There is only one hard and fast rule in writing:
Do what works for you.
That being said, after decades of writing professionally and thousands of books published, I have seen some clear trends that hold true across lots of different people. What I do here is walk you through some of the most important things I’ve figured out.
Why should you have a writing plan?
Shouldn’t you just get inspired to write? If you wait until inspiration strikes, and then use that as fuel to write, you’ll be good, right?
If you rely on inspiration to write your book, you will fail.
There is one single thing that creates success with writing, and every single writer will tell you this:
It took me three years as a professional writer before I understood that I needed a writing plan for every book I wrote. Writing without a plan is like going cross country without a map. Yeah, you might get there, but it’ll take you at least twice as long.
You must sit your ass in the chair and write, just about every day, until the book is done.
That is why you need a writing plan. Because it defines exactly what you will do to finish your book.
Inspiration might be how you decide to start the book—and that’s fine—but discipline is how you’ll finish.
What is a writing plan?
You are an author now, and what does an author do? They write their book. EVERY DAY.
A writing plan is nothing more than a specific plan that lays out exactly when and where you’re going to write each day, how much you will write, when everything is due, and what your accountability is.
How to create your writing plan
Step 1: Schedule a Time and Place To Write
You must start by picking the exact time and place you will write each day. For example, you could write every day from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., in your home office. Or from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Compass Coffee.
This is not negotiable. If you tell yourself that you’ll “write when you have time” then the book won’t ever get done. If you don’t think about the environment where you will do your writing, you may very well not make effective use of that time you’ve set aside.
With both of these elements, you want to be as specific as possible. The more you plan now, the less you have to think later.
If the book matters, then you figure out precisely when and where you will write it.
How Much Time Should You Write Each Day?
We recommend writing for at least one hour per day. If you only have 30 minutes per day to write, then do that. The optimal amount of time is two hours, but very few people can set aside that much time.
Also, be realistic. Most authors cannot write (effectively) for more than three hours a day.
What Time of Day Should You Write?
The data is very clear: most people are the most creative about an hour after they wake up, until about four hours after they wake up. That means you’re probably most creative in the morning.
But outliers DO exist, and so do night owls. If you are one of those, honor it.
All that matters is consistency and action. Make writing a routine that works for you, and you’ll do it.
How Consistently Should You Write?
If you can, write every day. Even if you only get through a half page per day, you’re that much closer to a finished book.
If seven days a week is too much, then take one day off and write for six. God rested on the seventh day, so can you.
The key thing to remember with a book is that you don’t stay where you are with a book; you either move forward or you move backward.
Momentum is a key element in seeing a book through from beginning to end. You will make that decision each and every day for the duration of the book-writing process. Your plan will help you stay accountable so you continue moving in the right direction.
How Do You Pick Your Writing Location?
It’s very simple to pick where you should write: where you get writing done.
These are the general factors people consider when writing: ambient noise, temperature, view, comfort, and isolation. A universal “correct” place to write doesn’t exist. If you write well in coffee shops, do that. If you write well at a desk in your basement, do that. Wherever you are most creative, most functional, and most confident, write there.
Don’t waste time trying to find the “perfect place” to write, or a perfect tool, or the perfect desk. They don’t exist.
People who get stuck on finding the perfect spot or the perfect inspiration to write are looking for a way to avoid the work. This unrecognized fear will cause them to wait for the perfect environment, but that perfect environment doesn’t exist. Even when accounting for someone’s personal preferences, if they think they’ve found the “perfect” writing place, that’s just the place where they allow themselves to look past the distractions that exist everywhere (unless they write in a sensory deprivation tank).
Focusing on the distractions is resistance, a way for people to avoid the hard work of actual writing. Every minute you spend trying to find the perfect anything is a minute you are stealing from your writing.
Find the place and setting that works for you and then recreate that each day. If your initial location stops working for you after a while, acknowledge that, figure out what you need to change, and identify a new location.
Step 2. Set Specific Writing Goals
In addition to scheduling the time and place of each writing session, also give yourself a specific writing goal for each session. We recommend a goal of 250 words per hour of writing.
Why 250 words? It’s approximately the number of words per page in a printed book. So if you’re writing about 250 words a day, that’s about a page a day.
Yes, this is a very low goal. But a low goal is good. A low goal is not intimidating, so it will help you get started. It will also make you feel good when you surpass it, and entice you to keep writing.
This is a classic sales technique—lowering the quota to inspire action—that works wonderfully with writing.
The best part is that it adds up quickly:
By writing just 250 words a day, you can get a 120-page (30,000-word) first draft done in about 4 months.
That is fast, and you’ll do it with what feels like very little effort. As you can see, it’s all about consistency.
Step 3. Build Deadlines
Deadlines force action and demand accountability. Below is a rough outline of how to pace yourself, you can adjust to your schedule.
If you want to move fast, give yourself a deadline of about a chapter a week.
If you want to move at a reasonable speed, give yourself two weeks per chapter.
If you want to move slower, allow three weeks.
If you have a hectic life, do a chapter per month. And then question if you have the time to even do this.
Step 4. Announce The Book
To take accountability one step further: announce that you are working on a book.
Use whatever social media platform you prefer, but the point is to publicly claim your intention to people you care about.
You’ll get a lot of positive feedback, which will help you start, and the fact that you have announced your intention will help you push through when you are wavering.
NOTE: If you’re serious about writing this book, the platform you’re most uncomfortable about putting it on is the one you should use. That means it’s the one with the most people on it that you care about. If you are afraid of telling them, it’s all the more reason to do it. Remember, we want to identify any and all resistance and push through it.
Step 5. Keep Yourself Accountable
There are many ways to keep yourself accountable, but the best and most reliable method we’ve seen is to post your daily word count. We recommend all of our authors in the Scribe Guided Author program do this in our private Facebook Group.
By doing this, you get all the benefits of accountability:
- The daily push to ensure you actually sit down and write your 250 words.
- The encouragement that comes from everyone else for getting it done.
- The habit the gets built by doing the work, and then posting about it.
Note: Focus on what works
What I just laid out for you is a tested, proven method. It will work.
That doesn’t make it the “right” method. There is no “right” method.
The only “right” method of writing is the one that works for you.
For example, we have one author who can only write by sitting in his Tesla while it is charging in his garage, putting a specific playlist on his phone, plugging in earbuds and turning up the volume. He knows he has 45 minutes of charge time to get his work done, and he makes the most of that window.
There is only the method that WORKS for you. ALWAYS feel free to use what works. So if any part of this feels off, substitute what makes more sense for you.
That being said—unless you KNOW you have a method that works better for you—assume what I’m telling you is the best way to do it. Our writing plan is based both on decades of experience with actual authors, and the best empirical data about how authors succeed.
What if I miss a day of writing?
Forgive yourself, and move on. It’s fine.
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”