Ever wonder how published authors churn out so many novels in a five month period? If you've watched them carefully enough, you'll notice that not only are they successfully producing books but that they seem to be constantly writing in large doses.
For those of us with publishing dreams this type of writing schedule can seem insane. Most of us have jobs on top of pursuing our writing, children who need our attention, and lives that need living alongside our fictional ones.
It's no wonder why many writers give up before ever accomplishing their goals. Writing is daunting, and it's easy to feel like a failure when you can't keep up with the crazy pace or when life gets stressful and you don't write at all.
I'm here to reassure you that feeling this way is normal! Self-doubt as a writer can be crushing, but it doesn't have to limit your potential.
The list goes on and on. You get the point.
Any of these ring a bell? If they do, don't worry. We've all had these thoughts at one time or another. As a writer that has experienced them ALL (and still do), it took me years to see past my own limiting behaviors, to stop making excuses, and to finally sit down and own my writing.
Here's what worked for me:
Step 1: Letting Go Of Pressures/Limitations:
I think a lot of what holds us back as creatives are the subconscious pressures and limitations that we feel. We may feel there's a certain standard we need to reach before share our writing with others. We may feel overwhelmed by the notion that we have to already be published to be taken seriously, or that the image of what an author is in our minds simply doesn't reflect who we truly are in our day-to-day moments.
While our doubts can come in a variety of thoughts, they all have one thing in common: they keep us from doing what we love.
And this is HORRIBLE. It takes the fun out of writing and sucks out the energy needed to reach our goals. It can even go as far as stopping us from writing altogether. Why? Because deep down a voice inside is telling us that we aren't "good" enough.
I used to think all these things and more. I used to play the comparison game, wondered if I was "talented" enough to actually write, and worried over what people would think once they read my work. The end result was something akin to stage fright. I refused to let anyone critique my work, I was constantly second-guessing my instincts, and I would cringe inside every time someone asked me what my book was about. It kept me from writing for a long time and worse, it kept me from sharing it.
This is where I started. I knew that I couldn't move forward and change my writing habits without first changing my mindset. I realized that by thinking this way I was effectively limiting my own potential. It took a little "reality check" to see that most of my fears/worries/insecurities were purely coming from me and not other people. To help me get over my fears, I started slowly releasing small samples of my work online. Over time I saw positive feedback and that little voice inside quieted down.
Step 2: Daily Affirmation
If you suffer from "imposter" syndrome like I did, you know that feeling you get when you write something and immediately feel like it's not good enough. You're also probably familiar with the confusion that comes from figuring out whether you should call yourself a writer or an author publicly, even though you've never published before.
This was a struggle for me too. I was concerned with where to draw the line, and for a long time I felt like less of a writer regardless of whether I was writing or not.
The truth is that if you're reading this article, chances are you're already a writer. If you've put words down on the page, you've earned the title. As for authorship, if you've written a book (be it a rough draft or a published novel) you're an author. It's that simple. If you're doing the work, then it's one-hundred-percent okay to call yourself what you are.
If that still doesn't reassure you, I can say that I've been calling myself both a writer and author publicly since the start of last year (even though I'm still working towards publication) and I have NEVER had another writer or reader tell me I don't deserve to call myself either. In need of a confidence boost? I suggest trying a daily affirmation. Write down a positive affirmation telling yourself that you're a writer that deserves to have their work be shared. Tell yourself you deserve to call yourself an author, etc. Seeing it in writing can help boost your overall perception of yourself which in turn can do wonders for your writing and how you portray yourself to others.
Step 3: Outline Clear Writing Goals
The next step in this process is to outline clear writing goals. Yes, this means it's time to break out a fresh page in your notebook, the colored pens, and all your ideas/hopes for the year. It doesn't matter when you start, but it does matter that you do it.
It seems simple, but by writing down what you hope to accomplish and breaking that down into action steps what you're effectively doing is giving yourself a road map to follow. It makes your dreams more concrete and gives you the tools necessary to hold yourself accountable. It also acts as a motivator to help keep you going. Eventually you wind up with a writing routine that you can then turn into a habit.
Here's an example of a goal page I use when initially mapping out my goals. Typically I do this in December/January, but realistically you can do this at any time during the year and update when you need to.
My personal writing goal for the year was to complete my YA Fantasy novel Star-Crossed. It's a pet project of mine that I've always wanted to finish and I felt that the time was right to finally do it. I wrote that I would achieve my goal by creating an action plan which included a new writing routine where I would specify how much I would write and when. Then I stated that I would need help keeping myself motivated to meet those daily word count goals. I gave myself a due date of August.
