Category No boring habits

12 habits that made Tolstoy a highly prolific author – conquer the writing battle

The earth shook with cannon fire.

Debris flew around his ears, the screams of the dying suffocated by the sound of the impact.

Yet still he wrote—even on the battlefield.

Tolstoy produced 119 works of literature, at least two of them considered the best novels of all time.

He proved that being a prolific author does not contradict writing on the highest quality level, on the contrary. He wrote 7 novels, 6 novellas, 51 short stories, 6 plays and 49 non-fiction works. His novel “War and Peace“ is one of the best literary works in history, and “Anna Karenina’s“ first sentence grew famous all over the world.

Only think about all the excuses you use: laundry, errands, kids. We all have them. In comparison, a war would have been a superb one.

Still, Tolstoy composed the second book in his autobiographical trilogy while at battle during the Crimean War.

He was a human like you and me: lead a turbulent life, possessed extravagant views on society, and a stubborn, depressive, always searching, innovative character. So what made him so productive?

A glance into his works and diaries reveals that he cultivated strict and sometimes unusual habits. Habits that provide insight into how you can conquer procrastination and adapt productivity as a lifestyle.

No more excuses – be it on an actual battlefield or the battlefield we call our daily lives.

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Prolific author habit #1:  Love those to whom I could be of service

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”

Human nature is self-centered.

We stick around those people we can benefit from, who make us happy, successful or rich. But as writers, we have to act against this nature and think of ourselves as servants to our readers.

If we learn to love them, care about how they perceive our work and how it might change their life—how it might benefit them—this is where our writing finds a true value.

We are servants to our readers.

Generous givers to our community.

Not because we want to receive back, but because we want to add value to their lives and genuinely help people around us.

How is it possible? If we learn to love the readers and be of service to them.

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Prolific author habit #2: Establish routines

“Wake at five o’clock, go to bed no later than ten o’clock.”

Tolstoy knew the value of getting up early and getting enough sleep.

It might have been simpler in his days to go to bed at 10 pm, without the TV or the internet. But imagine 5 in the morning during the Russian winter:

The house is freezing cold until you get the fire running. It’s pitch dark and the sun won’t come up for the next hours. The only light source: a candle or an oil lamp.

It was not a piece of cake for Tolstoy either. But there is something magical about the early morning hours, something beautiful to getting words down on the blank page while the world still sleeps.

Consider that Tolstoy slept for at least 7 hours. It’s important that your body is recharged to have the early morning energy, which is at least 7-9 hours of sleep.

People who sacrifice health for success are short-sighted, unable to recognize that bad habits will demand a payoff. Instead, strive to introduce healthy habits into your lifestyle that will ensure a long and productive life.

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Prolific author habit #3: Pay attention to food

“Eat moderately, avoid sweet foods.”

Even without the danger of ice-cream, cakes and sweets accessible on every corner, Tolstoy warned about the danger of too much sugar.

The quick sugar rush blurs our mind and causes tiredness, thus stealing the creative energy we need to get our writing done.

There is no such thing as „bad“ food, but there is balance, and balance is crucial when it comes to nutrition.

A PLoS One study found that for every extra 150 calories from sugar available per person each day, diabetes prevalence rises by 1.1%. Moreover, science shows it takes just 30 minutes or less to go from a sugar rush to a full-on sugar crash, which means that we get more tired than energized thanks to sugar consumption.

A study published in Public Health Journal followed nearly 9,000 people to study the link between depression and eating sugary sweets and fast food. After six years, those who ate the most junk faced a nearly 40% greater risk of developing depression, compared to those who shunned junk food the most.

What I also love is the first part of this advice: Eating moderately means listening to your body. Many have lost the connection to their bodies due to binge eating and endless supplies of cravings.

Try to listen again.

You don’t need a fancy diet if you take this simple but highly effective advice seriously, and stop eating when your body tells you that it’s full.

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Prolific author habit #4: Work out physically

“Walk for an hour every day.”

Tolstoy’s quote above incorporates both physical workout as well as daily routine.

What can regular workout do for you?

It can clear your mind, relieve stress, give your unconscious time to ponder on ideas, and keep you healthy for many years of writing to come. Daily movement is especially important for us writers as we spend hours behind our stationary desks.

