Writing has always been a dream of mine. Sound familiar? Many of us long to share our experiences, creativity, and knowledge with others. I never could balance teaching with writing, and when the opportunity came, I left the classroom. I’ve written two drafts of my first novel, but I still have a long way to go.
The funny thing about discipline is that it relies on setting priorities. I have not made my novel a priority, so I am not surprised it’s not finished yet. Given what I know about how to develop writing discipline, I’d say I need to reassess where I am on my writing journey. Knowledge is one thing. Application is another matter entirely.
#1 Accept Imperfection: In order to get words on the page, condition yourself to accept the art of writing badly. A Nora Roberts quote I saw on twitter the other day says it best, “You can fix a broken page. You can’t fix a blank one.” Revise later or you risk breaking the flow of creation.
#2 Create a Writing Space: You deserve a space that is just for you and your writing activities. The couch might be comfy, and the dining room table convenient, but carve out a spot for a small desk if you don’t have room for a full home office. Mark your territory!
#3 Invite Criticism: Seek out those who can help you. The act of writing is a lonely process, but ultimately you are writing for readers, so their input matters greatly once you have a draft that’s ready to share. Same goes for blogs. Utilize libraries, universities, co-workers, family, or find a critique group via the internet.
#4 Make Deadlines: This goes beyond an achievable word count. Given the scope of your book, how long will it take to draft? How many re-writes do you envision? How long will it take you to format it and make it available as an eBook? Always account for a learning curve.
#5 Minimize Distractions: Make an honest assessment of what puts your mind in writing mode. Music and television creates white noise for some, but not others. Avoid the temptations of social media. If possible, turn off your phone. If you get out of your chair a lot, re-focus.
#6 Track Hours: Channel your inner control freak and use a spreadsheet or notebook to track the hours you devote to writing. Draw a solid line between writing time and marketing time. Multi-tasking between the two will inevitably eat into your writing time. Don’t cook the books!
#7 Set Reasonable Goals: Ask yourself how much writing you can accomplish in the time available. Set a weekly word count for your work in progress and decide if it’s best to spread your writing throughout the week or cram it into a day or two. Also, factor in how to balance writing tasks such as blogging and social media posts that must be done to market your material.
#8 Recognize Rituals: Can you get started in the morning if the house is a mess or the bills aren’t done? If so, get that stuff done before morning. Does your desk have to be organized just so in order to feel productive? Maybe you only write with a certain type of pen. Embrace your quirks, but don’t let them bog you down.
#9 Reflect: Thinking about your productivity and actively working to develop writing habits is great, but why not keep a journal and record your thoughts about your writing journey? Or if you need a sense of community and folks to commiserate with, find a blogging community.
#10 Schedule Tasks: Even if you’re only working on one book project, pencil in a writing task for each day that goes beyond mere word count. Balancing drafting with blog posting can get hectic, so it’s best to develop an organized approach (and yes that will take time too).
I’ve really struggled with accepting imperfection. My novel just isn’t the novel I set out to write, and I’m not sure if revisions can shape it into what I want it to be. I will finish it by the end of this year (with beta feedback, etc.) and then move on. Distractions can also be an issue since I’m also working on a an eBook about my time in national parks.
Alas, we all learn different speeds and in different ways. Onward!
What would you add to the list? What strengths and weaknesses factor into your own discipline?
Pleas join me on Writer B is Me with Beth Teliho for my guest post Beyond Boring: Three Days with Professor Bland.
Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the images in this post.
Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB
Forever a student, there are things I am doing as I continue to build skills in doing this now. At first it was with training myself to endeavor to come up with content 5 days a week. This was great for building the 10th Day Brewing blog into what it is now (and continues to evolve it into something for people to enjoy). Now I am working on making a specific word count daily. It seems a simple goal but for me it is a measurable for me to see my work patterns.
Looking at your list I see a few things I do anyway and then a few things I will probably never really do (I hate scheduling). But it is something I have added into my tech article archive because it is much I will continue to think about as I learn more of who I am and what this is all about.
Jon, creating blog content five days a week can be killer. I used to do so, and it was a great way to get back into the writing habit. Discipline is a fickle thing. I’m disciplined in so many ways, but just not when it comes to my novel. Other forms of writing hold sway over me in a way the novel does not.
I find the dog beside the writing desk ever-so-important! And I often add a cat to my lap, as well.
Laura, dog beside desk is always a good thing. However, my cat does not cozy to my lap. Inside, it stomps across my keyboard to get to the windowsill and occasionally meows loudly in my face and bites the fleshy part of my arms. It must be love!
