filed under How To Write A Book.

I love it when people email me with questions, or with suggestions of things they’d like me to write about for my blog because then I don’t have to sit here on Sunday night agonising out what to blog about! So thanks Melinda for your message. She asked me about how to stick to writing a book—I’ve blogged a lot about how to get started, how to make time, but not so much about how you keep going. So that’s what today’s post is all about.

1. Learning to Say No

This is such a big one. As Melinda said to me in her message, because we writers often work at home and appear to have flexible hours, people assume that means we’re free to go out during the day. But if you so yes to too many things, you end up with no time to write, or you have disjointed writing time in between commitments.

I learned to say no pretty early. This means that I sit down with the kids each term and look at all the things they have on that parents are invited to attend: sports days, swimming carnivals, arts festival, music performances, excursions etc. I ask the kids to tell me which are the most important things to them, and then I write those in my diary in front of them, and explain that I can’t attend the other things because I have to work.

They absolutely understand this and, because we do it together, they know I will turn up to the important things because they’ve seen me put it in my diary. It’s then up to them to go and ask their dad about the other events and see if he can attend any of those.

But there are lots of other things: school coffee mornings, canteen duties, catching up with friends etc. I decided that I wouldn’t do daytime events: no coffee mornings etc. I’m happy to go to evening events because that isn’t my main writing time. It is my admin time, so it often means I need to re-evaluate my evening work and squeeze extra jobs in to other nights, or stay up later, but that’s easier to do than catch up on a word count that’s behind where it should be.

How to Stick to Writing a Book: 6 Tips

2. Have One Committed Writing Day

I have one day, a Tuesday, where, in school hours, all I do is write. I don’t go to yoga or walk, or swim or have any other appointments. I find that having one long, focussed day means that I can really make a dent in my word count. It also means that I build up my momentum, and that momentum spills over into the days that follow.

Ideally, if you can manage a day like this, have it early in the week because it really does make a huge difference. And this is definitely a day where you have to practise saying no: it should be your special, protected writing day.

3. Fall in Love With What You’re Doing

It’s so much easier to procrastinate and be unfocussed when you like what you’re doing, but you’re not in love with it. There’s a very special moment in the writing of a book when it all suddenly clicks and the words almost tumble over themselves to come out of your head and onto your screen. This is the glorious, joyful bliss of writing and you won’t want to put off doing it and you won’t need any help to stay focussed—in fact, your family will wish you were unfocussed so that you’d pay more attention to them!

But how do you get to that point? Well, for me, it often occurs around the 20,000 word mark. So I know I just have to get over that hump as quickly as possible because then the magic will begin. The first 20,000 words is hard work, and it can be discouraging if you think the whole book will be like that. But it most likely won’t be.

So how do you get yourself to the place of writing bliss, that magical 20,000 (or so) words? Try writing sprints. Nothing can be more discouraging than the thought of sitting down to spend a whole day with this difficult mess that’s supposed to be a first draft. Maybe aim for 2 or 3 writing sprints of 30 minutes every day.

It’s easy to make yourself sit down for half an hour. If you’re the kind of person who functions well with rewards, set one for yourself. If you do 500 words in 30 minutes than you get to watch TV, or something like that. If you do 2 writing sprints of 500 words each, 5 days a week, then in just 4 weeks, you’ll have achieved the magic milestone of 20,000 words.

4. Try to Have Some Small Wins

Small wins are big motivators. Whether it’s getting a short story published, being accepted for a residency, being awarded a grant, being invited to give a talk, try to keep writing and applying for smaller things while writing the big thing. Small wins give you confidence, and confidence is something you need lots of to help get you through a draft.

5. Have a Writing Group

Form, join, organise a writing group. You all have to promise to share 5,000 words every month, perhaps. This gives you both a deadline, and a source of feedback. It’s a great motivator. You can share your ups and downs, inspire one another, know that you’re not alone, cheer each other on. It’s amazing what a group of supportive people can do to help you when you need focussing.

6. Keep Your Ideas Well Full

One of the biggest motivators to keep me writing is that I have so many ideas for scenes that I can’t wait to sit down and write them all. Mostly, my scene ideas don’t come to me when I’m sitting at my desk. They come to me when I’m walking, swimming, at yoga, having quiet time etc. I’ve blogged about this before, but writing isn’t all about sitting down at your desk. You do have to allow quiet thinking time, some sort of meditative practice like walking, time to welcome in the ideas.

