What Keeps You From Writing?

I always wondered how authors handled writing one novel and at the same time edited another. Well, now I know first-hand just what a feat it is.

If you've read my previous posts this week, then you're up to date with where I'm at in my journey toward publication--on January 1st I started writing my second contracted novel and then on January 5th I received my second rewrite on The Preacher's Bride.

I'm officially juggling writing AND editing.

Like most of you, I don't have large chunks of time I can devote to writing responsibilities. I work full time as a teacher and mother. My days are packed with grading math lessons, giving oral Latin quizzes, overseeing crazy science experiments, and all of the other unending duties that go along with teaching my children and managing a large household.

You may wonder, as I have a hundred times, why not set aside my novel and focus on the rewrites for a couple of weeks? With such little time, how can I possibly do justice to both?

But here's the thing. Even though I have a really good excuse for taking a break from my newest writing project--can't get a much better excuse than having to do a rewrite on another book--I don't want to start the habit of shoving aside my WIP (work-in-progress) for other things.

And here's the main reason why: There will ALWAYS be other things to distract us from writing, often very legitimate, important things. But if we start writing, we need to stay disciplined and keep writing.

I love what James Scott Bell says in his newest book The Art of War for Writers. "A foundation in discipline is always the first step toward victory." (p.18) He recommends setting a daily word count goal.

I suggest a daily word count too. My goal is 800 a day Mon.-Fri. and 1000 on Sat. for a weekly total of 5000. Maybe I'll have to adjust it a bit during these few weeks of working on rewrites, but I want to keep writing every day.

That daily word count sits on my shoulder and pokes me when I start daydreaming. It prods me when I'm tempted to get out of my chair. It whispers in my ear, "Write a little faster. You only have 30 minutes left to make your daily goal." It's a relentless taskmaster, but ever so helpful.

Bells says: "Write a minimum of 350 words a day. A baboon can do 350 words a day. Don't be shown up by a baboon." (p. 199) He also says: "If you're going to be obsessive about anything in the writing business, make it your word quota." (p. 21) He goes a step further and says we should keep a daily record of how much we're writing.

I fully realize NOT everyone agrees with the daily word count philosophy. In fact, I read two great posts recently that gave the opposite perspective.

Carrie at Heim Binas Fiction had a post "Breaking the Rules" and she said: Not everyone can or wants to write every day. Not everyone can write while traveling or home for the holidays, and it doesn't make you less of a writer. Just be sure that you aren't waiting for inspiration to strike before you sit down to work. Be sure that you're trying, more often than not.

K.M. Weiland at Wordplay wrote "Why Word Counts Can Be Destructive" and she said: Word counts were causing me more grief than productivity. . . I prefer to force myself to sit down at the computer for a set amount of time every day (two hours in my case) and let the scenes and characters dictate the word count.

Whether we adhere to a daily word counts or to a specific amount of writing time per day/week, I think we can all agree on the importance of self-discipline.

We'll always have other things clamoring to pull us from our WIP. Maybe next time it won't be rewrites. Maybe it will be the promotion of a newly released book, a book signing, an email newsletter, or a talk at the local writer's club.

You get my point. There will always be very worthwhile things to keep us from writing. (It goes without saying there are time-wasters that keep us from it too.)

But if we set WIP writing goals, and force ourselves to reach those goals in whatever way works for us, we'll eventually finish a book, or two, or three. . .

And we'll continue to take tiny steps forward toward victory.

What pulls you from your writing? And how do you keep yourself writing-- daily word count goals or something else?


  1. Oh my, I NEED to do this more.

    But... I'm one of those that find it *almost* impossible to have a daily word count goal. I just can't do it some days. THe days I don't get home from work until 5:30... then there's dinner, baths, homework, Internet time (whoops, did I say that??) seriously even without the last one, by the time the kids are in bed, especially now that I have ZERO energy, I'm falling into bed and going to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow.

    So what's a girl to do?

    I use the days I don't feel like curling up right there on the floor and sleeping, and try to write a LOT. On Saturdays and Sunday afternoons, after I find things for kiddos to do, I sit down and write A LOT.

    But that said, maybe I DO need to attempt a word count go daily. Maybe I'd be more likely to make myself stay up for a half hour and pound out 500 words.