I’m really bad about the discipline part. Once I get going on something, I can persevere—but it’s the starting up that gets me. Especially since I published a novel and started building an author platform, social media stuff is eating me up. I need to get some more of my writing out there. I’ve more or less decided that I’m going to revise and polish older stories and plays that I have for a story collection. So, I’m assembling them, and revising and formatting etc. It gives me the feeling of a deadline, and for me that’s the most important element of getting discipline — the pressure of a deadline. Just don’t wait too long before you start marching. You don’t want to wind up not having enough time to get your story or play in shape The too short deadline is counter productive.
Larry, I think we’ve probably all struggled with the time that social media eats in relation to the time it takes to get the “real” writing done. I create all sorts of deadlines for myself, but still struggle to make my novel-writing time my number one priority. All sorts of shiny (social media) objects always beckon!
It’s funny but discipline has never been my issue. I have plenty of others — self-doubt, going too fast, etc. But I can, and do, write all the time and everywhere. I was making notes at the side of the dance floor the other night. Turned into an interesting scene in the novel by expanding the character of a minor player.
Candy, for some reason my discipline doesn’t seem to apply to my novel. I don’t want to call it quits, but if I were to start over, it would be an entirely different novel. I guess the revisions that lie before me just seem so daunting.
Jeri – You are much too much the perfectionist when it comes to your own writing. I get that. I am too. However, get it done and get it out there. There are many works out there that are popular that are not all that good from a writing perspective. Stop fretting about it and enjoy it. OK There’s my 2 cents.
Cheryl, I am trying to let go a bit so I can get the draft done without the process bringing me down too much. Getting my book out there is a relative term since I’ll be querying agents first. There’s no guarantee that I’ll even self-publish it if I can’t get the story to where I want it to be. Time will tell. Maybe my first novel was meant to teach me about the type of writer I want to be more so than being meant to be shared. I do intend to see it through and pitch it to agents once again this summer at the PNWA conference.
For me, it’s not going down the rabbit hole of email an social media. I’m a morning person and I have found that on days I want to write, I can’t open my outlook at all! If I start answering emails, or comment on forums…I’m done. I’ve lost the frame of mind I need to write 🙁 because personally, I have to be “in” my story. I know what you mean about finding the revisions daunting…but I sure hope you find a way. I’d love to read it!
Jacquie, I too try to stay away from starting other tasks in the morning. If I do, then the revisions on my book never get started. I just need to suck it up and make those revisions a priority. Things go well enough once I begin the revisions. It’s just opening the file that is the hardest step!
I have a set time when I write for my one writing project although you may find me engrossed in it at other times of the day. The other times I consider ‘bonus’ times. I need a huge mug of coffee at my desk in order to write. I have bottled water there too but it’s the coffee that’s the must have.
If I’m going to have a routine of any sort, I do much better if the routine is at least 6 days per week, if not of 7 days.
Yes, I’m a control freak, to the utmost. It’s something I think I was born with and find great difficulty living without.
Glynis, my set time needs to be the morning. I’ve come to realize this, but still only manage to get my writing done first thing 50 percent of the time. Forming new habits can be so daunting.
Love this! I’m going bookmark this site. I only wish you had a bigger picture of your journal. Would love to see how you set it up. My husband told me once of a famous author (whose name escapes me) who scheduled 4 hours a day every day to writing. He made sure he had no distractions and would not leave his “office” until the 4 hours were up. Even if he didn’t know what to write. He would sit at his desk until something came to him. Just an interesting author quirk.
Joanne, I keep having intentions to write for at least 2-4 hours a day. Too often I let something else come up, when really I’m just making excuses. Writing is so weird that way. To love and fear something at the same time…
These are all great points! I found a little of myself in each one. My biggest struggle right now is with balancing writing time and marketing time. Also, I think I found my new favorite quote: Embrace your quirks but don’t let them bog you down.
Meredith, it’s always such a hard call to decide how much time to devote to marketing. I was on a roll before I moved where I could contact seven potential book reviewers each week, but now I only do so sporadically. I need to get back in that habit.
I wrote a novel before but but I prefer to write a blog. I can reach my audience fast when I wrote an article in a blog compare with a a novel that need to be printed first.
I often wonder if I might try to blog a book someday. I really love the regular feedback and community that results from putting out blog posts. On the other hand, writing a novel can be very lonesome and progress really does tend to drag on forever.
While I am truly blessed that a publisher found me for a book I didn’t know I wanted to write, their schedule allowed me to not just plan due dates, but stick to them. Maybe, an accountability partner would help you with your due dates – I like due dates instead of deadlines.