 

Prolific author habit #5: Focus

“Only do one thing at a time.”

This principle of focus has been rediscovered after media distraction took over our daily lives. The smartphone is to blame.

But interestingly, Tolstoy stressed it during the 19th century. Daily distractions have prevented writers from getting things done for centuries.

In our time, it’s harder to focus than ever. In his book “The ONE Thing” Gary Keller argues that “Multitasking doesn’t save time — it wastes time.” and suggest instead: “You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”

Your mind can be trained to focus , and the more you practice doing one thing only, the better you will get.

When writing – focus on your writing only. Eliminate internet connection and every possible distraction and get „in the zone“.

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Prolific author habit #6: Be bold and brave

„Stop caring about other people’s opinion of yourself.“

A teacher once told me that if you try to please everybody, your art will become meaningless.

Tolstoy was an artist who polarized. He evoked both great admiration and outrageous criticism.

And while it’s our task to provide value to our readers, we should not be afraid of judgment. People judge all the time, and everybody has their own opinion on everything.

Don’t let this intimidate you.

Instead, choose to filter criticism to make it work for you.

Great art polarizes. Your best story writing ideas will turn into bestsellers once you stop worrying about other people’s judgment.

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Prolific author habit #7: Write daily

“I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.” – This is one of the few diary entries Tolstoy made during the mid-1860s when he was deep into the writing of War and Peace.

War and Peace is an epic of 587,287 words. This is ten times longer than your NaNoWriMo novel.

After Tolstoy spent three years rewriting most of this book, he set out to write the second masterpiece, Anna Karenina, which was published along with some additional novels.

He indeed wrote daily ‘without fail’, and this is the only way to become a truly prolific author.

It’s about keeping the habit.

Start by setting yourself a daily word count goal, no matter how small; Stephen King writes 2000 words every day – even on his birthday.

You can start with 500 – as long as you keep writing without fail.

 

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Prolific author habit #8: Have a goal for your whole life …

“… a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.”

Goals are about direction.

I love how Tolstoy insists on breaking down the big picture from top to bottom:

You first need to know where your whole life is going, what kind of life you want. Most creatives fail here, they are scattered between choices they refuse to make because they are infected by the omnipresent virus of FOMO (fear of missing out). Decisions are as much about what you choose as about what you don’t.

You cannot have everything at once – but you can have the life you want.

Then, break down your goals into actionable steps. What actions can you do this year, this month, this week and today that will bring you closer to the life you want? Our daily – ever hourly – life makes the big picture, so be intentional about your time.

In the last part, Tolstoy mentions priorities. He uses the apt word ‘sacrifice’, meaning that some tasks have to suffer due to others.

You cannot do all things at once, but don’t let your life be dictated by ‘lesser’ goals. Prioritize ‘the greater’, doing the things that will get your life to where you want it to be.

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Prolific author habit #9: Be patient

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

Time.

For how long do you want to be an author? – I’m guessing for a lifetime.

Writing is not a short-term goal. It’s a lifestyle. So don’t be discouraged if success does not set in straight away. With the ingredients of time and patience, you will eventually get what you desire.

Those who lose are always those who quit. Those who win are those who choose to persist, no matter how hard the task or how long it takes.

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Prolific author habit #10: “If you want to be happy, be.”

“If you want to be happy, be.”

I love this advice.

Simple, yet so true.

True happiness will never come from the outside. Take a look at celebrities: Many have the money to buy everything they ever wanted, but still end up in drug addiction or even suicide. Happiness is not dependent on your level of success nor the amount of money on your bank account.

Happiness is not to possess everything but want for nothing.

You don’t have to wait until tomorrow to be happy – don’t have to wait until you wrote a bestseller or earned your first million. If you really want to be happy – just be.

This happiness will energize you to write more and become a prolific author, not vice versa. Learn to love the process and every single step of it.

Just be happy. Period.

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Prolific author habit #11: Use common sense 

“Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six.”

Creatives tend to get very emotional in the face of trouble, doubt or failure.

When those feelings threaten to take over, common sense is a great adversary.

Be realistic. Get a look at the numbers. Master them, don’t fear them.

Get to know marketing strategies, know your way around legal matters, learn the technicalities. If the success you expected does not set in, don’t run off whining, but get a hard look at the facts and the numbers, analyze them and come up with a different strategy.