    Next week. I'll start that next week. (W-2's will be done by then!!!!)

  2. I loved those posts you referred to. I think they had great advise. What you say is so true. There will always be something to distract us from writing. There is always something to distract us from anything that we want to do. I think you are doing so well with all your commitments. Gosh, I wonder how I would go trying to do what you are. Blessings for the edits, the writing and the living your life as well. :)

  3. Man, I can't wait to get my hands on that book!! I completely agree. Once you start writing that rough draft, you have to keep plugging through. I used to do scene goals, like finish a scene a day, but I did move to word count goals.

    Question: Right now I'm revising book 4. What's your opinion on not starting another book until book 4 is polished and ready for Rachelle? Sometimes, it seems like people are CONSTANTLY writing 1000 words a day, but that always confuses me and I start thinking, "Do they move from one book to the next without stopping?"

  4. Jody,
    I wish I knew the answer to this one. I'm awaiting release of my first novel, expecting the edits for number two soon, and writing under deadline for number three. All this while juggling the various balls that life throws my way. I've given myself a weekly word count, since there are some days when there's absolutely no time to write. But it's a problem I'm sure lots of folks would love to have, so I rejoice in the opportunity and soldier on.
    Best wishes in your own struggle against the deadline monster. And thanks for sharing.

  5. Jody, like you, we have a huge family. Home-school, violin lessons, horseback lessons, plus the shows will start soon, 4-H, etc., etc.. And the hospital visits with my Christopher. So.

    I don't do word count goals. For me it was kind of like when I was in school and taking a test. I know I have to have so many words written by such and such a time and I end up worrying and stressing that I won't make the goal, that I waste my time. I'm glad it works for you, and if I was in your shoes, I might change my tune. Have a wonderful weekend. :-)

  6. Hi Jody

    Your post is very timely :) Although I usually write children's books and therefore have smaller chunks of words to worry about, I'm in a similar situation. I'm a stay-at-home mum to three pre-schoolers (including 20-month-old twins whom I have named my Demolition Crew), am a pastor's wife and somehow have to fit writing in around the rest of my responsibilities. I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about how it was all going to work...

    Last year I stayed up late writing and enjoyed the time when the kids were in bed and my hubby was out visiting parishioners...but I didn't enjoy getting up the next morning and found that I was grumpy with the kids etc. As of next week, I'm changing tactics and trying mornings instead. I figure if I get up by about 5:30am then I'll be able to fit in a walk or a run, then reward myself after my exercise with an hour to write. I like wordcount goals (which is why I love NaNoWriMo) but I think a time frame is more productive for me. If I can write for an hour before the kids get up (they are late risers, thank goodness, and don't surface till around 7:30am) then I will have a great start to my day and be free for the rest of the day to wear all my other hats.

    All in all, it really does come back to discipline, just like you said. It's like training to be an Olympic athlete - it takes dedication, commitment, discipline and sometimes it hurts! We're just Olympians with words :)

    Congrats on your soon-to-be-released book and I hope the writing of the second novel is a pure delight. And congrats on having Rachelle as your agent. I read her blog regularly and she is just delightful.


  7. I've never done word count goals (unless you count NaNo). In fact, I rarely even check to see how many words I've written (unless something has to be a specific length).

    I do struggle with discipline, but it's mostly in other areas. I LOVE to write. Except when it's hard. :)

    So, yeah, maybe I need to start implementing the word count goal thing.

  8. Word count works for me. 1000 per day when I'm writing a new novel. A chapter per day when I'm editing (may seem like a little, but my chapters need a lot of work).

    I also like how Bell wrote to take a day off. I'm a Sunday off kind of girl. I give a lot to my family on the weekends.

    What distracts me? Those I love and I'm learning to not see them as distractions, but life assignments.

    ~ Wendy

  9. I love that line: "Don't be shown up by a baboon!" Hilarious.

    But I like the idea of setting aside a certain time limit a day instead of a certin word count. What if you're just throwing out crazy stuff that makes your story worse just because you want to reach your goal? With a time limit, you can still concentrate on the plot and characters and what you really want to say.

    Or maybe I just worry about strange stuff.