This second picture is of my tracking notebook. As you can see, I decided to structure it by date, word goal for that day, the word count I actually reached, and any notes that I had for that day. I chose to challenge myself to write 1,000 words a day and every 15 days I would reward myself, with larger rewards for the 30, 60, and 90 day marks. I also decided to give myself one day off a week (of my choosing) and an extra day of rest when I reached the 15 day mark. I also adjusted as I went along, realizing that giving myself a few more days in between each 15 day sprint to relax and recuperate was also beneficial.
Ultimately you don't have to structure your goals exactly like mine, but this is the model that works for me. To be successful, you need to evaluate your time and responsibilities accurately. From there you need to decide how much time you have to devote to writing, how many words you can reach during, and how many times a week you can absolutely sit down to reach this goal. By setting your goal too high you run the risk of being discouraged when you can't meet it. Set it too low and you risk getting bored and falling back into old habits. Whatever you decide, it needs to be something that will actually work whether that be 500 words or 1,000. It all depends on you.
Step 4: Making A Commitment
This sounds silly, but you have to commit to your goals if you want them to work. It's not enough to write them down and assume you'll follow them. Without commitment and will power, your notebook will wind up in a drawer somewhere forgotten and collecting dust. Worse yet, if you chose not to write them down and just "remember" them, well they might as well have never existed in the first place.
I know because I've been there. I've also played the game where I promised myself over and over that I would start them next week or next month or whenever things in my life quieted down and got easier. The problem is, this never happens. Life continues, new challenges replace the old ones, and there's always something new that takes our attention away from writing. Then the next time you check it's been half a year and you still have nothing on paper to show for it.
Cue the guilt and shame! You can't be a writer if you don't write. Right?
You cannot be a writer if you're not writing.
Bottom line, you have to write in order to finish your book. You need to mentally commit to being in that writing chair at a designated time each day and let nothing stop you. How you prioritize your writing time above everything else will also determine whether or not it gets done. Often the real strength of a successful writer is their ability to put their writing above the rest of their responsibilities. They adjust the rest so that everything still gets done, but the order of which it happens still favors writing overall. The result? Their books get finished in a timely manner and the rest still gets taken care of.
Step 5: Structuring Your Writing Routine
Establishing a writing routine is much easier after you commit. The reason being that you've already decided to do the writing, now all you have to figure out is when and how high of a word count.
For me, I've tried a few different approaches. I've done a weekly word count where I could write at any point during the week as long as I met my goal by Sunday night. I've tried blocking off specific time frames when I would intentionally write as much as I possibly could until the time was up. I've also attempted to do smaller segments (writing for ten minutes or so throughout a busy day) till I reached a word count total. I even went as far as to change where in my home I did my writing in an attempt to see if that would make a difference.
The big secret to building a routine that actually works is to make one that works for you. Shocker, I know. But it's true.
There's no right or wrong way to build your routine. If you prefer to write at night like me, then pick a time block at night. I find that my personal sweet spot is 8pm to 10pm. Everything from my day is usually done, I'm focused on relaxing, and there are less interruptions from family members and friends. I chose my desk because it's the most comfortable place for me to write, but you could just as easily write from your couch or another corner of your home. I've also discovered that I need to make a cup of tea and have classical music playing softly in the background in order to feel inspired. I typically start off by reading a few pages of whatever book I'm currently reading to put myself into the right frame of mind to write. Little rituals like these can help set the mood and ensure a successful writing session. You simply need to find your preferences and run with them once you've got the right combination.
Step 6: Stopping While You're Ahead
While it sounds counterproductive, a trick that I found really works for me is to end each writing session right in the middle of what I know needs to happen next. The primary purpose of doing this is so that it's easier to get back to writing the next time you begin. It works! Now whenever I begin my next writing block I don't waste time trying to figure out where I left off or what needs to happen or the order of which it occurs. I can quickly dive back into the scene and it all flows much easier from there than it would if I completed each chapter.
Now that's not to say that I don't complete chapters or that I always stop in the middle. I write till I reach 1,000 words and then stop. Where I am in my writing doesn't matter. What matters is that I know what is going on and what needs to happen to finish the scene or in the next one as the case may be. By keeping things open (and typically at the height of emotion) it allows for more ideas to enter into the equation as well. When I sit down the next day I tweak what I need to but ultimately continue on with my writing.