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Prolific author habit #12: Help those less fortunate

“Joy can only be real if people look upon their life as a service and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.”

For the last advice, let’s take a look at the big picture: Why are you writing? Why are you putting yourself through hours and hours of agony, bleeding upon the page?

Money? Fame? Freedom?

Let’s shift the focus now:

On something outside of you – your friends, your children, the community you want to impact, the change you want to usher in society.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book once that changed the worldview of a nation. In 1852, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” altered the way Americans regarded slavery. She left a mark behind that became much bigger than her own personal wealth.

If one day, you can look upon your life and see that it has served people in any way outside yourself, you will realize that writing is more than putting words on paper. And you will be motivated to write today, hoping to be of service to the people around you.

“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” 

― Gary Keller, The ONE Thing


Leo Tolstoy was a fascinating author with an insight into the human soul like none other. Even a hundred years after his death, his work remains famous and inspires movies and TV series all over the world.

You can write powerful stories such as these if you cultivate writing habits that advance both quality and quantity.

Those two are neatly intertwined.

The more you write, the more experience you gather, and the better you get – as long as you are willing to work on the craft and improve with every passing day.

Which habit do you want to adapt to your writing life? Leave a comment and let’s discuss how we can become influential and effective writers.

Do creatives need a fitness journey?

(plus my personal workout plan)

Terrible stomach pains woke me in the morning hours before the alarm was due.

I looked in the mirror and knew something in my life was off.

I wanted to write. I wanted to be creative. But I was too tired.

My stomach had rebelled for months, I haven’t slept enough and my energy levels were constantly dropping. I was unhappy with myself.

This morning, I felt the impact of health on my creativity.

My lifestyle slowly had crept in like a thief, stealing everything before I even knew it. But where would I start if everything seemed off? You probably know this feeling of frustration – needing to accomplish more than you can handle. With this, health remains hidden in the back drawer.

This was about one year ago.

My life had changed in many ways before that morning. I had finished my studies, was recently married and found myself at an impasse, lost and without any goals. But this morning (that was close to the end of the year) moved me to rethink something we often overlook – our daily routines.

Those were my two top priorities: establishing a story writing routine and a fitness routine, including healthy eating habits.

Over a year later I can tell you from experience – this is what consistent routines can do for you:

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1. The mirror is not your foe

Since I can remember, I was unhappy with my looks and body shape. I guess it’s every girl’s curse, and nowadays even men have fallen victim. It’s not that I wanted to be skinny, it was just a general feeling of dissatisfaction with my body.

A gym routine changed this completely. And even when the visual results only set in slowly, I feel great, every single time I overcome my inner couch-potato and leave the gym after a workout.

If fitness and exercise belong to your lifestyle, there is no pressure for a quick fix. You will be doing this for the rest of your life, enjoying every minute and gradually seeing results.

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2. Stress is less of an issue

Physical workout releases dopamine – a happiness hormone!

It helps you relieve stress and gives your conscious mind time to relax.

3. Consistent triggers help organize the day

My typical day starts with a writing session followed by a gym session. I suddenly feel an incredible consistency and am empowered by it to have more disciple and get more done.

“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” – Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

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4. More energy, more health

My stomach pains have stopped since I changed my eating and workout habits, and I feel much more energized throughout the day.

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5. Confidence

The fact that you can establish a workout routine and change your body provides confidence in other areas of life.

In other words: I know I can do it! I know I can workout regularly, change my health, and thus I know I can also write regularly and be successful in my business, day in day out.

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6. Success comes in smaller portions

We all want INSTANT change. The quick fix. The prompt diet.

But this is not how life works.

Instant changes never last: We might hunger to lose weight, but as we start eating normally again, it will be back up. We might get a one-hit-wonder, but how long will it last?

This is not what I want. I want my body to change over time, and I want to maintain my body shape. This requires a lifestyle of working out. That’s why I urge everybody to find a workout they love, and they can imagine doing for at least the next five or ten years.

The same goes for our dreams and careers. If we put in daily work overtime, things will change for good. It’s the universal law of seed and harvest – it always works.

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7. More ideas

Story writing ideas come easily in the gym.

