Question: How can I stay on track with my writing and get my book finished?



Many writers underestimate the amount of time and dedication required to complete a book manuscript. The writing process can differ greatly from writer to writer, and what works well for one may not work well for another. The time it can take to complete a book largely depends on your book’s length and concept, your writing experience, and the amount of time you are able to commit to your project. It’s important not to judge your process or time frame and compare yourself to others.

The most effective way to stay on track with your book project and maintain motivation throughout the journey is to create a plan that works best for YOU. Here are 6 steps for building that plan:

1. Set SMART goals

Time management and goal setting are a huge part of the process for most writers. If you don't set a book deadline and schedule, you may lack the accountability and motivation to get to the finish. It’s helpful to start by establishing some short-term, measurable goals because vague, long-term goals like “finish my book” can be overwhelming. We recommend following the SMART method for setting goals:

Using SMART goals to plan your writing process and book launch date can be helpful.Specific. Don't plan to have your book done “by some time next year”. Set a target date and work backwards from there to determine when you will need to reach certain milestones such as first chapter complete, book halfway complete, first draft complete, etc. Also schedule specific slots on your calendar to write each week rather than fitting it in “whenever you can”.

Measurable. Many writers find it helpful to measure and acknowledge progress by word count. Start small with a goal of 100 words per writing session, and then continue increasing your word count goals once you find your groove and understand your production levels. You can even set goals based on number of pages, scenes, or chapters. These elements are easy to track and measure.

Achievable. Make sure your goals are attainable given your physical and mental capacities. Take into account any jobs, social needs, family obligations, and even your physical and mental health when setting goals.

Realistic. This goes hand in hand with making sure your goals are achievable. You don’t want to get discouraged because you’ve set time lines or goals that aren’t realistic, given all the other things you have going on in your life.

Time based. Giving yourself a certain time frame to accomplish something will also help keep you on track. When scheduling time on your calendar for writing, be specific. Maybe you work best when you write daily in shorter batches, like 30 minutes per day. Or, maybe you are most productive when you write for an hour at a time, but only a few days a week. Set a timer if needed so that you don’t push yourself to the point of being counterproductive.

Sometimes it takes a few weeks of writing to understand the goals and time frames that will work best with your process. Don’t be surprised if your goals evolve or change over time – it’s okay to make adjustments as you become more experienced.

2. Outline your concept and organize your research

Not all writers use outlines. Some are “pantsers” and prefer to write without an outline or roadmap to follow. While this approach can work, most writers benefit from having a blueprint to guide them. An outline can help you organize your thoughts, visualize potential structure, and further develop your story or topic. It can also be referred to as needed if you forget an idea or have to step away from the project for any length of time. For a little more direction on outlining, read this blog post on how to write an outline.

It's important to organize your research when writing a book to stay on track.Organizing any research and keeping it at your fingertips will help you stay focused and on task as you write. How you organize really depends on the amount you have, formats, and personal preference. Do you prefer hand written notes and printed documents, or do you prefer to keep everything on your computer? Here are some common ways that authors organize their research:

•  Notebooks
•  Three-ring binders
•  Index cards and file boxes
•  Microsoft Word or Excel documents in file folders on a computer
•  Digital platforms like Evernote or Scrivener – recommended when doing vast amounts of research

3. Use traditional methods to track your schedule and progress

As with research, some authors prefer tangible methods for tracking schedules and writing progress. These might include journals, printed calendars, or whiteboards. Just the process of writing down deadlines and blocking out writing time can greatly increase your chances of sticking to the schedule. 

A visual reminder such as a calendar hanging on your wall or a whiteboard tracking your word count, chapters, or table of contents can also be a big motivator when you start to lose drive or confidence. Vision boards that include images of your setting and characters or post-its of scenes and plot notes can provided much needed inspiration when your creativity starts to fade.

4. Use technology to track your schedule and progress

If you are more tech-savvy and enjoy using your computer or smartphone to track your calendar and progress, there are many platforms and apps that you can use. Some author favorites include:

•  Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sheets – Google’s customizable calendars, word processing, and spreadsheet software that allow you to share your documents.

•  Canva – online design tool that offers numerous, customizable templates for calendars, planners, whiteboards, and more.

•  Calendly – a scheduling automation platform that allows you to share your calendar and schedule with others.

•  FocusWriter – helps you avoid distractions by displaying only your working document on the screen, and offers timers and alarms, a goal-setting tool, spell-check, and more.

•  Evernote – allows you to organize written notes, files, photos, voice memos, and to-do lists all in one place.

•  Scrivener – feature-packed word processing software and project management tool.

Author Learning Center (ALC) members have access to The Book Launch Tool, an exclusive tracking tool designed to help manage the tasks associated with each part of the journey. Once you set up your book project and desired book launch date in your Author Space, The Book Launch Tool allows you to track a recommended list of preset tasks and monitor your progress along the way. You can even create custom tasks as needed, or remove any that do not apply to your project.

Use the Author Learning Center's Book Launch Tool to track deadlines and progress.

5. Get an accountability partner or coach

Writing is a solitary event, but that doesn’t mean you have to experience the journey alone. Developing a support system may help you stay motivated and on track. Family, friends, or peers can remind you of your goals or provide validation on days when your determination is waning. At one time or another, you may need to ask for help. This could be emotional support, inspiration or guidance. By establishing a group of people that know about your writing goals and deadlines, you can get support and accountability as needed.

Having an accountability partner or book coach can help when writing a book.Joining a local or online writers group can be a great way to find this type of support from like-minded individuals. ALC members have access to Author Circle forums. Once your book project is set up in your Author Space, you are provided a private forum where you can invite ALC members and even non-members and ask questions, start discussions, conduct polls, or share your manuscript to get feedback.

Experienced professionals that serve as a book coach or consultant are another great option if your budget allows. Book coaches are often authors themselves and can wear many different hats including mentor, teacher, cheerleader, and listener. They can also provide guidance and tough love when you need it most.

6. Adjust your priorities or deadlines as needed

It’s hard to know what life is going to throw at you, so maintaining some flexibility with your writing goals and deadlines is important. There may be days or even weeks where you are reprioritizing all of the happenings in your life to make time for writing. Alternatively, there may be days or weeks where writing just doesn’t happen, and that’s okay. Be easy on yourself and reassess your priorities and/or deadlines when needed.

It’s not about how you get to the finish, but that you get there. Writing a book is an amazing accomplishment and the journey varies greatly from author to author!

If you fall off track with your writing and are struggling to get back on, please know it’s not uncommon for authors to hit serious roadblocks, whether personal or professional, that require them to take a break. Some of these life events may be short and intense while others are long and tiresome.  Click here to read 10 tips for getting back on track with writing after taking time away.

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