As any writer or author knows, starting a new book or other writing project is usually fun and exciting.
But once you get started, staying motivated to actually finish writing the book or project can be pretty tough, especially if you’re working on something that can take several months to complete.
My first book, a children’s travel guide, was published in 1997. Since then I’ve gone on to write more than two dozen published books (some fiction, most of them nonfiction) and I’ve taken on hundreds of freelance writing projects as well.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that help keep me motivated to finish the projects I start. Maybe these tricks will work for you too. Here’s what I suggest:
• Get a contract first, if possible. If you write for a living, it’s much harder to stay motivated to finish something if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to sell it. The entire time you’re writing, you’ll be wondering if you’re just wasting your time. That’s why I get a contract for most projects before I ever start them.
Once I have a contract from a publisher, it’s much easier to stay motivated to complete the project because: a) I’ve usually gotten an advance, which means I have some immediate income so I don’t need to worry about money for a while, and, b) I now have a deadline that I HAVE to meet.
• Outline or plan the project in as much detail as you can FIRST. For nonfiction, I outline the book according to chapters or sections, then subtopics. For fiction, I break down the action into chapters, then scenes. If I’m working on a magazine article, I create subtitles based on the information I want to cover in the article. Outlining or planning the project in detail will get you ready for this next trick.
• Know what you need to write BEFORE you sit down for a writing session. If I’m working on a novel, for example, once I’ve made a detailed outline, I just schedule time to write scenes, then those scenes add up to completed chapters. I’m much more productive working this way because I’m not trying to figure out WHAT to write during my writing time, I’m just fleshing out my detailed outline.
• Set aside specific blocks of time to work on each project. If you’re a busy freelance writer like I am, you have many ongoing projects all the time. All these projects can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t learn to manage them. You’ll find them easier to manage if you set aside specific blocks of time for each project.
I set aside an hour, first thing every weekday morning to work on my novel-in-progress. Some mornings I may only get one scene written. Other mornings I write like the wind and finish a complete chapter or two. Sometimes I might even spend more than an hour on the novel if the writing is going well and I don’t have another fiction project scheduled for that morning.
I set aside afternoons for my nonfiction writing. If I’m working on a nonfiction book, I might finish a chapter or two then take a break. I’ll go for a walk or do some housework, or just sit outside with a cup of coffee and relax. But then, if I’m also working on a magazine article or query, I’ll come back to my office and work on it for an hour or so.
The point is, all my writing projects are scheduled. Sure, things happen sometimes so I’m not able to stick to my schedule. But I get right back on schedule as soon as I can.
• Forget about everything else when you’re working on a project. With all that happens in life, it can be difficult to stay focused. But during your writing time, forget about everything else and just work on the project at hand. Even if you have a dozen writing projects lined up, or you’re worried about what you’re going to make for dinner tonight, forget about everything else except the project you’re working on. This might take a little practice. But after awhile, it will get easier to let go of everything else when it’s time to focus on a project.
• Realize that most projects seem overwhelming at some point. Each time I get a contract to write another book I say to my husband, “What was I thinking? I can’t write a book!” Then he calmly reminds me that I say this all the time and, for me, this feeling of panic is just part of the process. I will move beyond it once I get started on the book by following all the other tips I’ve explained here.
• Don’t strive for perfection. When you sit down to write, just get something written. Sometimes I get hung up because I try to make the 1st draft perfect. But when I let go of that and just write, I accomplish more, and usually the 1st draft doesn’t turn out to be so bad. Plus, it gives me something to work with, and once I have something to work with, I can keep revising and editing until I get a section, scene, or chapter I’m happy with.
Every writer is different. These tricks might work for you. But over time, you’ll probably develop your own bag of tricks that you’ll use to stay motivated to complete each of your writing projects.
Suzanne Lieurance is a busy freelance writer and author, writing coach, speaker, workshop presenter, and president of The Working Writer’s Club. Learn more about her books, workshops, and presentations on her website.
Follow Suzanne on Twitter: @writerscoach.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Suzanne Lieurance is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators (SCBWI), the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors(NAIWE). President and founder of The Working Writer’s Club.
A former classroom teacher, she’s been a full time freelance writer, children’s author, writing coach, speaker and workshop presenter for the past 13 years.
Suzanne has authored over two dozen published books.