During a workout, our conscious mind is distracted and gives the subconscious space to develop the ideas we have been researching for and pondering over for days and weeks.

Sometimes, they come later – in the shower.


A workout plan for creatives

Creatives mostly perform sedentary work. We live in another world – where art and stories matter more than laundry and lunch.

So in order to have a successful workout routine, you need to bring in your creativity and personality into this as much as you do with your stories. You need to find a workout you enjoy, and this can be anything that fits into your daily life: jogging, hiking, swimming, team sports, dancing, bodyweight or weight lifting. The list is endless, and exercise will quikcly become “your thing” once you find the right one.

You only need 3 months

Three months.

This is all you need to establish a habit.

So on those mornings where you feel like staying in bed instead of heading out into the gym, know this: The torture will end. There will come a time where exercise will become as natural as breathing and brushing your teeth.

To survive those three months, find a workout programme that fits your needs and will instruct you, help you understand your body and lead you through the workout you chose.

I had been very insecure about the gym and especially the weightlifting area. A 12-week programme lead me into all the necessary basics one after another. Find a programme to kickstart your journey and stick to it for three months!

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Find your personal plan

Be realistic about how you want to work out and be flexible until you find your ideal routine.

If you can work out only 3x a week for 30 minutes – great! But don’t feel pressured to exercise 5x a week for hours just because others do. You will fail if your goals don’t fit your schedule.

Build up your exercise as you go — make it more complicated, find people to follow on YouTube to spice up your gym time. Be creative about your fitness journey: learn to understand your body and come up with new exercise splits, sets and supersets yourself.

 

The 70/30 rule – What are the 70 %?

Nutrition.

This is the magic formula, 70 % of your success.

If you want to keep creating for a long time, you need to start consciously thinking about what you put into your body.

Knowledge and simplicity are key.

You need to understand macronutrients and micronutrients.
If I can recommend one unbiased and amazing source of education on healthy nutrition, it is The Food Medic (the two books and also the great podcast).

Breaking down food into large (macro) bits, it consists of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

“Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, which are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts.” – Dr. Hazel Wallace, The Food Medic for Life

The golden rules of healthy eating are very simple:
Eat things as they come in nature – fruit, vegetables, meat. Stay away from processed foods. Start reading ingredient lists, and eat everything with a very simple and short ingredient list.

 

Our relationship with food is emotional – and we often don’t realize what we put into our bodies before we start tracking it.

So for the sake of understanding your own eating habits: Start tracking your food with an app like Lifesum for three months to see what you eat and how it breaks down into nutrients. Adjust your diet to be balanced and meet your targets.

Don’t chase current trends like low-carb and gluten-free. Instead, check out the Mediterranean Diet.

Fitness has become a trend online, but we should strive for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle — not a quick trend.

For us creatives, it’s not about the sexy pictures on Instagram, but rather about building a body of work that is impactful. And we can only build if we are healthy and strong.

So let’s use the trend to our advantage.

How to create life-changing resolutions

As the new year begins, we are mostly filled with motivation for change. At least I was this year. But the silent little voice inside of me whispered: You failed last year, and the year before – why should this be different? Why even bother? We are afraid to fail, and sometimes even refrain from trying because of this fear. But this year, I realized that my failures taught me, and I learned from them. I found out that before setting a goal, I need to be informed both about the field the goal is set in and about myself. How do I react to change? How can I ease the transition? And most importantly: How can I stay motivated? Because STAYING motivated is what counts.

This is what I found: In order to stay motivated, those three ingredients are crucial:

  1. The right goal
    There is a problem with a goal – it needs to have an exact balance. It needs to be big, dreamable, something you can boast about once you reach it, something you can frame and be proud of. But then, it also needs to be achievable, reachable. You cannot have an abstract goal like painting a masterpiece or shooting a blockbuster. This is neither measurable not achievable if you are no Picasso or Spielberg. My advice is: think about what your heart longs for and then make it a measurable dream. Do not make your goal dependable on success. Make a film, paint a picture or write a book without having to measure the success yet.
  2. Constant challenges
    If I’m in the process, things need to change for me. I cannot do the same thing all over again for months without the slightest change or challenge. The problem is: You need to build in the challenge for yourself or invest into a program that does it for you. For me, it’s not enough to write 1000 words a day. Instead, I rather write for forty minutes and try to improve my word count. The same goes with everything else: fitness, food. It needs to vary and to challenge me.
  3. Routine
    On the other hand, nothing is as beautiful as seeing your creative routines become habits. For example: If I haven’t written in the course of a day, I feel exactly that it’s missing. Like having forgotten to brush one’s teeth. So make it your priority to set up a routine and hold on to it for at least 21 days (because we know that our brain needs 21 days to develop habits).