Pat, I do exchange with a critique partner on a regular basis. At least that has helped me see two drafts trough. It’s not an output or deadline thing so much as it is I’m letting myself feel too much pressure to produce a good story. I need to keep chugging away and I know I’ll get there. It’s just a hard pill to swallow when I know the book has such a long way to go to be something I can be proud of.
The fact that you’re thinking about this means you’re there. Sigh, but it still takes diligence and effort to stay there.
When all we have is time and we are the time keeper, time has a tendency to slip away. It kinda goes like this; we wake up and realize we have a whole day, heck a whole week to get stuff done. So we take our time getting started, then the day is gone and we have no idea what just happened to the time. That was me when I found myself with no master, employer or someone to account too. The fact is, we need to treat our day as a work day with deadlines, due-dates, priorities, and yes, a prioritized list of what needs to be accomplished. Now I just need to learn when to shut it off… LOL.
Susan, I met more goals the first year I was writing my book than the second year. It’s so easy to let a process grind you down, but as you know, I’ve been taking steps to improve my habits.
I think we have the same calendar! I thought I was the only one who still used one and not the computer. The only thing I have to add is related to a calendar – use a white board to brain dump. It helps me tremendously when I am putting together a new project or offering. Love your tips. I like #2. I have a small-ish desk in our parlor that I use. I’ve claimed the space for my own and have filled the airy room with my collection of buddhas and elephants. It helps me to think and be calm at the same time.
Laurie, you’re not the only one who has told me to get a white board 😉 I’ve liked having a big desk calendar since my lesson planning days. It’s this huge visual reminder that I can’t ignore. I’m not technology shy, but I just have never made the leap to online calendars.
Discipline is easy when recommending to someone else what they should do. Not so easy to adopt for myself. Would you believe that my book is finished but I have yet to upload it? How’s that for lack of discipline? Yes, bad.
Beth, we all definitely get hung up on the silliest and strangest things when it comes to our own progress.
Agree with you about the importance of setting priories, Jeri. As far as I’m concerned there are no rules that determine when and how to write. Have found that when I am truly into what I write about it just flows and I suddenly realize a whole day has gone. If I’m not inspired it’s difficult to get anything done.
Catarina, I agree about the inspiration part. Now that I’ve made writing and editing my life’s work, it can be a bit distressing when the inspiration takes a vacation. Little by little, I’m seeking ways to learn to let go and just get on with the writing. Strangely enough, letting go of various hang-ups about the process ends up making inspiration more likely 😉
Jeri these are good suggestions. The one the is the most important to me is making the deadlines. You bought up a good point to reflect. I have try to set aside a certain time each week to write my blog. It is just like exercising, boy can I come up with every excuse in the book why I didn’t have time.
Arleen, I’m trying to make revising my book revolve around deadlines. It’s become far too easy to work on other projects, when I know I have to get to the book first thing in the morning. Starting is always the hardest part, and I get your feelings about exercise. Moving this summer put a huge dent in writing and exercise, but now both are getting back on track.
Minimizing distractions is the biggest issue for me. It is particularly easy to get distracted with social media, email, etc. Learning to say no to other things in order to respect writing time is important too.
Donna, I too have gone down the social media rabbit hole more than once. The first couple of months this year have seen me really focus on using the morning hours to get the “essential” stuff done. I tend to let my brain convince me to do the less-stressing tasks first, but in reality, it needs to be the other way around so I can achieve all of the big ticket items that are up for that day or week.
I write strictly as a hobby at this point and time, Jeri. I have to be in the right mood and “place”. Fantastic suggestions here and the one on Distractions really hit home “Music and television creates white noise for some, but not others.” I write best listening to music BUT it’s keeping out all of the other distractions (email pops up, etc) that is a big key for me. Good post! 🙂
Mike, back in the day it seemed I was always in the mood to write. When I think about why, it was because I was taking three to five writing-based classes each semester. All of those built-in deadlines were such a luxury!
“Knowledge is one thing. Application is another matter entirely” << I so get this! Discipline is tough for me, too. When I'm immersed in the blogging world, I sort of forget I'm supposed to be editing/revising. I think it's subconsciously deliberate! Like you said, the editing can be daunting.
Love the quote by Nora. so true!
Now leave me alone so I can edit. 😉
Beth, it’s like I become a pile of protoplasm when it comes to working on my book. I’m Ms.Discipline in almost all over areas. I guess it’s my inner-brat finding something to be a baby about. The first two drafts have been a struggle, but the third will hopefully be when things start to fall into place. I downloaded Scrivener today, so I hope that is the ticket to re-arranging my chapters.