  10. Katie's Question: Right now I'm revising book 4. What's your opinion on not starting another book until book 4 is polished and ready for Rachelle?

    My Answer: In my opinion, revising IS writing, just a slighty different form. Similar to Wendy, I give myself a chapter-a-day goal for editing. And I also give myself a daily time guide when I'm in research mode before beginning a WIP. So, obviously, we aren't ALWAYS going to have a current WIP that we're actually writing, or at least I don't.

    BUT when I begin the writing of a new a story, and I'm in the momentum, I want to keep it going and complete the book in a timely manner. That's when I think the word counts/weekly goals of some sort can help set apart the writers from the wannabe's.

  11. There are days that are nothing but distractions and there are days when I just go. Originally, I had a daily word count, but I'm starting to alter it to a weekly word count.

  12. I'm a spreadsheet-obsessed accountant, so I have a worksheet where I track my daily scene goals. I adjust these based on my calendar in a given week, and that's worked well for me. Ultimately, that gets me to reach acceptable word counts, but word count alone isn't what plops me in the chair. :-)

  13. Excellent point, there will always be distractions. Writing everyday is exercise for me, it keeps my words churning.

    I'm fearful what will happen if I get too laxed. I tend to lean towards procrastination easily so I have to be careful and not give myself too many breaks.

  14. This was a great post. I get distracted all too easily. Mainly, being a stay at home Mom, it's my children. I feel guilty not spending time with them, yet, I feel guilty when I'm not writing. I feel guilty not cleaning. I'm having a hard time finding a balance between all of the responsibilities and the things that I want to be doing, such as writing. My husband works late, so when he comes home, I feel guilty not spending time with him.
    As of now, I am trying to finish my revisions of my WIP so I can start the query process, but have words churning in my head for book 2. Now, I'm conflicted with finding a balance between finishing the revisions and getting the story down...Sometimes I wished I had a real deadline because I work better under pressure.

  15. Gosh, Jody, I knew you were the mother of five, but I didn't know you were a teacher as well. I admired you before, but now, I bow down in awe. I don't do well with word counts, but I am trying to open my mind and heart and soul each day to the WIP and see what wants to unfold. It is a very organic process, connected to my spiritual journey, not just writing.

  16. That's so true!

    I don't set word count goals. I just try to write entire sections/chapters or for a chunk of time. But I need to be more disciplined in regularity. I'm hoping I can set that schedule after I move.

  17. Hey Jody, as I've shared before, the problem for me is more that I have other writing besides my book to do, and a lot of that is actually on deadline, for pay. I don't think this will change until I'm contracted for a book again, so until then, it will be impossible for me to aspire to a daily book word count. I agree that writing every single day is essential, but we also have to stay open to what our life has brought us and not get hung up on setting an impossible goal, if we're not at the right point in our lives to follow through. I love your enthusiasm for pushing on through, staying focused, and the thought of you doing that despite all that you've got going on with your family continues to amaze me. Only by the grace of God, right? :) You are inspiring!

  18. I think I've got it backwards, but right now, writing is pulling me away from all the other things I should be doing...I feel guilty, but not enough to stop.

  19. Patrice KavanaughJanuary 15, 2010 11:15 AM

    Like another reader, I love the line about baboons. Made me laugh out loud. (And I'm in a public place, but couldn't help myself.) When I first started on this writing journey, I heard and read a lot about the "requirement" of a daily writing practice. It felt so daunting, I wasn't sure I could ever achieve it. Did that mean I wouldn't ever be a "real writer"? Then, a very wise teacher talked about the need for a "regular writing practice." So, not waiting for inspiration to strike, but also not (necessarily) having a DAILY practice. I thought about other "regular" practices I already pursued in my life, notably exercise. I didn't (and still don't) exercise every day. But I do have a regular exercise practice, usually 3-5 times/week. Some weeks are more and some are less. But that is my goal and more often than not, I achieve it. For me, daily ANYTHING is too relentless. REGULAR is attainable.

  20. Fear in the guise of procrastination.

  21. I do believe in the forward motion of word counts. Right now I'm plotting out a novel in a great genre and I want to nail it, so of course the plot is giving me a hard time. Of course. On another note, I've hired Tiff to help me rework one of my older novels. SO like you (but for vastly different purposes) I'll be writing and editing. =)

  22. I like the goal of 350. That's so achievable. And it would not sacrifice quality, which could happen with higher daily goals.

