Although there are many people who want to write a book and share it with the world, fewer people end up seeing through with their project. We all know that it takes a lot of work to create something compelling that dazzles your audience. But for new writers, it can be difficult to imagine the days, weeks, and months leading up to the completion of your project.

It may feel intimidating to think about all those hours you will need to spend at the writer’s desk: how do I know what to work on each day? What happens when I get a bad case of writer’s block? What if I lose track and don’t know how to move forward with my project?

Writing a book is a long-term commitment, but to sustain your energy throughout the life cycle of a project, it’s essential to learn ways to keep yourself motivated and engaged long term. Because when your initial energy dies down, careful, structured planning and dynamic writing sessions will be the key to getting you to the finish line.

Below are three strategies that I have found helpful in keeping myself writing for the long term.

Make short-term and long-term goals

We’re all after that elusive writing session where our words burst onto the page, where our progress is tangible. You can’t expect this every day, but being mindful in your daily writing practice is a great way to enhance your presence at the desk. If you’re looking for tips on establishing mindfulness in your daily writing session, please check out this post on mindful writing.

When structuring productive writing sessions, however, the importance of a longer-term writing plan sometimes gets left out. With a plan that looks a month or even six months into the future, it is much easier to break down what needs to be done each day and each week. Plus, with longer-term plans, you create a benchmark to measure your progress, which will help your motivation in writing for the long term.

Let’s take a look at a sample diagram:

Six-month plan

One-month plan

Weekly plan

As the plans grow shorter in time from six months to one week, the goals become more specific. A six-month plan, for example, could simply be completing your first draft. A one-month plan, on the other hand, should be more specific. You should think of each month as one piece of the six-month whole.

Let’s say your goal is to complete your first draft in six months. Manuscript length varies by genre (check here for a guide to average word counts) but we can say that 50,000 is a good general estimate. It is also what Naniwrimo challenges writers to do in November if you’re interested in the challenge!

So then you look at the month ahead of you with your six-month plan in mind. 50,000 words divided by 6 months equals approximately 8,333 words per month. Then, broken up into 4 weeks, you get approximately 2,000 words a week. Then, you can divide that up amongst the week as you please: if you write 5 days a week, that’s only 400 words each day! Having this long-term plan in mind when you plan out your days, weeks, and months is crucial to maintaining sight of your project’s growth.

But that’s not all your November writing plan should include. Word count is an important factor of your goal but going into specifics about other aspects, like content, will help you in writing for the long term. What section or sections of my manuscript will I focus on? Is there any research I need to do during the month to complement my writing? What were my weak spots from last month that I can work on this month?

If you use your long-term goals in this way to structure your short-term goals, it will be much easier for you to sustain your project in the long term. Just don’t forget to celebrate at the end of each month when you reach your big goal!

Do warm-ups and cool-downs

Staring at a blank page is scary! You feel like you have so much to do, but you may not even know where to start. Even when you make monthly and six-month goals, you may know where you’re supposed to go for the day, and still find yourself stuck.

In this case, doing a warm-up before a writing session can help to get your fingers in motion and put your mind in writing mode. Warm-ups can take a lot of different forms. The type of warm-up, ultimately, is not as important as just getting some words onto paper to prepare your brain for the upcoming session. What you write to warm up can depend on what kind of writing you do and what the day calls for.

As a writer of fiction, mine typically consists of choosing the scene that I will write that day, then writing a 500-word outline of what happens in the scene, how it connects to the rest of my work and any particular details that I’d like to include.

For writers of non-fiction, you could write a 500-word summary of what you’re looking to write about that day and remember to include any specific details that you’d like to highlight, or any specific connections you want to make.

My warm-ups also sometimes include a reflective component. I take a few minutes to ask myself how I’m feeling about my project. I think about where I feel I’m having success, and where I feel I can improve moving forward, and in this way, I put myself in a mindset to get started on the day’s work.

A cool-down at the end of a session can also be a great tool. With a cool-down, you can think about what you’ve accomplished for the day and give yourself time to celebrate your progress. Allowing yourself to enjoy the small milestones can help you to keep your attention on your goals. When writing a cool-down, you can also give some thought to where you’d like to start for your next writing session: that makes it that much easier to get back in motion when you sit down at your desk the next time so that you can sustain writing for the long term.

Respond to changes in motivation

Some days, we won’t be as motivated as others. We know as writers that it’s important to maintain discipline, but we are human: we get tired, we get bored, we lose sight of our vision.

Thankfully, there are some techniques that we can use to combat a lack of motivation and kick our thinking gears back into shape. One I like to use on days when I feel less motivated is called the Pomodoro Technique.

With the Pomodoro Technique, you alternate between bursts of work and short breaks. Typically, you set a timer to work for 25 minutes, and then you take a short 5-minute break before you begin your next burst.

This is the perfect way to structure a writing session on a day plagued by writer’s block. Why is that? Because it is a low commitment strategy: a strategy, you guessed it, for writing for the long term. If you make yourself work for 25 minutes, you may feel that you have enough clarity to continue working that day, even if you felt intimidated at the beginning. If you work for 25 minutes and still feel like you can’t work anymore that day, at least you’ve shown up for your project that day, and it may even be easier for you to start again the next time.

One thing is for sure – writing is tough work. But you don’t have to go about it alone. Here at The Happy Self-Publisher, we can help you become a better writer.

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Matthew Anderson is a writer working on his first novel, Love in Doom and Secession, in which two university students create a movement for Delawarean national independence and then must come to terms with the unintended consequences. You can read some of his work at https://matthewa535.wixsite.com/reflections.

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