So now, if you have all the three ingredients in place, let’s think about what resolutions we need as creatives, and let me let you in on mine for this new year.

  • Healthy Lifestyle
    I’ve been struggling to find the right diet for a very long time and tried nearly everything. It’s after an article I read that it dawned on me that a diet is useless. The realization just came to me: I need to lead a healthy lifestyle – it needs to be my life, incorporated into everything I do. Not because I need to, but because I want to. My body deserves to be treated with respect and to be preserved as well as possible. It’s sad that we often take more care of our phones, our cameras or anything else of value more than we care for our bodies. But think about it: your body is your ticket for a long and fulfilling life. To be creative and keep on creating you need to stay healthy and have a clear mind as well as enough energy.Healthy does not mean disgusting – it’s a sad but persistent association. You’ll find out quickly that a healthy lifestyle is tasty, and makes you feel great. Also, it does not mean eating less. In fact, if you incorporate the next point, it even means eating more – less crap and more actual nutrients. Okay, so how does this look in practice? I won’t dive into the science of it, and leave it to the experts. Here are the best books I found on this topic and also one of the greatest recipes:
    “The Bikini Body” by Kayla Itsines
    “The Shredded Chef” by Michael Matthews 
    Also, some of the best recipes are found in the program I’ll introduce next.
  • Fitness Routine
    Oh well. Fitness. This particular issue leaves us divided. There are those who need spots and those who hate it. But even if I might lose you as a reader right now, let me tell you one thing: Your body needs exercise. It will thank you for it. It will even reward you in future if you keep yourself fit. It might seem impossible now, but believe me, as soon as you start, you will learn to love it. Exercise is the best way to relieve stress. It’s the best way to feel great about yourself and your achievements, the best way to keep your body fit for everyday life. And there are thousands of ways you can exercise and love it – you just need to find the best way for yourself.My year’s absolute favorite is this program: Pamstrong. I’m following it for one week only and can see a transformation already. It supplies you with great recipes and new workouts every week, and it keeps me motivated.For the guys out there – this is what my husband is crazy about 7 minute workout. He also goes to the gym, but this little thing keeps him motivated, even on those days where he cannot squeeze in anything else. If you hate the gym, you can try also try the famous Freeletics program. For me, it was too hard to keep up with, but multitudes love it. Don’t give up if you don’t find what is right for you at once – keep on trying and start small! But the important thing is – and that’ why I called it the Fitness Routine – make it a habit!
  • Creative Routine
    Now, we’re getting to the best part. Living a healthy life needs to have a purpose, which is amongst others to stay creative and have a clear mind and schedule. What’s most important here is – it needs to be a routine. A goal you can pursue every day. For me, it is 1500 words of writing or one hour of editing to reach this year’s goal: publishing my first novel.What is your goal, and which steps do you need to take to come closer every day? Here also, you need to be informed and study what others before you have found out. My example: I found this fantastic book: 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter: Volume 1pastedGraphic.png. It took my writing to a whole new level and doubled my writing speed in the first days I utilized the methods! This way, I got motivated, and a whole new routine kicked in. What I’m saying is, that you need to study productivity and all kinds of tricks in your field of creativity to set up an amazing routine that you’ll stick to.

For all this, there is a small and simple trick I used this year: I bought a calendar and wrote my routine down! I plan out my week on Saturday with a meal plan and a daily routine that can change according to the appointments and tasks ahead. But this changed my life! So how can you create life-changing resolutions? By planning out routines using the help of professionals and the knowledge of your personality! Stick to them for 21 days – and let me know how your habit kicked in!

PS. There are many other important things I wrote down goals in, like family, relationships, spiritual goals, finances sleep or inspiration. Decide what’s important to you, what your life has been lacking and what your heart tells you to do, write it down, and go for it!