Writing discipline: 7 strategies to keep writing your novel

Writing discipline: 7 strategies to become a productive author

Writing discipline isn’t mythical or something you simply either have or don’t. Organisation, writing structure and a sound plan keep you focused. Here are 7 quick tips and strategies for how to keep writing a book and not give up:

1: Understand where your lack of writing discipline comes from

If you feel undisciplined about writing, ask yourself some crucial questions:

  1. Do you often think ‘this is terrible’, judging your writing harshly?
  2. Do you find you have great ideas but get lost somewhere in the process of putting them down and give up?
  3. Do you tend to start a project and then start another mid-way through, without finishing the first?

These are three of many ways you can self-sabotage while writing a novel. If you are in the first group, you need to learn to switch off your internal censor or editor. Decide to write a terrible first draft consciously and just write. A distraction-free writing app that blurs what you’ve just put down for the duration of your session could help.

If you are in the second group, and find that once you get to the middle your story starts to unravel, it may be that you lack either technique or a plan.

To improve your technique and structure stories better, take some time to analyse a favourite book. Outline each chapter in a few lines, and then note how the author links scenes and chapters together. Note character arcs, pivotal tensions and conflicts and how the setting changes over the course of the story. Creating a map of someone else’s story, a document that clarifies its mechanics, is a great way to find inspiration for how to structure your own.

If you struggle to maintain writing discipline and start stories but don’t finish them, it’s vital to delve deeper and understand the precise point where you scrap an idea and start a new book. It could be that writing story middles baffles you. If that’s the case, take time to analyse the middles of successful novels and note how the author continues or departs from opening chapters and how scenes at the centre of a novel set up the rest of the book.

2: Start writing small passages and build up

Stephen King quote on writing routinesIf you launch into writing a book attempting to write multiple chapters in each writing session, it’s easy to fall short. Discipline grows out of taking small steps repeatedly. Write 50 words today, then 100 tomorrow. Divide scenes into segments labelled ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ and so forth, and resolve to just tackle part ‘a’ today.

We intentionally made the maximum length of a critique submission on Now Novel concise to make it easier for members to write their novels in small, purposeful steps.

3: Get external accountability from a writing group or mentor

If you are only accoutable to yourself, it’s easy to get side-tracked and let yourself off the hook. Instead, join a writing group or get a writing coach who will check in regularly and give encouraging, constructive feedback and support. It’s important to find a coach or group that can give you the kind of accountability to require. If you need your coach to set hand-in deadlines to spur you into action, don’t hesitate to be clear about what you need.

4: Increase writing’s sense of reward

Because writing is fun, we sometimes forget that it’s also hard work,. Even if you love storytelling, your motivation can and will wane at times. Remember to reward yourself for reaching milestones such as finishing your novel’s outline or an individual chapter.

Whenever you reach a target word count or unit milestone, do something you love as a break from writing. Recognising the progress you’re making and actively reinforcing positive feelings about your achievement will keep you focused and motivated to keep writing.

5: Create the flow you need to keep writing

The truth of writing discipline is that you have to find your own individual approach that maximizes your flow. The Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee has been described as spending at least an hour at his writing desk every morning. Stephen King, in Lisa Rogak’s book Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, describes his writing routine thus:

‘There are certain things I do if I sit down to write […] I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning […]. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, ‘you’re going to be dreaming soon’.’

Building a ritual around your writing similarly will help you to turn your process into a non-negotiable, essential part of your day.

6: Document your writing progress in a journal

Infographic on daily habits of famous authors

Click to view full size – The daily habits of famous authors via Maria Popova and brainpickings.org

Keeping an ordinary journal helps you remember experiences both strange and wonderful. Writing it all down also helps you process and get through tougher times. A separate journal devoted solely to your fiction writing yields similar benefits. Take notes on how each writing session went at the end and note what you’ve achieved. In the process, note any specific story-building challenges and jot down ideas for solutions.

Keeping a journal will help you start to notice patterns in your writing process. Note the time of day and day of the week when you create an entry. You might find that certain days and times are far more productive and foster better discipline. Everything you learn about your own writing process will help you show up for your story on your best days, when the effort counts most.

7: Get enough exercise and rest

It’s difficult to stay disciplined and write if you are stressed and exhausted. Exercising before your writing sessions will improve your circulation and mental alertness, ensuring you’re fit for the task.

It’s also crucial to rest, and that includes taking breaks from writing. If you are having to force yourself to write, take a break instead. Leave your story for a few days or even a week and do something that inspires you. The mistake is to see breaks as signs of your lack of writing discipline. Building healthy breaks into your writing process is part of developing discipline and a balanced, constructive writing process.

Writing a book and close to giving up? Use Now Novel to find support from other writers or get a dedicated writing coach who’ll help you stay on target to finish your book.

How do you maintain your own writing discipline?

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  • Thank you for another excellent article.

    There needs to be a “Write Watchers” for novelist. A place to log your “dailies” with a set minimum word count, that can be tracked. Like ‘NaNoWriMo,’ but without the pressure to write junk. Plus a community like Connect, where writers can post their accomplishments and concerns, with a private writer’s community that provides positive feedback and positive critiques.

    • Thanks Dee, and thanks for sharing your idea of the ideal writers’ platform. Pressure is a double-edged sword, as you do need some to keep up momentum and finish writing. We do have some of those things on Now Novel (you can track your progress as you create your story’s blueprint and get constructive feedback on brief extracts from other members).

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