Updated December 2023
This video was first published December 2021. The video is the same, but I’ve added an edited transcript/article of this video below. The 4-1 planner isn’t available at the moment, but the Romance Author’s Organizer is. You can get it in print or downloadable PDF.
The New Year comes with a renewed energy. This is the time of year that people are setting goals, they’re getting their planners out, and they’re mapping out their plans so that they can have a successful writing year. I am no different. I’m deciding what I want to write, release schedules, marketing, and other aspects of having a writing career. Going from goal to success, though, isn’t a done deal.
I’m not going to cover goal setting for authors because there’s a ton of other great resources to help you do that. What I wanted to talk to you about is the information that goal gurus don’t really go into enough detail. These are the tips to help you overcome the things that get in the way of you achieving your goals. I’m not really talking about mindset, although that is something that can get in the way. What I have found for myself and in talking with other people is that they are very inspired by their goals. They want to achieve them. They’ve planned them out, chunked them down and added them to their daily To Do List, and yet, they’re not doing them. And the reason they’re not doing them is because the systems and the environment that they’re in are not supporting them to get them done. That’s what I want to cover today.
We’ll cover a variety of challenges that might be in the way and how you can redesign your systems and your environment so that you can actually achieve your writing goals.
Lack of Time
The biggest challenge I hear from writers is a lack of time. The thing about time is you have to be brutally honest with yourself about where you’re spending it. If you’re like me, you’ve been binge watching TV. If I had spent half the time writing that I did watching TV, I would have written so many books last year. But I didn’t.
Before I get into some of my tips and strategies about time, I want to point out a few things. Yes, writing takes time. It’s not something that you can sit down and crank out a novel in an hour, or even in a day. It does involve you taking time, over time to get it done. With that said, it doesn’t take humongous amounts of time to write and make regular steady progress and get a book done. For example, if you were to write 500 words a day in four months, you would have 60,000 words written, which is a romance novel. If you were writing a 75,000 word romance novel, you just add one more month to it; five months at 500 words a day.
That may sound like a long time, but 500 words adds up quickly. It doesn’t take a lot of time to do, and if you’re consistent, it’s going to be done in five months. Based on what you’re doing now, in five months, are you going to have 75,000 words written? If the answer is no, then maybe the 500 words a day strategy would be helpful to you.
How long does it take to write 500 words? In my world, when I am writing, and I am in the flow. I crank out 1500 to 1800 words an hour, which is about 700 to 900 words in 30 minutes. You can write 500 words in that time. Or 1000 words in an hour. Can you find 30 minutes to an hour a day?
I would argue that if you really want to write a book, you can find 30 minutes to an hour in a day and. If you can’t find 30 minutes to an hour a day for your goal, how bad do you really want it? (I’ll be helping you find time in a minute).
Hopefully I’ve put things into some perspective. In 30 minutes to an hour, you can write 500 words to 1000 words, and if you can find that time every day, you are going to have a book in a couple of months. You don’t have to be like Stephen King or Nora Roberts who write 4 hours or 8 hours a day. You can write in an hour or less. Many authors write this way. I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve met who write only 1000 words a day or only 500 words a day. A few years ago, I met an author who was nominated for an Agatha Award who wrote her book in 250 words a day.
Now that you see how doable making significant progress on your book in small chunks or time, you need to find 30 to 60 minutes a day to write. Here are a few ways to find time:
1. Give up something you’re doing that doesn’t need to be done by you. Maybe it’s cutting out TV or cutting down on the amount of TV that you’re watching. Perhaps you can wake up a half-hour earlier or stay up a half-hour later. Cutting down or getting rid of activities that you don’t need to do is one way to find extra time.
2. Delegate things that need to be done, but don’t need to be done by you. You can teach your kids how to sort socks. You could ask your partner to sweep the kitchen after dinner. If you’re one of those people who’s doing a lot around the house beyond what other people are doing, it’s time to ask them to help.
3. Automate or hack tasks to save time. Schedule automatic bill paying through your online banking. Streamline meals by planning, or through a meal delivery service. If you’re overwhelmed by information capturing, sorting, and using, develop a flow by which the information you capture is automatically saved and sorted. Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte is a great book to help you with this. Have items you regularly buy automatically shipped to you such as prescriptions, toiletries, coffee, etc.
In your writing business, tools can help you save time. Social media tools can schedule and reschedule posts. Some offer AI for best hashtags and captions. Automate Your Busywork by Aytekin Tank offers help. Note that setting up automations can take time, which is often why people don’t do them. But you’ll earn back the time plus some by setting them up.
In essence, find time by deleting, delegating or automating tasks. Remember, right now, you’re looking for 30 to 60 minutes of extra time. What one thing can you delete, delegate, or automate to create it?
You can maximize your time with these tips:
1. Know what you’re going to write when you sit down to write it. While you don’t have to plot, knowing the scene or chapter you’re going to write before hand makes writing much fast and fun.
2. Dictate. Talking creates more words per hour than typing. I can write 1500 words or so in an hour. I can dictate 4,000, transcribe, and revise them in that same hour. Dictating does require a shift in your brain, but it’s worth the effort in terms of time savings. Plus, it can enhance your writing. You can check out my post on dictation here.
The second challenge that can get in the way of writing is your writing space. Your writing space needs to be a place that is easy to access and inspires you to write. If your writing den is cold or dull or drab, that may not be the ideal place to write unless cold, dark and drab is inspiring to you.
I do not like to write where I work. I work from home, but when I’m writing, even my ghostwriting, I do it in another spot. Usually I dictate on a walk, but when I’m revising, I don’t do it at my work desk. I have a couple of spots around the house that feel comfortable for writing.
During the winter, it’s on my couch in front of a fire. When it’s nicer out, it’s the swing on my back deck.