Great list Jeri. I really need some writing discipline. I find that my blogs kind of eat into all my writing time now. My dream is to be able to concentrate on writing full time, and be able to stop working so that I can focus!
I love the Roberts quote. I definitely follow that method, it’s the going back and editing which causes me to get stuck! I’m really looking forward to making a writing space when I get back to Ireland.
Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your writing 🙂
Christine, my blog eats up so much of my writing time too, but I really do love blogging. If I knew then, what I know now… experience is always the best teacher.
I really needed to read these today, Jeri! Very inspirational AND helpful 🙂
Reyonce, thanks for stopping by I hope the tips help in some small (or maybe big) way.
Writing discipline is tough. Finding a balance almost impossible. But I really liked what you said about embracing your imperfection. Also books don’t nec. turn out how we envisioned them but perhaps it’s because the ‘real’ story needed to come out. In first draft mode I like to set word count goals but once the 1st draft is done I let goals go which if course leads to procrastination. Knowing the rituals you need to keep the writing a practise rather than a avoidance is a great idea. Great post Jeri. Thankyou
Kathy, I’m always amazed at the similarities and differences inherent in each individual’s writing process. I did good with word counts on my first draft. Even when I deleted half of my book and re-wrote it, I chugged along. I’ve hammered out a plot, and some really great critique partners have pointed out what is and isn’t working. I just need to put on my big girl pants and get on with it.
Great advice. I’m terrible at understanding my own rituals and so I will often repeat the very thing that will lead to poor results. I need to pin this for the next time I’m being a goof or just plain procrastinating.
Debra, if only we could apply our power of perception to ourselves like we can other people and contexts. I keep telling myself writing my first book is just like my first year of teaching. It sucked. I stuck with it, and I got better. In time, I got better at changing ineffective practices. All my fancy education only helped after the first couple of years of teaching when I was ready to apply theory to my practice. My writing journey is going much the same way. Still, it makes me sick when I can edit and critique the work of others and do it well. My own stuff? Not so much.
This is the second post I read today about discipline and the challenge of prioritizing fiction writing. Clearly, you are not alone. I’ve put my novel on the back burner and I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it. I will eventually, though, because it haunts me. You, I have no doubt, will succeed with yours.
Jagoda, my writer friend here in Idaho has been working on her first novel as well. We’re old hands at creative nonfiction, and I’d like to think I know my way around the territory of the short story. But writing a novel really is an art form unto itself.
It’s such a good idea to discipline yourself when working from home whether it is to write a novel or any other job. In my case, I find that if I don’t write up my recipe more or less on the same day, I loose the enthusiasm.
Mina, I’m the same way with my blog posts in that I need to at least write a good title down or the idea will fade completely in no time at all. The tough thing about getting through a novel can be how the motivation to write can wax and wane.
Great list! I’d love to mark my territory. We have a little flat, so I’m usually writing on the couch, but it’s not really what I want. I tried writing at my grandmother’s old antique desk. It didn’t help that I kept getting neck strain. I’m hoping to resolve this issue sometime this year.
Denise, a good desk and a great chair can help so much. I really like office chairs with mesh backs 🙂
Your writing strategy is great, and I bet it holds true for any task we want to accomplish! You have motivated me to get to work on a few things!!
Grace, the items on the list really do fit a good number of situations beyond developing writing discipline. For me, I can be good about something for a long time, but getting back in shape so to speak is always a challenge.
I’m used to working with deadlines from my work as a lawyer. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a perfectionist (incapable of achieving perfection, of course), so I tend to use up the amount of time that’s available. I never finish ahead of time. I’m having trouble setting my own deadlines for my blog.
Maybe you should consider self-publishing your novel as a blog. It’s the modern day equivalent of what Charles Dickens did in serializing some of his novels. You could then rewrite it as a stand-alone novel if you wanted to. Do you know of any novels introduced in blog form?
Suzanne, what I’ve realized the most is how hard it is to work quickly when I am the one setting the deadlines. I’m more of an externally motivated person, so when nobody else but me is effected by a deadline, time just seems to disappear because I will spend a lot of time working on various projects. I’ve considered blogging a short eBook, but I could never do so with a novel. My writing is so rough in the initial drafts that I wouldn’t dare let it see the light of day until a few others critique it. Authors here and there had blogged novels, but probably not too many in my genre of literary fiction. Who know? Publishing is changing all the time. I’m sure I’ll settle on what’s best for me eventually. It’s been good that it’s been a pain to write my first book. It’s given me the time to really think about the path I will take as a writer and editor.
