5 Ways to Have Discipline in Writing

Lisa Shearin, who is a very accomplished urban fantasy writer, and I shared a fence for five years. One day, we chatted over that four-foot wooden structure. Since we were both writers—she published by that time and I an aspiring writer—we talked about how long it took her before she received her first writing contract. Her answer came easily.

About a million words.

It’s easy to think that if a writer hits a million words before publication that something’s wrong. It may also seem that a million words is an impossible amount to write. It’s not. But more than that, it’s not the number that matters but more what it symbolizes.


A writer has to have discipline in order to learn his craft. Otherwise, he’ll never take the time to sit down and do work that at times can seem lonely or even downright pointless, especially if the writer is someone who spends 40-plus hours a week away from friends and family while he works full time.  It is possible to achieve discipline through the steps below.

  1. Have goals. For writers who also work full time, setting goals is critical. They can come in many forms. If a writer is starting on her journey and wants to write her first novel, she may need to a goal of writing a manuscript within a year. Since I’m already a published indie author, I’ve set my goal to publish one book a year. The key is to be realistic in the goal. Avoid ones that are unrealistic, like going from totally unpublished to a New York Times bestseller in the span of a couple of years.
  2. Lay a plan. Goals are great, but some of them won’t get met without milestones along the way. For the writer drafting her first manuscript, she would need to set a certain word count per writing session to reach her goal of a novel. When I move into production mode for novels, I have a checklist I use that covers everything related to production and marketing.
  3. Implement the plan. Combine the goal and the plan based on the goal. Now implement it. Working the plan can take a variety of forms. For the beginning writer, it may mean blocking off certain days where she can write long enough to achieve her word count. For my novels, it means moving through a checklist I’ve prepared. Regardless, it takes discipline to implement the plan.
  4. Have accountability. At our day jobs, those of us who write full time usually have bosses above us or customers that require products from us. Bosses and customers do one big thing for us. They keep us accountable. Since writing is a one-person show, we don’t necessarily have anyone doing the same. We writers can get sidetracked or discouraged. Your cheering section can keep you accountable. It doesn’t have to be formal and could be something as simple as, “How many words did you write today?” or “What have you done to get ready to release your novel?”
  5. Celebrate accomplishments. After hitting a goal, I think it’s important to celebrate. This can take many forms. The key is to acknowledge the accomplishment, especially if it’s a big one. A few years ago, I attended a conference where Davis Bunn spoke about the way he celebrates finishing a manuscript. When he he hits that milestone, he goes to the movies and spends the afternoon watching various shows.

Without discipline, no writer will succeed regardless of the path to publishing. But with some discipline based on goals and plans, a writer can complete books at a consistent pace. And the whole million-word theory? I believe it’s true. In 2011, I finished what was probably my tenth novel (millionth word). Like Lisa, I stashed my first ones in the file drawers of my computer. With each one, I learned a little more about the craft of writing. Then, in November 2011, I received my first book contract.

It can happen. All it takes is the drive and discipline to make it so.

Question: If you are a writer or an athlete, in what ways do you discipline yourself to hone your craft or sport?

I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255:
Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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