“I hate writing, I love having written.” —Frank Norris, novelist (often attributed to Dorothy Parker and many others)

One of the most common questions I hear from newer writers is “How do I stay on track to finish writing my book?” Or a variation of it: “How do I stay motivated to write when I don’t feel like writing?”

There are any number of possible answers. Let me offer the ones clients (and I) find most useful.

(By the way, experienced writers face the same issue. The difference is, experience brings an understanding of which solutions work for you—it’s always an individual preference.)

Decide ONCE

When I go to dinner at a new restaurant, I usually order the first thing that catches my eye. When I go to a familiar restaurant, I usually order an old standby. (Mexican? Three chicken tacos.) Why? By the end of the day, I’m usually tired of making decisions.

Decisions take energy.

If each day you think, “Should I write today? Do I feel like it? What should I write about?” imagine how much energy you spend on that roundabout.

Instead, redeploy that energy to writing.

Decide ONCE to write a book. Decide ONCE what your writing schedule is. Don’t give yourself a choice. Rather than spending energy deciding, spend it doing.

To underscore this point: Dan Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, suggests we may be happier when we make a “permanent” choice rather than a “keep-your-options-open” choice. We are more at peace when we stop second-guessing ourselves.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do the arithmetic

Stephen King famously writes the first draft of a book in three months. How is that even possible? Word-count goals. He writes 2,000 words per day. Do that for 90 days and you’ve got 180,000 words.

Do you need to write that much or that fast? No. That would be an extraordinarily long book for most of us. The point is, do the arithmetic.

If you want to write a 50,000-word book, you could target 500 words per day for 100 days. Or, 1,000 words per day for 50 days. Or, 2,000 words per day for 25 days. Because you’re a busy person, those days might not be sequential. That’s fine.

Most writers seem to prefer word-count goals, but you could set page-count goals or time-based goals as well. Got an hour or half hour first thing in the morning? Great. See what your average word count is for that period of time. Then do the arithmetic.

Show up

Once you’ve decided (once!) and you’ve done the arithmetic, it’s a matter of showing up. The more you show up at the appointed time, the easier the writing gets. Note: That doesn’t mean it’s ever going to be a piece of cake!

Poet Mary Oliver says it well: “[The muse] learns quickly what kind of courtship it’s going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself—soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.” (from A Poetry Handbook)

Get support

Because showing up can be an ongoing challenge, get some support:

  • Find an accountability partner or writing buddy
  • Join a writers’ group or critique group
  • Take a writing class
  • Get a writing coach
  • Join a writing event like NaNoWriMo or NaPoWriMo
  • Read a book about writing (like Mary Oliver’s) to keep you motivated

Writing is a solitary process much of the time, but the process can be easier when you have a community to support you.

Reward yourself

Give yourself a reward for achieving your writing goals. Even something as small as a gold star on your word-count chart can give you enough warm fuzzies to keep coming back each day. Finish a chapter?  Reward yourself with a new writing notebook. First draft done? Dinner out! The bigger the goal, the bigger the reward.

(CAUTION: Don’t set yourself up to create bad habits! A donut for every 500 words is probably not smart; fifteen minutes of Facebook might be a better option.)

Ready to write?

To some extent, writing comes down to “butt-in-chair” time. Writing is work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it comfortable—get yourself a chair that’s easy on the backside!

And just remember how good it feels to have written…

“Writing is a delicious agony.” —Gwendolyn Brooks