The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey (1989) is a cornerstone self-help book.

While it was embraced by the business community, Covey’s book has lessons for everyone especially writers.

How can a business self-help book possibly teach writers?

Putting aside the obvious connection that all writers trying to sell their work are entrepreneurs (or authorpreneurs), Covey’s book is a must read for writers because it’s all about moving from dependence to interdependence. It’s about building networks and relationships and helping contemporaries on their rise to success as much as they’re helping you.

Doesn’t this sound exactly like an author community?

In this post, I’m unpacking the core values of Covey’s Seven Habits and talking about how they can directly apply to writers in life and in work.

7 habits of highly effective writers

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

Covey says that life’s problems generally fall into two circles – Circles of Concern and Circles of Influence. The proactive person focuses on the circle of influence, the areas of life we have control over. Reactive people focus on the problems they have no control over and blames their situation on external forces.

7 habits of highly effective writers - be proactive
Translation for Writers

There’s only one aspect of the writer’s life we have any control over.


We can never know if a book is going to sell, if a marketing campaign is going to work, if reviews will be good or bad. We can never know how the next industry shift will alter our selling models – we just don’t know.

What we do know is that we can write, that we want to write, that we will write. And so we write.

If you’re writing the best book you can and you’re doing everything in your power to help it spread its wings in the world, then that’s all you have to worry about.

Habit 2 – Begin With The End In Mind

Habit 2 is about imagining where you want to end up. Beginning with the end in mind means starting every day and every project with a clear idea of your desires and destination.

With that image in place, you use your proactive decisions to take the right steps to get you there.

Covey likens this to having a personal mission statement – an affirmation that focuses on what you want to be and what you want to do.

7 habits of highly effective writers - begin with the end mind

Translation for Writers

This applies to writers in two ways. On the broad level, it’s about defining your version of what it means to you to be a successful writer.

In the book, Business for Authors, Joanna Penn talks about core values of an author-entrepreneur. She advises writers attempt to distill their values into one word – “loyalty” and “freedom” are two examples she uses.

Every decision in you writing life is made to uphold those values.

What are you going to write today? Does it add to your body of work? Does it further your career in the way you’ve chosen to define your success?

The second way this habit applies to writers is in terms of craft. Knowing where a story will end up makes the writing and planning process a whole lot easier and even faster.

Now, this isn’t going to work for everyone, but before you jump up and wave your pantser pants in the air (pants? what? Read this article about the distinction between “pantsing” and plotting), read a few of the many books out there that talk about a writer’s productivity. Every one I’ve read (and I’ve read dozens) hold that outlining or at least working to an end is a more productive, more time efficient way of writing.

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

Habit 3 is all about prioritizing and organizing. The first things you do are the things that you hold most valuable as well as the things that take you towards the end point you’ve envisaged.

What’s important? What’s urgent? What’s not? Rank your To Do list in accordance to most important and most urgent to least important and not urgent.

That way you’ve always got your core values on top of everything you’re doing, and you’re always taking steps to reach your goals.

7 habits of highly effective writers - first things first priorities

Translation for Writers

In this post I wrote about writers being bombarded with options and opportunities.

We’re often paralyzed by choice and all the things an author “must” do in order to have be successful.

Blogging, social media and the rest of it, it’s all great and it’s all important to varying degrees, but none of it is more important than writing books. And then writing more books.

Many authors, me included, are also balancing their family lives, other day jobs and with writing. These all have to factor into this lists for what’s important and what’s urgent.

Priorities are fluid – looking after a sick child will be more important than finishing writing your chapter, but on another day, finishing that chapter will be far more important than putting away the laundry or heading to the pub for afterwork drinks.

Habit 4 –  Think Win-Win

Forget the view that life or success is a win-lose dichotomy.

For us to succeed, it doesn’t mean that someone else has to fail.

The Win-Win approach is all about understanding life as a cooperative arena where everyone can benefit, not a competition of winners and losers.

The Win-Win attitude is all about integrity and staying true to your core values; expressing your thoughts with maturity and respect for others; an abundance mentality in realizing that there is plenty of everything for everyone.

