So, it’s the beginning of February. Are you on track with your writing goal or New Year’s Resolution? If you’ve fallen off the wagon, don’t panic. Here are some strategies to help you get back on track.
Firstly, instead of beating yourself up for not sticking to a goal, try self-compassion. Loads of research shows that we’re far more likely to be successful if we use self-compassion, kindness and understanding, (in the way we would with a friend), rather than throwing insults at ourselves.
For example, let’s say you set out to write a film script, and so far you’ve only managed to sit down and write once since the beginning of the year. Rather than writing yourself off as a total failure, say to yourself in a kind, gentle voice:
“You’ve found this really hard – harder than you expected. But that’s OK, let’s try again.”
It’s surprising the effect these kind words have on our brains. They give us the encouragement we need to continue. Use words that sound genuine to you.
Or – perhaps you keep setting yourself a daily goal to write but keep skipping it when the time comes around. Next time that happens, say to yourself:
“Writing feels really hard today. Let’s start small.”
I’m a big believer in starting small. We sometimes tell ourselves we should be able to commit to 1-2 hours of writing a day, no problem. But actually, that’s a lot, and it can feel overwhelming and scary, especially if you haven’t yet established a writing routine and don’t have any accountability in place.
If you’re someone who is struggling to do any writing at all, I would recommend that you start really small. Ten minutes is a great place to start. It might sound like nothing, but it’s amazing how much you can get written in 10 minutes of focused time.
I’m also a fan of using a timer (such as a kitchen timer or one on your phone). It somehow helps us focus.
Tell yourself – it’s just 10 minutes, after that, you’re free to do whatever you want for the rest of the day!
Write down what you want to work on for 10 minutes (something small and specific, such as your first sentence or paragraph, a bit of brainstorming or some work on one of your characters).
Set your timer, then go like the clappers.
At the end of 10 minutes, you might be really into it, in which case, continue if you can. Otherwise, it’s fine to stop. You’ve still done 10 minutes, which is a real achievement and will add up to a lot of words if you consistently manage to write for 10 minutes every day.
Once you’ve got the hang of writing regularly for 10 minutes at a time, gradually build up. Ten minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes and so on.
But every time you fall off the wagon, go back to writing for just 10 minutes per day until you’re back into the swing of it.
What’s your goal?
If you haven’t made the progress you hoped to, ask yourself if your writing goal is in conflict with something else in your life?
If you have other goals and resolutions going on, like – looking for a new job, going to the gym every week, giving up alcohol or meat – whatever it is – it could well be too much to develop a brand new writing routine as well.
If you try to do too many new things at once, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Decide what is your biggest priority right now and focus on that.
As well as a goal, you need a plan
If you’ve set yourself a big goal, like write a novel or film script by the end of the year, or, get an agent, it can feel scary and overwhelming. But if you have a plan that is specific and achievable, it will feel less daunting.
What should go in your plan?
Think about specifics, such as how long you’re going to write each day, or how many words you want to aim for, or when you’re going to write each day.
For example, you could say, I’m going to write for at least 10 minutes, 6 days a week. Then, put it on your schedule at a time that works for you.
Consider your willpower
If you can do it first thing in the morning, that’s ideal for many people, as research shows that our willpower wears off over the course of the day with all the choices and decisions we have to make. For this reason, try to prioritise the most important things first.
I’ve definitely found this to be true myself. If I set out to start writing at the end of the afternoon, I’m invariable too tired or distracted by everything that has happened, so I talk myself out of it. I know I should write in the morning, however, I recently found I was frittering away my most productive time of day (first thing), by faffing about with emails and social media, which weren’t very important.
To counteract this, I’ve started leaving my phone on silent and on the other side of the room, out of my sight, to limit distractions. I also use the app Freedom on my laptop to stop me from going on the internet, and I use the Be Focused app to help me focus task by task throughout the day. It’s really working and I can’t tell you how satisfying it is at the end of the day to feel that I’ve been productive.
You may not have the ability to write first thing in the morning, or it may not be your most productive time. If that’s the case, choose a time that works for you. Preferably the same time every day. A daily habit makes it much easier to stick to a writing goal.
When I had a day job…
My workday started early, and I couldn’t face writing before work. However, I did have a lunch break and was lucky enough to be able to slip into a quiet room over lunch and do a bit of writing.
