It’s October. Raise your hand if you have decided to finish your next book before the end of the year. Yep. I see a lot of hands raised out there in newsletter land.
Now, put down your hand if you have worked on that book project since you made that goal on Labor Day.
What? No hands went down! That’s right, even though I can’t really see any of those hands, I know that almost every one of you made a goal to start or finish your book this fall. And I know almost none of you have actually done anything to move that goal forward. But don’t worry. I’m here to help you finish your book.
There was a time in my life when I waited for serendipity to occur: for the vagaries of life to hand me a few hours when space, time, and creative energy all came together in one fabulous inspirational moment and I could write creatively. I once wrote a book in a week that way—at the time I was a stay-at-home mom with one child in elementary school. I neglected most of my other duties for a week and wrote each day from eight a.m. to three p.m. I learned a few lessons on time management from that experience.
Setting a Schedule
When I worked for a newspaper I had an editor, a publisher, a set work schedule, and peers working around me—in other words, I didn’t need to motivate myself. I had other people around me to help with that. Once I became a freelance writer, I had to motivate myself.
If I waited to write only on the serendipitous weeks—or more often, the serendipitous days or few hours—when space, time, and creative energy intersected, I would only write about once every other month or so. As a working writer that is a quick road to starvation. To become a working freelance writer juggling a family and a business, I had to develop a way to bring these elements together on a weekly or even daily basis in my own home without an editor and coworkers around me.
It takes discipline to sit down at your desk on a sunny Saturday afternoon and spend two or three hours writing. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about your subject; it would still be a lot more fun to be outside gardening, swimming, playing tennis, or doing just about any other activity than sitting by yourself working.
Finding your creative energy when you’d rather be doing something easier and more fun is what discipline, or rather self-discipline, is all about. It’s a somewhat old-fashioned concept, but one that you need to develop if you are going to successfully complete your book, or several books, a year.
One of the secrets to self-discipline is to be strict with yourself, but not too strict. Make allowances for the unexpected; problems do arise that need immediate attention. Emergencies sometimes happen, and there are also times when we have opportunities to do something fun and frivolous that we just can’t pass up. So if you do choose to go out with friends one Saturday afternoon instead of working on your book, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, just pull out your calendar and block in a new writing time.
Self-discipline doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed a break or two. Scheduling three or four hours of writing time all in one day doesn’t mean you are expected to sit staring at your computer, busily typing the entire time. In fact, you’ll find if you do have the opportunity to schedule a longer writing session, taking a ten-minute break every hour or so will increase your creative energy and give you a new perspective on your work.
Self-discipline means developing a plan and sticking to it, but that does not imply rigidity; instead, it means finding the best balance between work and the relaxation needed for renewal.
What better motivation can there be for accomplishing your goals than to plan to give yourself a reward when they are achieved?
Rewards should be both big and small, and they should be set at various points along the way. A reward can be as simple as a quick break playing a round of your favorite computer game, a walk around the block, or a cup of coffee when you finish a certain number of words. Or it can be as complex as a vacation, a new car, or any other large, expensive, or time-consuming thing that you want.
But think about your rewards in the same way you think about goals. If you are familiar with the concept of SMART goals, you know that the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Your rewards should also be SMART.
Your reward should be specific, not vague. “When I finish my book I’m going to do something really fun” is one example of a reward that is too vague. “When I finish my book I’m going to spend a weekend at the beach with my family” is much more specific. But I suggest you make it even more specific. Name the beach. Decide where you will stay. And tell your family about your reward plans. That way they’ll be happier to help you find that time you need to finish your goal so they can share in your reward, too!
Measurable, timely, and relevant are all similar concepts when it comes to thinking about your rewards. Your rewards should be in proportion to the size of your goal. You might want to reward the completion of a difficult paragraph with a cup of tea, the completion of several hours of difficult work with an evening spent watching a new movie or streaming a show you’ve been wanting to see. The completion of a major section of your work that has taken several weeks might be marked by dinner out with friends. Don’t make your rewards larger than the goal they celebrate.
Your rewards don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. In fact, make sure they are not. If they are too expensive, too complex, or too time-consuming, they will not be attainable, and you will end up feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. Your rewards should be things that motivate you to complete the next step in writing your book.
For more information on setting a schedule to finish your book, check out my online course.