The 9 Habits of Mind for Powerful Writing

For many individuals the ability to select a topic, conjure up ideas, and then write about it is a tough process. Even more arduous is the action of physically building focused behaviors to continue writing with reader appeal in mind. It takes persistence, focus, pacing, planning, questioning yourself, developing your senses, and thinking outside the box. Additionally, keeping in mind the fundamentals of writing is key. A writer needs to always emphasize grammar, structure, fluency and style.

So, how can the Habits of Mind improve your process for writing more effectively?

What follows are 9 important Habits of Mind that you can implement immediately with applicability in the classroom. Even more importantly, these Habits of Mind can be used as an outline for structure within the writing process.

1. Responding with wonderment and awe

Why are you inquiring about a topic? What excites you?

You have the opportunity to choose your own topic. Don’t just grab something off a list of top ideas; select something that’s always intrigued you. This is how you will inspire both yourself and your audience. Even though you may be happier with no assignment at all, seize the opportunity to explore a topic that you really want to know more about.

2. Thinking about thinking (metacognition)

How are you organizing your thinking? What are you brainstorming? Know your knowing.

You receive a writing assignment and feel overwhelmed because of your lack of knowledge about the process and topic. At this point you know that you need to figure something out. When such problems arise, try this checklist:

  • Take some time to research the issue you are having.
  • Search out some examples of good high school-level writing pieces.
  • Talk with friends/peers about the issue.
  • Ask questions and solicit advice.

In my experience, this was most successful in helping me understand what I needed to do in order to be successful. I know myself and what works best for me.

3. Listening with understanding and empathy

Are you listening to other viewpoints?

Get into the habit of listening closely to what others have to say when presenting information and conversing about writing ideas. Try and understand another person’s perspective and feelings, especially when they differ from your own. In other words, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

A classroom discussion about topic selections is a great example: certain topics can elicit valuable conversation and offer the opportunity to understand opposing views. Picking up on a peer’s tone of voice, emotion and conviction will enable you to empathize with them. This habit is particularly useful, even necessary, when researching, outlining, drafting, and brainstorming.

4. Persisting

Are you going the extra mile and working to complete your writing goal?

When you have writing workshop time or have to write on your own, set a goal for yourself to complete a well-developed paragraph. As you push yourself to finish this goal, consider the commitment you are putting forth. The idea is not to just get it done so you can be ready to leave class, but complete the piece of work with excellence.

Persisting through distractions is key here. You have a computer in front of you, and YouTube is a click away—it’s tempting. This is where you remind yourself that not only did you commit to completing a paragraph, but that you are also practicing persistence. This is being mindful of persisting.

5. Questioning and posing problems

Are you asking other people questions?

As you write, make a list of questions you have in relation to the style of writing to discuss in writing workshop or in a conference with your teacher. Pose some problems to your peers or your teacher about issues that occur during the writing process. The idea is to get a clear understanding of your writing style and learn from your mistakes.

Perhaps you have to produce a video essay, but you’ve never done one and are having trouble with the software program and how it works. Don’t throw your hands up in confusion or put your head down in despair. Ask your peers in class as well as your friends outside of the class if they know something about video essays.

6. Thinking flexibly

Is there another way to write this?

During the writing process you always need to go back and edit your paper. For example, you find two paragraphs within your writing that you believe suffer from one or more of the following: they’re ineffective, not captivating, and/or just plain boring. Ask yourself, “What can I do to improve and make these better paragraphs?”

Many times within your writing you have opportunities to show your ideas in a way that most writers would never think of. This is thinking flexibly.

7. Gathering data through all senses

Have you considered the senses within your writing, explaining the sights, taste, touch, and smell?

Make the reader feel that he or she is physically there in the story. Show the use of sound, taste, sight and touch. Check out this example for a narrative essay.

“As soon as I walked on the soccer field for the championship game, still overwhelmed with surreal emotions, my senses were booming. The glistening lights shining on the field made the night sky glisten with beauty. Many speakers blasted songs that evoked intense and powerful vibes to psych up the players and the fans. A smell of freshly cut grass, humid and misty air, and a baking temperature evoked the sweat that poured down my face. I was ready to get this game going!”

8. Taking responsible risks

Are you trying different approaches to writing?

During the writing process you feel that improved word choice will help the reader understand your ideas. When tweaking your word choice, you have some doubts about whether your writing is awkward or sounds insincere or if you have developed the appropriate voice in the piece. These concerns are good to have; you should question your choices in your writing. When you revise with a peer or teacher, have discussions around those questions. Taking these risks will develop you as a writer.

9. Striving for accuracy

Are you asking, “Is this my best piece of writing”?

After finishing your writing piece make sure to strive for perfection. Set aside the time to research, proofread, edit citations, consider word choice, and even have peers proofread your paper. Next, read your paper out loud to yourself. And, do it again. This is striving for accuracy.

Let’s Conclude

In writing this piece I tried to use all of these habits. By being mindful of each habit while writing I believe my ideas and advice were clear and concise. And, hopefully an applicable strategy you will be able to utilize within your pedagogy.

As I end this piece, I would love to hear how this approach worked for you as a reader? In addition, which of Habits of Mind do you feel most help you as a writer? Please feel free to send me your comments and thoughts to


Read more from Dan Vollrath.


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If you are already using Habits of Mind as part of your daily practice and are committed to nurturing the growth of the dispositions in others, you can pursue becoming an individual practitioner certified by the Institute for Habits of Mind (IHOM).

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