when we repeat an activity and we create a habit. That habit removes mental friction, enabling us to repeat the action more easily in the future until we can do it on autopilot.

These habits are neither objectively good nor bad. Our subconscious brain forms both in the same way and sees no difference between the two. We only identify a habit as good or bad based on our worldviews and the effects they cause. You develop a tooth-cleaning habit; you get socially accepted and look better according to modern human beauty standards. Hence, your conscious brain deems tooth-cleaning a good habit. Bite your nails, on the other hand, and you experience social judgement and physical pain. Hence, your conscious brain deems that one bad.

How can knowing this information help us as authors? Well, knowing how habits form gives us the ability to reverse-engineer the process to match our desires. Say you want to become a more successful writer. To carry out this feat, all you have to do is identify habits that we know are unhelpful on that pursuit and eradicate them at the source: your subconscious mind. Today, we will identify a few habits that successful authors claim make it harder to succeed. In doing so, you will learn why they’re deemed bad and how to minimise them to improve your own chances of building a successful author business.

Being Pessimistic

The first “bad” habit on our list is pessimism. In the right context, pessimism can be a positive trait. In the prehistoric world, pessimists lived longer because they assumed every rustling branch was a predator and stayed on their guard. As a modern-day author, however, it isn’t a helpful reflex. In the absence of real danger, pessimism only creates a baseless fear of the unknown. It forces you to believe there’s no point writing a book because you don’t know enough and your plan will probably fail. According to an Inc. article published in 2022, pessimism causes the average human to “make short-sighted decisions.” It sacrifices potential long-term happiness for “immediate certainty.”

You can, however, reverse-engineer the process to get an opposite result. For example, we know we can minimise one habit by consciously abstaining from the source activity or maximise another by doing it more to forge a new neural pathway. So, how do you replace pessimism with optimism? Practice. Catch yourself when you’re being pessimistic and replace the thought with a positive one. Use daily affirmations. Nurture positive self-talk. Perhaps switch up your social group if you’re surrounded by pessimists. Use all these tactics and, over time, you will find it easier to think positively enough about your writing to make it a consistent habit.

Enabling Overwhelm

Publishing a book requires you to monitor lots of moving parts. Add on all the complexities of living a full life and it’s easy to see why many of us get overwhelmed. That said, if you’re constantly hopping between tasks without a break, the issue could be entirely in your control. Perhaps you’re practicing a habit that welcomes overwhelm into your life. Are you, for example, a prolific watcher of educational YouTube videos and constantly have several phone tabs open, never treating yourself to a moment of silence? Or do you allow family and friends to derail each day when they ask you for favours? Both habits create extra work that swamps your mental bandwidth.

Plug the flow, however, and you can fix this self-sabotaging habit. Take, for instance, the YouTube consumption. If that sounds like you, it’s likely you’re learning just in case you need the information. Stop opening new tabs, though, and you can start looking for precise information just in time for when you need it. This new habit will free up time otherwise wasted on learning unneeded information and shorten your self-inflicted to-do list. And you can address the favour-giving habit in a similar way. Setting boundaries with friends and relatives will be uncomfortable at first, but it’s healthy and will get easier with practice. Together, habitually minimising these inflows will help you close open loops in your mind and give you more bandwidth for your author business.

Overusing Screens

Medical News Today published an article in 2018 that suggested only 21% of adults regularly met physical activity guidelines. Meanwhile, this year, Time published that Americans in their early twenties use their phones for “an average of 28.5 hours a week.” Multiple studies cite a correlation between digital device usage and declining health standards. Thus, it’s official: we’re addicted to screens and the habit is creating health implications, including:

  • Back problems
  • Obesity
  • Impaired sleep
  • Mental health issues
  • Eyestrain
  • Repetitive strain injury

As modern authors, we’re particularly susceptible. During the average workday, we’re sedentary for long hours and, due to device-based distractions, we stretch work out for longer than it needs to last.

Fortunately, a few simple lifestyle alterations can reverse the entrenchment of this habit and its effects. Try using the Pomodoro technique, for example. Work in 30-minute cycles — 25 minutes of work, five minutes’ break. Exercise during those breaks and you’ll build a habit that improves your posture and general fitness. If clocking off early to sleep better is an issue for you, try setting yourself a “daily highlight” each morning — a priority task that, once completed, enables you to justify taking the rest of the day off. Combined, these tactics will help you sever your constant connection to devices and improve your health, mood and efficiency.

Acting Obsessively

How many times a day do you check your emails and book sales dashboards? Many struggling authors check both obsessively. It’s understandable; the temptation to obsess is strong, particularly when it becomes a habit. This sort of behaviour is tricky to overcome because it rewards you for your thoroughness. Despite giving you high-quality results, though, it doesn’t give you enough of them if you let it get in the way. In fact, obsessive behaviour can degrade your results as it causes you to mistrust the abilities of anyone who isn’t you, work in an inefficient way and, occasionally, burn yourself out by wanting to control every situation.

Obsession distorts facts and causes your mind to justify its own activity. As a result, if you want to think differently, ask yourself:

“Does my behaviour resemble that of high performers?”

“Am I making excuses?”

“Am I really the best person to do these tasks?”

Be truthful, because many high-earning authors only do two things: they write a lot and hire freelancers to help with everything else. If you’re not working that way, maybe it’s time to reconsider. Keep looking at dashboards? Try going internet-free at times, and ask a helper to notify you if anything weird happens with your ads. Triple checking everyone’s work? Ask yourself if a mistake really matters. Most are fixable and allowing helpers to make them helps you tighten your process guidelines. It all starts, though, with practicing to let go.

Ignoring Balance

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy — that’s disorder — naturally increases if left unchecked. It applies to business just as much as physics. For example, say you focus on one task. To do so, you must neglect another, which causes a growing backlog of chaos. Many authors, unfortunately, habitually allow entropy to unravel their business. They focus too much time writing and allow their ads to tailspin or too much time tweaking ads and allow half-finished books to languish. By the time they return to the neglected tasks, their ideas have entropized and they need to waste time re-capping or their ads have wildly overspent. Lacking balance, they inadvertently allow sloppiness to fester, which keeps them from their potential.

A good way to reduce this compulsion to work sloppily is to create a habit of taking stock of your business once a week. What aspects are crumbling? Do you need to release a new book? Update your backlist? Fix your website? Do your accounts? List everything in one document, ordered from most to least urgent. Resolve any quick tasks that take less than five minutes then get to work on bigger ones. Aim to circle your attention between multiple areas of your business. Even this system will entropy if you neglect it. But, providing you review and update your list every weekend, you can maintain balance forever. Breaking the habit of being disorganised isn’t easy, but you will eventually form a system to do so if you persevere through trial and error. Many people theorise that your identity shapes your habits, but the opposite is true; change your habits and you can change your identity, both in terms of how others view you and how you view yourself. If you don’t want to change your habits, that’s fine, but knowing it’s possible is powerful. Your identity and external results all rise to the level of your habits. So, if you want to change them, you know where to start.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.