How to get your writing back on track

Writing takes a lot of mental energy and willpower, and we all break our habits once in a while — here's how to get back to work.

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Any freelancer needs high levels of motivation and willpower to succeed. For writers creating for their own audience rather than working for a client, these skills are even more vital. With only self-imposed deadlines and nobody to answer to, it can be difficult to keep momentum.

Daily word counts and deadlines for first drafts help us at the beginning. It's comforting to think that if we write 2,000 every day, we'll have our novel written in six weeks. It's exciting to tell people your book will be launching in two months. But really these tricks are only motivational. As anyone who's ever published a novel or two will know, your speed of writing depends on a whole lot more than an arbitrary daily word goal. Research, planning, editing and re-writing all make your net word increase vary hugely, even if you're spending the same amount of time writing each day.

At some point, we all fall off our writing treadmill and progress stops. Often this is for a good reason. I've stopped writing several times due to family illness or catastrophe. Sometimes I've safeguarded my brain with a day off, or chosen to spend a day with friends or family and devoted all of my thinking and time to them.

Unfortunately, this is all cobblers.

Writing requires a high level of mental energy. This is the secret that we writers know that people who aren't writers don't. To them we often look like we spend most of the day slacking off. But most writers will know their limit, and it's usually a few hours a day. Roald Dahl wrote for two hours a day. Stephen King writes for three or four hours. But after that, we're spent. We need time for our creativity to recharge.

The downside of using all this energy is that when something easier comes up that seems to be demanding our attention, we usually jump at it. If we can properly justify to ourselves, so much the better. But it throws us off our writing habit, and that can be really damaging to your writing business.

How to get back on track

  1. Block out a time in your calendar for writing. Make it repeat every day. This becomes your writing 'default'. Having it in your calendar will stop you unthinkingly double-booking yourself. You can move the time around in the day if you need to, but by having a default position you'll think more about it and will make sure you still write for the same length of time later that day.
  2. Write when everyone else sleeps. This is recommended by so many authors it's hard to ignore. Write early in the morning or late at night. You won't get distractions coming in. I also find there's a feeling of peace at those times that really helps my writing flow (I alternate between morning and night writing — I think my brain gets bored otherwise).
  3. Silence those notifications. Whenever you're writing, turn off all notifications. Phones, laptop, your iPad in the other room. Even just the sound of a notification can distract you enough to make you lose your flow. By all means keep key people in your phone favourites so emergency calls still get through, but everything else can wait for you to finish writing.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash