4 Steps to Creating a Disciplined Writing Practice

National Novel Writing Month blasted off yesterday, and hundreds of thousands of aspiring authors will spend November 2016 attempting to write 50,000-word novel.

This is no easy feat. Writing a novel in a month requires concentrated amounts of hard work and dedication, which I admire.

What I don’t admire is that — much like a fad diet — once the cocktail party novelty of NaNo ends, everyone’s writing practice goes out the window.


This year, let’s keep the effort going after November 30. My secret? Slow and steady wins the race.

In this post, I offer up 4 tips to creating your own disciplined, sustainable writing.

1.     Examine your weekly schedule. Are there regular pockets of time in which you can write?

Confession: I am not a morning person, especially when it comes to writing. My brain is much more creative at night, so I intentionally try to work on fiction projects then.

Knowing what time of day works best for your writing practice is a great start, and poring over your weekly schedule for patterns can also be beneficial. For instance, my boyfriend works almost every Saturday from 2 until 9 p.m., so Saturdays have become my Writing Day. (And you better believe I pencil it into my schedule!)

After a lazy morning and a light jog, I come home, shower, and have up to seven hours of unadulterated writing time. Do I write the entire time? No, not usually, but even a fraction of that is more than the little sips of writing time I get otherwise.


2.     Decide how you’ll monitor your progress: by minimum word count or minimum amount of time spent writing.

The answer may change depending on your circumstances. Personally, when I’m generating a first draft or participating in an event like NaNoWriMo, I like to shoot for a minimum of 2,000 words written each time I sit down. They don’t have to be good words, but they need to exist on the page.

Right now, though, I’m editing several of my own projects, so it makes more sense for me to track my writing progress by time increments (i.e. a minimum of 30 minutes per session) rather than by word count.

3.     DON’T go more than two days without writing…

In Tip #1, I mentioned that I write most creatively and productively in the evenings. Of course, as you may have guessed, evenings are also the time of day most of my friends leave work and are ready to play.

I know it’s tough. These days, Fear of Missing Out is so much a thing that we actually have an acronym for it. But don’t let FOMO overbook your calendar so that your writing practice falls by the way side. (Been there, done that.)

My best advice for my fellow yes-people: learn to say no. Going more than two days without writing risks the downside of Newton’s first law of motion: an object at rest will continue at rest – unless acted upon by an unbalanced outside force.

Go more than two days without writing, and the outside force you’ll need to stop watching Netflix and get going again is a hell of a lot of willpower (and probably an IV of caffeine). So, learn to say no and pencil writing time into your planner every two days at the most. Otherwise, once you do get in front of a word processor, you’ll spend a lot of your highly coveted time staring at a blinking cursor on an empty page.

4.     …but DON’T forget to be flexible!

Life changes, you change, and for better or worse, so does your writing practice. What worked for you three years ago may not work today.

The life of the writer is not simply putting fingers to keys or pen to paper. Rebecca Solnit has an essay, “How to be a Writer,” on LitHub that I absolutely adore. I find myself coming back to the following line, time and again:

“Remember that writing is not typing.”

Some days, you’ll write like a maniac, and others, the road will be blocked before you. There is no magic formula to conjure one scenario and avoid the other. Be kind to yourself. Be forgiving. But most of all, live your life, take a breath when and where it’s needed, and then, write with all you’ve got.

Happy NaNo!