Step 7: Rewarding Yourself
You may have tried similar techniques before and failed. You may be thinking that because they didn't work before, they won't work for you now. Don't give up even if you feel discouraged. There's usually a reason you didn't reach your goal and there are ways to fix any issues that come up. The most common of these is feeling motivated to do the work in the first place.
Trial and error are part of the writing experience. Often the reason why proven techniques don't work for us isn't because the techniques themselves are bad, it's because we lack the proper motivation to see them through. I know this from first-hand experience. It took me years to find the right combination of both scheduling, word count goals, and motivator to help me get to where I am now.
Think of your writing as a car and the motivator as the fuel. You may want to drive the car to someplace new, but without the fuel you won't get very far. The key is to find what motivates YOU. It's different for each person. For me, getting to choose something I want to buy works well. For others it may be more effective to promise yourself an experience, a favorite food, time with friends or family- no matter what it is, you have to want it badly enough that your writing time becomes sacred. You also have to be honest with yourself. Don't break and reward yourself prematurely. Set realistic boundaries for when and how you will receive your rewards. You can also vary the types along the way if you find something isn't working or just to keep it interesting.
Step 8: Accountability
Another difficult one, this step usually stops writers in their tracks. When we've been at our writing routines for a while and the feeling of monotony sets in, backsliding into old habits can happen. It can be a gradual slide into our old excuses, the mindset of "I'll do that tomorrow", or we give up because it's not fun anymore. Whatever the reasoning, we can all agree that it doesn't do our writing any favors.
Accountability plays a crucial role in at this stage. Having someone to hold ourselves accountable to can make all the difference when it comes to how well we follow through on our goals. Support can come from anywhere. An encouraging spouse, a friend turned book fan, an accountability partner, or even other writers online.
It took me a while to figure this one out for myself, but once I did I found it helps smooth the transition from inspired writer to habit writer. I'm a huge believer in giving yourself a well-rounded support system, so I use all of the aforementioned forms of accountability accomplices. This way when I feel stuck I can brainstorm with writers and non-writers alike, receive the emotional support I may need when I've had a rough day and don't want to continue, or even just to share my goals and progress along the way and have people know what I'm doing. I find that all these methods help me stay focused and on track, not only because I owe it to myself, but because I owe it to them too.
Step 9: Listening To Your Body/Mind
Before you write this off as some sort of new age baloney, I want you to close your eyes and check in with yourself right now. How are you feeling? Are you tired? Not feeling your best? Or is the opposite true? What does your body want in this moment? The answer to these types of questions will tell you what you need to know for this next piece of advice.
As a full-time writer, I'm constantly writing. Now that I've added the 1,000 words a day routine, it's even worse because I'm working all day and then writing even more after the work day is done. It comes as no surprise that creatively and physically I'm exhausted by the time it's late enough to go to bed. That's where this exercise comes in.
Being mindful and pausing to register how you're feeling each day and what you may need can help you succeed and be productive in your writing. There are legitimate excuses for why writing shouldn't happen. We're only human after all. On days when you're feeling under the weather, it's okay to take a break. These include mental health breaks. We all experience writing burn-out and sometimes it's necessary to take a step back, relax, and stop typing for a while.
It's important to remember that at the end of the day, the writing will always be there. Your book isn't going anywhere and you can't "lose" your talent. You're not disappointing or upsetting anyone if you don't reach your weekly goal. Take the pressure off of yourself and listen to what your inner muse needs. If that means you're not as productive one day that's fine. If you find that your exhaustion extends beyond two, then perhaps it's time to modify your schedule to something less vigorous for a while. The same goes for the busier times in our lives, like around the holidays. Being realistic and adjusting our goals and writing routine as necessary is all part of learning the art of balanced writing.
Step 10: Trial & Error
At the end of the day, you have to give yourself credit. When you try new things, don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work or semi-works. Try, try again. And again. And then try some more. If it still doesn't work modify it or scrap the idea in favor of another approach. There's an infinite amount of techniques out there. At least one of them is bound to work for you.
The important thing is to come up with strategies that fit your lifestyle, schedule, and process as a writer. It may take time to sort out, but eventually you'll wind up with a streamlined process that you're able to not only stick with, but look forward to.
Now that I've created a routine that works for me, I find myself excited to write each day. Instead of feeling like more work it's an act of self-care, a moment where I get to tune out from the world and my daily problems to focus on myself and my story.
I've learned to forgive myself for any awkwardness, to trust that my creativity will lead me to where I need to be, that my support system will lift me up on the days of doubts, and most importantly that my novel will complete itself sooner rather than later. Best yet, in the past two weeks of holding myself to my new schedule, I wrote over 20,000 words. You can too!
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