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Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 19, 2015

You can’t complete a full-length novel without a strict code of self-discipline. Imagine all the distractions we have throughout the day. How can a writer put these aside to focus intently on a book? How can we face a blank page each day, knowing we have to fill in the words? How can we concentrate day after day, month after month, on the same story until it’s done?

It takes immense self-discipline. You can train yourself to do it. First, you must set an attainable goal. Don’t think about the 300 page manuscript you have to complete or the 80,000 minimum word count. Consider how many pages you can reasonably complete each day. Set a daily goal. Determine what time of day is your most creative and set your starting hour. You will complete your pre-writing rituals and get down to business each day…when?

Now consider how many days per week you’ll be able to get this done. Do you want a five-day work week with weekends off? Or do you have a day job, so you have to binge write on weekends? How about allowing for doctor appointments, lunch with friends, and business meetings? Now set a weekly goal.

Use your tabulations from above to figure out your monthly projections. Then set monthly goals.

Beyond all this is the deadline you set for the first draft. Always leave leeway for sick days or vacations or unexpected visitors from out of town. When is your expected completion date?

Keep in mind that these deadlines are somewhat variable. Let’s say you’ve set five pages per day as your attainable goal. One day you might write two pages. Another day you might write seven pages. But your overall goal is twenty-five pages per week. As long as you reach the weekly goal, you’re okay.

Now comes the hard part. You need to practice BICHOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. You must do this day after day, no matter how tedious it becomes. Progress may seem slow, but even if you complete two pages a day, you’re moving forward. That’s the important thing. Do not stop to revise your work. You can fix it after it’s done. Keep moving ahead.

woman computer

Non-writers don’t realize how hard it is to accomplish these goals. It’s easier to make plans with friends, play on Facebook, or do the household projects you keep putting off. You’d rather do a hundred other things than stick to a writing schedule. But the only way you’ll write that book is through sheer determination. You WILL do it despite temptation.

So set your goals, grit your teeth, and get your butt in the chair. You’re allowed to take an exercise break, but then sit back down and finish your daily goal. When done, you can have the reward of checking your email and social media and going out to have fun. The next day, it starts all over again. Put on those blinders while you write and keep going full-speed ahead. Many people say they want to write a book. Only a true writer at heart will finish one after the other.

What’s your method for getting the work done?


14 Responses to “Self-Discipline”

  1. lilli530 said

    Thanks for this very helpful post, Nancy. I’m just finding my way back to a writing schedule after my husband’s recent death, so your words are just what I needed today.

    • I’m so very sorry, Loralee. Take however much time you need to find your way again. It’s difficult to focus when you’re dealing with life issues. Maybe ease into it at a page a day to start.

  2. marilynlevinson said

    Great post, Nancy. I find it’s easier to sit down to write when I know how the next few scenes will play out. Of course I always leave room for unexpected twists as I go along.

  3. I set a word count goal, but I don’t follow your ‘don’t edit/revise’ method. It doesn’t work for me. When I finish a scene, I print it out, read it in bed, and make general notes. This gives me a running start for the next day, and I think it helps embed the scene in my subconscious. When I get to “the end” I have a much cleaner piece of work, and if I fix things in small steps, it’s less daunting to think of having to fix 1000 words at a time rather than 100,000. And, I’m always afraid I’ll miss some detail if I wait until I finish a draft. But, the only “rule” of writing is do what works for you.

    • Yes, do what works for you. I have too many other things to work on for the rest of the day to spend time on revisions. I’d rather do that in a chunk. It helps me with continuity and repetitions. Two or more rounds are my norm but everyone is different.

  4. Thanks, Nancy, I’ve been preaching this for years. I’m posting this on my FB page.

  5. I go along with your friend Terry. I start a writing session by editing the previous day’s work. That gets me back into the story so I’m in the mood when I start writing.

  6. The reason I struggle with NaNoWriMo is my internal editor. I can’t NOT reread and edit yesterday’s work first. Thanks for the post, Nancy. I’m sharing on FB.

  7. Susan Patterson said

    My method for getting work done has changed a lot lately as I have been diagnose with MG (an autoimmune disease), so I have been quite weak!. Now I try to get one project done a day and it is great to have extra energy to finish the day out! Happy Holidays!

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