I hope that helps anyone who is finding it hard to stay the course, to say focussed, to march on through the draft. If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them too—I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas that I haven’t thought of!

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10 Responses to “How To Stick to Writing a Book: 6 Tips”

  1. Renee Mihulka

    Some great advice here Natasha, thanks. You are so right about the importance of saying no. Those quick catch up coffee can turn into lunch! Next I’d like to hear how you slog through the drafts. I’m onto draft 5 of my book. Yikes! It’s hard. I wonder if it’s worth it. Whether I should just put it in a draw and move on. But then, I still believe in the idea and the potential…. How many drafts do you do? It feels like you and other writers seem to breeze through your edits!

    • Natasha Lester

      Yes quick coffees are often the thing that most disrupts a day, so I’ve become really good at saying no, most of the time! I do quite a lot of drafts, especially on my first couple of books. I think I did 13 on my first book, and 8 on my second. So, just because you’re on draft 5, it doesn’t mean you should give up. I once heard Kate Grenville say that she did 23 drafts of The Secret River, and she was an experienced author by then!

  2. Karen Comer

    Great ideas, thanks, Natasha. My biggest problem is saying no, because as you mentioned, when you work from home (and some people don’t consider writing a job) it appears that you are free for helping at school or socialising. I find it is easier to volunteer to bake something for school because I can do it in the afternoons when the kids are around me.

    • Natasha Lester

      Yes, that’s a great point, Karen. You can still volunteer to do things, like bake a cake, rather than take time out of your writing day. Sometimes it just takes a bit of creative thinking, doesn’t it, to work out what we can do to help instead of giving time during our working hours.

  3. G J Stroud

    Hey Natasha
    I love love LOVE your posts. I’ve been trying to be more structured and vigilant with my writing time and word count/ page goal. But this week I fell behind and feel depressed at the thought of trying to catch up to where I should be. Plus I’m so angry/ frustrated at myself!!! I wonder if I should stretch my personal deadline out or have a few days where I try to catch up or just readjust my daily word count/ page goal. I’m wondering how you recover after falling behind with your word count? I suspect this rarely happens to you because your blogs show you are focused, organised and driven!!! But I bet it’s happened at least once.

    • Natasha Lester

      It does happen to me! In fact, right now, I’m about 2 weeks behind where I’d like to be on the structural edit for next year’s book, and think I’m going to finish about 6 weeks later than I’d planned to! This is not normal for me – normally I do get things done to plan but the edit has been a lot of work, plus there’s been a lot going on with my kids and I underestimated how long it would take me. What I’ve decided to do is revise my monthly plan to take into account what’s happened. It means I’ll be later getting to start the next book, and the whole year will be pushed back, but I’ve decided to just accept it, because I can’t change it! Ordinarily though, if I was to fall behind a word count by a few thousand words, I would work nights and weekends to catch up. But this is a whole lot bigger than that!

  4. Linda

    H Natasha
    Great blog! Again, you have blogged about a topic – with solutions – at the perfect time I need it, so thankyou!
    I am wondering if there is a point where you think a draft should be totally tossed away, or whether you should just press on and hope that the “magic” happens further down the track?

    • Natasha Lester

      I did toss away a book that I wrote after If I Should Lose You was published. I just knew it had no life, that it was unsaveable. That’s the only time that’s ever happened to me – ordinarily I’m in love enough with the story and I know that the problems are just a matter of execution; that I need to work hard to make the execution better. Whereas with this story, I didn’t love it at all. And that’s the real test I think – if you let something sit for a few months and you come back to it and can’t find any love for it, then it’s time to bin it.

  5. Laura Grace

    Great stuff! thank you! And I would like to add, you never know who
    may need your writing, your input, and your book! Onward ho!

  6. Heather

    The hardest part for me besides finding time to write, while juggling two full time jobs, is often trying to create scenes. I have basic story ideas and characters but every time I write I get road blocked. I can never find a way to link the scenes in order once they are written, do you have any advice if you’ve ever encountered that problem?


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