Jeri — all excellent tips. I love the Nora Roberts quote “You can fix a broken page. You can’t fix a blank one.” I’m going to remember that one. I just finished a client writing assignment. I suffered over a really simple project. It was my first for this company and I had all kinds of negative thoughts that it wouldn’t be good, they wouldn’t like it, they wouldn’t hire me again. The usual drill. I think writers often expect to sit down and write a perfect first draft. When I finally was up against the deadline, I did the necessary research and the piece turned out fine. But, of course, I had to subject myself to a lot of anxiety. Why do we do this!?
Jeannette, us writers really do like to give ourselves a hard time. “The usual drill” as you put it brings such stress, and then things usually come out fine in the end.
Good checklist for Writing Discipline and applicable to many fields of endeavour. I cant say I have a problem with discipline as it ever seems a chore but I only avoid “Writers Block” y always having several pieces under development which seems to give fresh eyes when returning to one that was stalled.
Paul, the more I write, the more I’ve came to the same conclusion. Having two or three projects in progress at any given moment does help on those days when the “main” project just gives me fits.
I like the idea of “accepting imperfection”, not just in writing but in all aspects of life. Who cares if the kitchen floor isn’t spotless? Better to concentrate on making what’s important as near-perfect as possible.
Wendy, I’m okay with letting some housework slide too. I’ll try to get things picked up and organized before I go to bed. That at least makes it less likely I will let myself get distracted from writing by feeling the pull of every day chores.
#1 Accept Imperfection:
Huge. Big. This should have been #1 !!!
I get to the point where I must let it go, you know?
When I look back at some of my other work, even published work, I think, “NOO!! This word should have been inserted in there, NOT that word!”
The thing is….The work is NEVER finished, is it?
Great post! Over here from Mikes page. xx
Kim, thanks so much for stopping by. I’m getting to the “let it go” point with my novel. I’ll spend the rest of this year working on it, but after that, it will be time to move onto other things.
Love the quote – Knowledge is one thing. Application is another matter entirely.
I’ve just realised why I have yet to start writing and why my blog has become quite a burden. I need to implement a number of these points.
Becc, as always I will be looking forward to seeing where your journey goes. I appreciate how readily you share your progress in all matters with readers.
Almost all of these sound good, particularly if you have a lifestyle that will support it. On the other hand I wrote 3 (short) books last year with a ‘day job’ which has revolving shifts that have some that start in 6 in the morning and end at 2 and some that start at 11 at night and end at 7 in the morning.
On the plus side I don’t have small children to look after and while I work hard at work I don’t take it home with me. My office is the kitchen table or coffee shop.
I think your list is great for you and probably a lot of other people but for people who have a less structured work or hone life it is possible for them to still write.
Pat, we all definitely come at the writing process at different ways. Some of us can get the writing done despite life’s other distractions. I have learned the hard way I am not one of those people. Of course a large part of my effect to be more self-disciplined in terms of my novel stems from how frustrated I’ve grown with drafting it.
Those are some great tips. I used to have a problem minimizing distractions. I used to try to watch ESPN or listen to music while writing. That didn’t work for me at all. I would be more focused on the TV than finishing the next paragraph.
Jason, I’m just like you when it comes to trying to work with the TV on. I had to stop that habit long ago when I realized how much more studying I got done when I turned the TV off. On the other hand, my husband will sit on the couch quite often and write code without losing much focus at all.
Jeri, wonderful post. I have the hardest time with #4 making deadlines. Both for my blog posts and major projects for the blog I am working on. I seem to have so many ideas but I don’t put enough traction into them to plan ahead and figure out what I need to get done by when.
Johnny, I can definitely relate to the feeling of having too many ideas. I’ve been working with a career coach to help fix that. So far, so good!
I love all your tips. I think they are best.
We really can fix a bad writing, but nothing can be done, if page is blank.
I really love when you said, ” discipline is that it relies on setting priorities”.
Yesterday I was reading A.K. Andrew blog in which she has written about John Steinbeck and one of his quote that was mentioned, “Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”
I too believe that it is about setting the priorities and staying away from distractions.
Thank you for great tips.
Jeri, I am finding that I need to set reasonable goals. I have been writing five pages a day in my journal. It is a goals I can meet and I am slowly moving forward. I have learned that I can not push because I will fail and then beat myself up for not sticking with the plan. So I here you on that. great topic! =)
Crystal, there is such a fine line to walk in creating reasonable goals. I got frustrated for awhile when I would see writer bragging about writing 10,000 or more words a day until I realized that just wasn’t my drafting style. Slow and steady wins the race for many of us. Developing a writing habit is such an individual process. I think we all have to learn the hard way what works for us.