Writing an entire book is hard. It’s hard to find the time and motivation to work on it, and it’s also hard to figure out how, exactly, to do it. What you’re embarking on is not a simple task, but it’s possible. You can do it. You can do it again. The question is: are there tips and tricks that will make it easier? Are there writing rules of thumb that will actually help you finish the darn thing? And, do you really need to write every single day? Let’s deconstruct writing tips to find out how to hack out the useful parts and discard the rest.
Do I need to write every day?
I don’t know—do you have the time to write every day?
Many professional, successful writers (like Stephen King, for instance) recommend daily writing. It makes sense to want to emulate the greats—after all, success leaves a trail, right? However, you need to evaluate your personal situation and create a plan that works for you. This might sound obvious, but it’s normal to promise yourself you’ll do all this great stuff starting on Monday (or in the new year or whenever), but if you create a plan that is doomed to fail—what’s the point?
People like Stephen King can write every day because it’s literally their job. You, like me, are still waiting for writing to pay a bill. In the meantime, we need to go to our day jobs or care for our families or run errands. Your life might not look like that of a millionaire man without minor children under foot. Why, then, would you set a goal you already know you can’t meet?
Listen, daily writing is going to get you where you want to go faster. And yes, you’ll have to carve time out of your busy schedule to write if you want to be a writer. These things are true. But, can you set up a system that is more likely to succeed than fail? You’ll need to if you want to be successful.
Take an honest look at your life. What must you absolutely get done every week? What tasks can you hand off to someone else? Look hard at your alleged ‘have-tos.’ Do you have to go to the grocery store or can you use a delivery service and get that hour or two back every week? Can you hire a babysitter for a few hours? Do you have to iron everything? There are places to find time, and it doesn’t need to be a full day. Push yourself to find time to write at least a few days a week. It doesn’t need to be daily, but you need to both carve out that time and not be too rigid that you can’t keep up the pace.
Many people falsely believe that motivation precedes success. It’s not true. Motivation follows success. To achieve success, you must first act. If that action leads you to meet a small goal, your brain will mark it as a win and pump out dopamine for your effort. That will give you the boost you need to want to attain more achievements. Pretty soon, you’re super motivated and an hour of alone time is enough to push forward with your novel.
I have seen that small goals lead to success in other areas of my life too, but don’t take it from me. Take it from Harvard professor Teresa Amabile. Her research showed that a feeling of progress was the single most motivating variable in goal achievement.
Progress isn’t perfection. Progress also must come when you still don’t feel like it. It will only take a week or two of seeing that you can meet that goal of writing for thirty minutes, four times a week (or whatever achievable goal you set). Once your brain finds success, motivation will follow, and the process will become more effortless.
Don’t forget that the inverse of this is true too. If you create a goal of writing daily, but there’s no way your schedule will allow for that under the best circumstances, much less the ones you actually live in, you will fail. You might fail by the first or second day. That will make you feel bad, and your brain will instinctively make you want to feel better by telling you this is dumb, and you shouldn’t bother at all. (If you’ve ever embarked on a really restrictive diet, this should sound familiar!)
On the other hand, if you create a doable formula, start with not just attainable but easy goals, your brain will feel great when you meet that mark. It will get a dopamine boost from reaching them and urge you to do more. Working with your nature rather than against it is a great way to find motivation and finally finish that book!