I took my sandwich with me each day so that I wouldn’t waste valuable writing time going to the shop. And I made sure I always had both my notebook and my USB stick with me, so that I could either write longhand or on a computer, depending on what was available.
Whenever I did this lunchtime writing, it was so much easier to do more writing as soon as my workday was done. Again, I went into the quiet room at work and stayed there to write before going home. If I waited to write until I got home, over the course of the commute, I’d have talked myself out of it.
I developed a whole children’s animation series in this way, holding down a full-time job, but writing consistently in my spare time – not for hours and hours, because I’m not a workaholic – but just a little bit each day, which all added up.
My series got funding from Creative Europe, we pitched at large cartoon conferences around Europe and were commissioned to make an animated Christmas Special by RTE Junior that was seen on TV and in cinemas by over 100,000 people and nominated for prestigious awards. I would never have been able to do this without a good daily writing habit.
If you hate the idea of a writing habit, and you don’t want to schedule your writing – perhaps that doesn’t feel creative and fun to you. Instead, think about how to build up your identity as a writer. If you feel like a writer, inside and out, you’re more likely to write regularly (especially if you’re someone who doesn’t like habits and schedules).
A good solid affirmation, that feels true to you, might help with this. For example:
“I write because I have valuable ideas to share with the world. Expressing myself through words is as important as eating and sleeping. I have to do it, because I am a writer. And a writer writes.”
Rewrite this in your own words. Put it on a post-it or on your laptop screen – or somewhere you’ll see it regularly. Repeat it before going to bed and on waking up for as long as you need to until it feels true. But of course, you have to actually write, otherwise, your ‘identity’ won’t hold up.
You could also join writers’ groups and surround yourself with other writers, which will help you feel like you belong to a community of writers. Try anything else you can think of that will reinforce your identity as a writer.
Are you ready?
Sometimes, the reason we’re not doing something is because we simply aren’t ready. Perhaps we don’t know where or how to start.
For example, if you want to write a novel, do you know how to do this? If you’re feeling nervous, unsure where to start, you could start by buying a ‘how to’ book – such as Save the Cat Writes the Novel by Jessica Brody. Or you could take a class – there are loads at all different levels, both online and in person. Taking a class will also give you homework, deadlines and accountability, as well as friends to cheer you on.
Do you have the materials you need?
Without the necessary materials, we’re likely to stumble at the first hurdle. Do you have everything you need?
A dedicated notebook
I love to use a new notebook for each idea I’m working on. It might feel like an indulgence, but if it gets you started, then it’s worth treating yourself, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. If you prefer an eco-friendly option, check out the Rocket Book, which is a reusable notebook.
I have pens in all colours and they bring me so much joy when writing, especially when I’m brainstorming.
Sounds obvious, but it’s vital! Perhaps you’re not writing because you haven’t got a suitable computer. Or perhaps you have one, but it’s not set up for writing.
Is there anything else you need? Screenwriting software, for example?
Do you have a special space to write?
If not, figure out where you can write, and try to set up a space where you can go to every time you want to write. If you don’t have a dedicated space, can you leave your materials within easy reach, to make it simple for you to get started and hit the ground running?
Do you have a good idea?
If not, try brainstorming. I wrote about why I love brainstorming here.
If you have an idea, but don’t really know the details, start by outlining. This takes time, so don’t rush it. Instead, build time into your schedule to do this important task.
If none of these solutions help, get some outer accountability. Many people struggle to achieve their own personal goals (such as writing) without outer accountability. Don’t beat yourself up if this is you. Just remember, you’re not alone. You can get accountability from a course, writing group, or by working with a writing coach like me.
If you are struggling with a lack of accountability or a fierce inner critic, I’d love to help with some one-to-one coaching.
My focus is helping ambitious writers who are struggling to sit down and write (or sit down and sell their writing) – maybe because of self-doubt, or a block – or simply good old fashioned procrastination. Whatever it is, I get writers writing (and selling).
Thanks for reading!
I hope these suggestions help you get back on track with a writing goal. Do let me know how you’re getting on; I’d love to hear from you. I’m Katy Segrove – animation writer, children’s author, writing coach and mum to cheeky 3-year old Otto.
Found this article useful? Sign up and get a new article twice a month. I share tips on all aspects of writing, productivity, habits, blocks and different ways of marketing yourself and your writing. You’ll also get a FREE 14-day writing course. You’ll receive 7 lessons by email, covering everything from generating ideas to facing your fears to setting a goal and beating procrastination.