You have to find the place where you’re comfortable and feel inspired. If you need colors around you, then you have that. If you need minimalist décor around you, your space shouldn’t have too much clutter.
Your space should be ready to go. When it’s time to write, you should be able to go to your space, sit, and write. In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about how we need to make good habits easy to do by not having obstacles in the way. Having to set up your workspace each time you want to write and put it away when you’re done is an obstacle.
I actually have a secondary laptop so I don’t have to unhook the one I’ve attached to my external monitor and keyword. When it’s time to write, I go to my space where I keep that other laptop, pull up my work (I save in cloud using Microsoft 365), and write. Easy peasy.
When you have the time, you want to make it easy to sit down and write. So identify a place or even a couple of places where you can go and write.
Along with your space, your tools need to be readily accessible. This could be grabbing your coffee or snack of M&Ms on your way to your writing spot. If you have research or phrasing books you need to access, have them nearby. You don’t want to get up 5 minutes into your writing because you realize you’re thirsty or don’t have your research notes.
Turn off your phone and computer notifications to avoid being interrupted, your use a tool to block them. While you’re at it, let your family know you need 30 to 60 minutes to write so they don’t interrupt you either. My rule with my kids was not to interrupt unless there was fire or blood, or some other emergency.
Now you have time and space and tools, but do you have the energy to write? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the time to write, but didn’t feel like writing. The muse wasn’t there. Unfortunately, if you rely on the muse to write, you probably won’t make consistent progress. Muse or not, when it’s time to write, you need to write (this is where knowing what you plan to write in advance is helpful!). I’ve found that the muse often arrives one I start writing, but even if she’s MIA the whole time, all words written get me closer to a finished book. The ability to get yourself into the chair and writing even when you’re not feeling it, is often the difference between somebody who’s getting their book done and somebody who isn’t. So you need to hacks and tricks to write even when you don’t want to. Here’s a few to try.
Sometimes, you have to force yourself to write. It’s sort of like going to the gym. It is a real chore to get out to exercise, but once you’re there and moving, you feel pretty good about it. It’s the same with writing. It can feel like a chore to open the computer, but once you start writing, generally you get into the groove.
Music has the power to make you feel things. Choose music that inspires the words you want to write, or just energizes you. For example, I like smooth jazz or old R&B if I have to write an intimate scene. Other times, uplifting music gives me enough of a boost of energy and creativity to write.
Reading Your Mentors
If there’s an author out there that you aspire to be like, read a few pages of one of their books, read an interview or listen to a podcast with them. Your author idol got where they are by writing. You can too if you sit down and write. Let them inspire you to get into your writing zone.
Why Aren’t You Writing?
If you’re still struggling, examine why you’re not writing. Are you resistant because you don’t like your space? Change your space.
Are you not writing because you’re stuck in your story, get unstuck. I know that’s easier said than done, but doing nothing sets you back. Plotting can help with this, but even if you’re a pantster, you can plot tomorrow’s writing when you finish today’s writing. Or join a writers group or use Chat AI to brainstorm possible ideas for your book’s next step.
Planning Your Writing (even if you’re a pantster)
Remember I mentioned above that removing obstacles makes writing easier. There’s no bigger obstacle than not knowing what to write. To avoid this issue, I put in my planner what I’m going to write each day. I get specific. I don’t just say “Chapter 4.” I put, “Sophie goes to talk to Alice.” In one little sentence, I know exactly what I’m writing. I do this whether I have a full chapter-by-chapter plot, or I’m pantstering the book.
Why does planning what you’ll write help you achieve it?
1. You don’t get stuck. The more specific you are about your goals the more likely you’re going to achieve them. Think about your book writing goal. You probably didn’t just say, “Write a book.” You probably have a basic idea (write romantic fantasy). You may have a date by which to finish your draft. Goal gurus tell you to break your goal down into achievable tasks. To write a book X days, you need to divide your goal word count by the number of days (e.g. 80,000 words in 90 days = 889 words per day). At this point, you might think, “I just need to write 900 words a day.” But what happens on day one or day 12 when you sit down and stare at the blank screen? What if that happens a few days in a row? The best way to avoid being stuck is to know exactly what you plan to write and put it in your planner. Instead of “Write 900 words,” put “write 900 words-Sophie talks to Alice.”
2. When you know what you’re going to write, you feel inspired to write. When I have an idea in my head, it percolates. My brain is mulling the idea over. Sometimes I dream about it. By the time I sit to write, I’m eager and excited to get it down on the page.
Even if you’re a pantster, you can plot enough ahead, even if it’s just a day, to know what you’re going to write. For example, let’s say I was a pantster and I finished the scene where Sophie is talking with her boyfriend. As I finish for the day, I think about what Sophie will do tomorrow. I decide that tomorrow Sophie has to go talk to Alice, so I write that in my planner. When I finish that scene tomorrow, I figure out what needs to happen next and add that to the next day’s planner. In this case, you’re not plotting out the whole book. You’re just plotting out what you’ll do the next day so you’re not stuck.
Need help with organizing, planning your writing, and getting your novel written, published and sold? The Romance Author’s Novel Organizer will take you from idea to selling, including checklists, planners, and more. Romance Author’s Organizer is. You can get it in print or downloadable PDF.
Recap: Achieving Romance Writing Goals
Setting goals is only the first step to achieving them. Setting your goals, making a plan, turning your goals into daily to-dos, and then creating an environment and systems that are going to support you is how you succeed.
1. Make time
2. Make space
3. Have your tools and resources available
4. Know what you need to achieve when you sit down to write (e.g. 500 words)
5. Know what you plan to write when your writing time comes (e.g. scene or chapter)
6. Do it per the time and space you set up.