Finding the Discipline to Write

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Open Book with Pen Laid Across
It's hard building a writing schedule with an already busy life.

"How do you get the motivation to write?"

It’s a question I see sometimes on writer’s forums. No matter what platform or community I find myself on, there will be someone—likely with a job, school, housework, kids to feed, deadlines to meet, or any other of the responsibilities life puts on us—who is wondering how writers can find the time, energy, and focus to put pen to paper with everything else going on in their lives.

Motivation. That’s what they focus on. Because surely—surely—it's just an issue of finding the chutzpah to make it happen, right? To get writing, you need to clap yourself on the cheeks, hype yourself up, and decide to just do it, no matter what, until you’re done. Right?


The key to developing consistency, producing good work, and manifesting results in any goal isn't motivation. It's actually a cool thing called discipline, and while motivation is great for that first burst of energy when deciding to make a change in your life, it's discipline that's going to keep that energy working for you—even when you’re tired, uninspired, or just don’t feel like it.

It’s a scary word, discipline. It invokes images of the stern school teacher, the no-nonsense parents, the leaders who make success look effortless. But anyone can cultivate it, so long as they take advantage of human nature: using motivation to develop habits, and committing to those habits to develop the discipline to get the work done—no matter what.

Still following me? If so, here’s some tips on how to get the discipline to consistently sit down and write every single day.


Tip 1: Know When You’re At Your Best.

What’s the time of day you can most easily get up and groove? Maybe you’re an early bird, maybe you’re a night owl—or maybe you even work best in the middle of the day, if you have some down time. Whatever time it is, claim it for your writing. Carve it out and build the rest of your schedule around it.

I work best where I know I'll be left well alone. For a long time, that was in the early morning, before anyone was awake and before my work day started. If writing consistently meant waking up at 6 A.M., I'd do it, because while I was going to school and working, I'd wake up early anyway and love having the mornings all to myself before my day started.

Now, it's the opposite. I'm out of school, so I have the flexibility to plan around my work day, and I find myself much more productive later in the day, after I've had a chance to really think about what I want to write. Your schedule is up to you, and if it changes with your life, that's okay.

Tip 2: Set a Word Count Goal

Now that you have blocks of time you can dedicate to writing, it’s time to decide how much you can reasonably write in that time. It shouldn’t be too low, or else you may not get into the writing groove by time you’re done, and you may find your block of time spent less productively as you try to “fill that space.” It shouldn’t be too high, either, because consistently missing a target is the easiest way to slash your motivation (but when you exceed that number on those really good days, it feels great!) It should be a number that you can reasonably hit that puts you in a good flow and gets your work done at a good pace.

For me, I find that 1,500 words a day is a perfectly attainable minimum—and sometimes I definitely blow past that, especially when I really got into a groove, while some days I might just barely make it—but also I only write four days a week, in two to three hour blocks. The other three days, I’m either working on other things or just relaxing, which brings me into my next tip.

Tip 3: Build Rest Days Into Your Writing Schedule

Stephen King said once that people should write 2,000 words a day. That’s 14,000 words a week, or 56,000 words a month—which, if a book is only 120,000 words long, puts you at a whole first draft every quarter, with some time to go back and fiddle around with the draft before it’s even done (and we all know it'll need some fiddling). But not everyone can churn out 2,000 words every single weekday, especially if they’re working a full time job on top of it all.

You need time off from writing so you can rest and recharge, and so you can make sure that what you’re writing when it is time to write is quality enough that you aren’t spending the entire revising period having to start over from the ground up. A first draft just has to exist, yes, but the more effort you put into it, the less you’ll have to do later on, and the more you give your brain a break, the better you can do when it’s time for your brain to work.

My 1,500 words a day translates to 6,000 words a week minimum. For someone working full time and also trying to have a minute to rest at the end of each day, too, that’s pretty good! It got me through my first book in six months, and it’s been getting me through the second, too. It also lines up a lot more with Neil Gaiman’s schedule. Here’s what he has to say on the issue:

“A good day is defined by anything more than 1,500 words of comfortable, easy writing that I figure I’m probably going to use most of in the end. Occasionally, you have those magical days when you look up and you’ve done 4,000 words, but they’re more than balanced out by those evil days where you manage 150 words you know you’ll be throwing away.”


And those evil days will happen. Bonus tip: be flexible. Forgive yourself for the days that things out of your control happen, and the things you do see coming (doctor’s appointments, etc.), try to plan around. Shift your writing days around, find different times, do what it takes.

Just don’t give up. Keep at it, and you’ll find yourself with a finished draft before you know it.

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