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Daily Routines of Successful Authors

Following successful authors' routines doesn't guarantee success – but it can teach you good habits.

Millions of internet users click articles and videos every day to experience “a day in the life” of successful people. What drives this interest is unclear. After all, what can the average viewer glean from prying into the morning routine of a popstar or model? What can they learn from a six-figure consultant or an artist living in New York? How will they benefit from glimpsing the inside of a world-class chef’s kitchen and process? It’s a mystery but it happens across all industries. In truth, many viewers are purely seeking entertainment. For those who want to replicate their success, however, these insights are invaluable. At least, that’s the mentality behind today’s post.

Analyse how successful authors work and you too can join their ranks. The logic is simple, but is it perfect? Not entirely. Obviously, you can’t copycat JK Rowling or Jeffrey Deaver and expect your life to follow the same sequence of events as theirs. There isn’t a track into which you can fix your wheels. The world is complicated and full of variables. Luck plays a part. Personality comes into it. So does physical location. And there isn’t one rigid structure that all successful authors follow. Life doesn’t work that way, but the universe isn’t totally random either. Yes, Stephen King and E L James have lived different lifestyles, but their habits likely overlap in some ways.

Look at a cross section of historical and modern authors who’ve seen success and you’ll notice patterns emerge, despite the unique quirks of individuals. While seemingly random, these authors’ routines correlate to a surprising degree when mapped on tracing paper and layered together over a lightbox. Working on this premise, today’s article outlines a patchwork routine of the “average” successful author. No, following this “ideal” routine won’t guarantee you success. But it will teach you five common habits many successful authors perform in an average workday to help you craft a daily routine that maximises your odds of becoming a bestseller.

Wake Up Early

Thanks to evolution, there are two kinds of people: early birds and night owls. We evolved this way because primitive humans were more likely to survive if they slept in shifts. It meant there was always someone awake to tend the fire and look out for danger. While both are useful, it’s clear after reading dozens of case studies that early birds tend to win in the game of author success. When asked about their routines, many greats regurgitate a similar ritual of getting up early — usually between 4:00 and 8:00 am — to write before life derails their productivity. Hardly any mention getting up late, and none report snoozing until the afternoon on a regular basis.

On a practical level, this makes sense; according to a 2021 Masterclass article, “around 40 percent of the population are physiologically primed to be early birds.” That means most people aren’t active in the morning, and those who are active can work with fewer distractions. Charles Dicken reportedly admitted to starting work at 8:30 am. And Stephen King follows suit. Meanwhile, Joanna Penn mentions frequently on The Creative Penn podcast how she used to wake up at 5:00 am to write before work until she could leave her day job. It’s a common trait: authors who write as early as possible tend to write more consistently and be successful.

Prioritise Writing

The one apparent habit that compels many authors who go on to be successful is a focus on writing wherever and whenever they can, even to the detriment of other aspects of their life. It’s true: successful authors are often relentless and they make no excuses. As already stated, many demonstrate admirable discipline by getting up early to ensure they rack up words on a consistent basis, but they also work in unideal places. Stephen King, for example, wrote on a table in his laundry room to escape his family, and JK Rowling wrote during train journeys. Isaac Asimov took it a step further, writing between customers while managing his father’s sweetshop.

If they can’t find space and time, they create it — and they’re uncompromising with their passion. To them, writing in the cracks of the day becomes a way of life — a habit they rarely skip. Yes, many attempt to work in the morning if they can, but those who “break out” often do so by working in spite of time restraints. Children’s author E. B. White said it well: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” Hence, if you want to succeed, then in general you need to be willing to write anywhere. Using brute force feels unpleasant, but sometimes it’s necessary not to squander opportunities.

Attend a Day Job

A 2022 article by ProWriting Aid claims that Anthony Trollope wrote before he “worked for the postal service” and Franz Kafka “famously didn’t start work until 23:00 when he had finished a long day working for an insurance company.” These anecdotes make interesting news stories because they paint some of history’s most successful authors as underdogs and give hope to the masses who must work a nine-to-five job to pay the rent while they’re struggling to crank out their first novel. What articles of this kind don’t often mention, though, is how many successful authors keep their jobs, even after their books start to produce a meaningful income.

Indeed, a 2021 survey conducted by Written Word Media revealed that this is the case for a huge portion of authors. The company’s report suggested that, “55% percent of authors surveyed have a day job unrelated to writing, or someone in their household does.” And this stat doesn’t necessarily reflect the bottom-earning 55%. The reasons here are two-fold:

  1. Writing incomes — even healthy ones — don’t cover some authors’ lifestyles.
  2. Some successful authors prefer to have a steady income alongside their royalties.

Either way, the takeaway here is that you might want to hold onto your job. Many keep working a nine-to-five to minimise their stress levels and avoid having to compromise on their art, even after their royalties skyrocket.

Manage the Business

Successful authors are typically relentless self-promoters. Indeed, research proves that they tend to shoulder responsibility for their own success and make marketing a routine habit. Shakespeare, for instance, maintained a public persona, constantly pushing his work onto the masses. And Lord Byron embodied “the moment when Britain’s nascent system of product branding spread to the book trade” according to a 2002 edition of Modern Language Quarterly. He also famously established an imprint and orchestrated huge marketing pushes. Even today, James Patterson was a marketing executive before writing and Mark Dawson… well, you know that story.

As fantasy author Hugh Howey put it in a 2013 blog post, “The writers who take this seriously are the ones making money. […] They approach this like a little more than a hobby. It’s a second job.” According to Written Word Media’s 2020 survey, which covered over 1,000 authors, most of those who earned at least $1,000 per month admitted to spending at least 10 hours a week on book marketing and promotion. Hence, if you want to join them in the top echelons of authordom, you will likely also need to fit some form of advertising practices into your daily routine. Just remember not to let it consume you to the point where you stop writing.

Reflect and Revise

Ask salaried employees for their work hours and answers will vary, but you’ll notice some structure; most can work extra but many are able to clock off at a certain time. Authors, by comparison, work unpredictable office hours. However, many successful ones embrace this randomness, choosing to split their day into two work shifts, according to a 2021 article from Business Insider, which claims it helps them be more productive. In their post, Business Insider outlines how V.E. Schwab writes “for two to three hours” after a morning dog walk then again “for an hour before bed.” Maya Angelou, meanwhile, spent her evenings “revisiting what she wrote that day.”

The consensus seems to agree, but it pays to question this guideline. Fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guinn, for example, has historically said, “I tend to be very stupid [after 8:00 pm].” It doesn’t work for her. This makes sense, given her extreme early bird lifestyle. Guinn admits she wakes up at 5:30 am every day to “lie there and think” before breakfast which, no doubt, affects her ability to think at night. The correlated behaviours of successful authors contradict in this case, and the only explanation is that some sacrifice sleep and health for their art. Acting in this way can help in the short term, but it’s debunked as a long-term success strategy. Thus, if you want to rise early and pull a second shift, try revising your work in the afternoon rather than late at night.

It’s worth noting here that successful authors are, by nature of their existence, remarkable outliers. The compulsion to write thousands of words is rare. To follow through and produce multiple bestsellersis even rarer, and could just as easily have happened to another author if the dice rolled a different way. Thus, copying the routines and idiosyncrasies of the average bestseller won’t guarantee you success. Stats suggest, however, that it will greatly improve your odds.

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.