To live and work with a win-win mentality means acting with the courage to say what you want and go out in the world to claim it, but also the consideration to be sensitive and empathetic for those you meet along the way.

7 habits of highly effective writers - win win

Translation for Writers

Have you noticed just how much free information and advice there is out there about writing? Have you noticed how many top-quality books great authors are giving away for free? Have you noticed how authors often get together and promote others’ books? It’s beautiful!

There are plenty of readers to go around and the success of one author is not something that you need to fight against, or try to outmatch or “win”. There’s a wonderful sense of positivity in the writer world these days (mostly) – that’s everyone living a win-win mentality.

Habit 5 – Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

Habit 5 is about using empathy when communicating with others. Before you press your ideas and agendas on others, let them present you with their ideas, listen and try to understand their position.

7 habits of highly effective writers - understand first

Translation for Writers

There are a few ways this can be interpreted for the writing life. We can think of it in terms of writing for our readers and being loyal to the readers who are loyal to us, giving them what they want to experience from our books. They are, after all investing their time and money in our words.

Habit 4 also applies to interacting in any sense in your author guise. If you’re writing in a forum, or on social media, especially if you’re replying to someone else, think first about the impact your words might have.

Think about the position of the person you’re replying to.

This not only stops heat-of-the-moment comments, it promotes effective communication.

Ironically, social media is a rather ineffective communication, with so much room for misinterpretation and inflation.

Act first with empathy. Always.

Tempered with empathy, your voice will stand out as reasonable and wise, and people will start to take notice of what you have to say.

Habit 6 – Synergize

Work with other people according to their strengths.

This enables a team to achieve goals much higher than an individual might have done alone.

Synergy is all about discovering new ideas and approaches through the different minds of our collaborators. It’s about valuing the difference in people and using all of those differences to colour one amazing outcome.

7 habits of highly effective writers - synergy

Translation for Writers

Have we all forgotten the image of the isolated writer, slaving away on their magnum opus in total solitude, untouched, untouchable? If not, then we should.

Writing is a collaboration. We collaborate with other creators when we consume their work for inspiration. We collaborate with beta readers and or critique partners for opinions outside our own. We look to editors for their expertise in grammar and structure. We consult with marketing professionals to help us get our books in as many hands as possible. Sure, writing a book in the early draft stage is usually a solitary practice, but once that books starts to move from idea to draft and into a real book, well, it takes a village.

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

Habit 7 instructs us to continually improve our lives in mental and psychical and spiritual senses. Habit 7 is all about striving to learn, it’s all about maintaining physical health and taking the time to rest and renew, reflecting or meditating on our own core philosophies and values.

Sharpening the Saw means fostering positive emotional experiences and valuable relationships with others. It talks about getting out into nature, engaging in music or art, or prayer.

7 habits of highly effective writers - sharpen the saw

Translation for Writers

This is my favorite habit and one that aligns most deeply with the core values of The Write Turn and the way I live my life.

No matter how many books you’ve written, never stop studying your craft. Foster positive relationships with other writers no only because of the win-win opportunities for success, but also to share you life journey with someone pursuing similar goals.

Make real time for the people in your life, writers and everyone else. Get away from the computer and stop thinking about your story for a while (tricky, I know).

Take care of the physical body that actually performs that writing. Rest and renew your creative energies. Fill your creative well. Go outside and breathe in some fresh air.

Steadily work on your personal/professional goals, get help and look after yourself along the way.Click To Tweet

One of the things I love most about Covey’s Seven Habits and the entire philosophy of the book, is that the habits build on one another.

This isn’t a change your life in a weekend self help flash in the pan, this is a real and measurable process of self-development that involves others as much as it involves the individual.

As 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tends to be one of those books that a lot of people talk about but few actually practice, I hope this post might prompt you to actually check it out and start on your own path of developing at least a few of these habits in your life and writing. I’ll see you on the road.


Kate Krake
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Kate Krake

Kate Krake writes speculative fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of the urban fantasy series Guessing Tales. Kate blogs about popular culture, health, wellness and creative writing. She lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, daughter and two beagles. Find out more on
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