    I am going to buy this book.

  23. LOVE your thoughts. I DO like the daily word count but sometimes it just isn't possible for me.

    Take this week. Replenishing a house depleted by Christmas, New Year's, and then ANOTHER trip--both business and pleasure. A hubby undergoing surgery, Part I. Part II, next week.

    A sudden deadline whirled in YESTERDAY. They need it--gulp--yesterday.

    My breath came in heaves...until the Holy Spirit breathed wisdom and is letting me just do what I can. Structure, discipline, seasoned with Holy Spirit wisdom and power. That's my formula.


  24. Way too many distractions to enumerate.

    You talked about word count but you also mentioned having "30 minutes" to finish, which suggests that you were practicing two levels of discipline, frequency and duration.

    Every day doesn't work for everyone. I've certainly struggled with it. Using a timer might be helpful to give myself small bursts of writing time. It also might be helpful for those who can't write every day but when they do, want to bite off a significant chunk of time.

  25. Fabulous post, Jody! Discipline IS so important. It's so crucial to identify time-wasters as well. I love the way you put it, "There will ALWAYS be other things to distract us from writing, often very legitimate, important things. But if we start writing, we need to stay disciplined and keep writing."

    I'm currently working on a devotional series, so my goal is to write 3-4 devotion entries a week (in addition to the classes I'm taking). I should be finished with my WIP in three and a half months.

    Thanks for the encouragement to keep writing!!

  26. Juggling edits and writing is a challenge, probably one of the most stretching things I've encountered post-contract.

    I like word-count goals. They motivate me.

  27. Yeah, I hear you. I shelved my new novel for revisions. Again. And again. And then again. I've been revising since September.

    I need to write something new, but I don't have the brain cells left over at the end of the day to think about it. I need time to stew and stew and form characters and stuff before the words come. And I'm using all I have for life, work, kids, family and revisions.

    Soon, though. Soon.

  28. Great post! I'm going to link back to it at the bottom of my word count post. Thanks for quoting me!

  29. Hi Jody -

    When writing the rough draft of my second manuscript, I followed a word count goal. However, I wrote five days a week and took off Saturday and Sunday.

    I'm gearing up for manuscript number three. Hopefully, the Snowflake will make the process faster and smoother.

    Susan :)

  30. I think daily word count goals can be helpful. I needed to hear this because I think it might be a good idea for me to start writing on another project while I'm revising my completed manuscript. Maybe I'll set word count goals for a new project. Thanks for the nudge.

  31. Sounds like a task! Good luck! Blogging definitely distracts me and reading.

  32. My young children pull me from writing. They are the number one biggest reason I don't write more.

    While they are a fabulous excuse, I do tell them from time to time, "Mommy is working. Give me 30 more minutes and then we'll snuggle/twirl/go to the park."

    {Blogging is the 2nd thing that pulls me from writing.}

    My daily word count goal is 500 words. It's not much, but for now, it's enough. It will increase as my children grow up and enter school full time and the balance shifts.

    Rome wasn't built in a day, and I'm finding, neither are my manuscripts.

  33. A foundation in discipline is always the first step toward victory.

    I love that line and also when someone said not to wait for inspiration to hit. Sit and write that's what you have to do.

  34. Congrats on finding a goal that works for you! I do have a daily word count goal. This month I'm potty-training our new puppy, so I've relaxed the goal! But I'm still writing every weekday and that's what counts.

    Have a terrific weekend!

  35. You are so right, there are always obstacles to keep us from writing. Am considering the daily word count thing to add discipline to my day.
    Thanks and blessings!

  36. A wise and very sensible post, as usual. :-)

    I started with a daily goal of just 250 words x 6 days per week. Slowly I worked up to 800 words, and that's what I'm most comfortable with when drafting.

    Currently I'm working on revising a draft, and planning the next one...unfortunately, I also only have a set time period for writing per day. So I'll split my days between revisions and new words (weighted heavily towards the revisions). Revision days I just do as much as I can, new word days I'll do 800 words (or more if I'm on a roll).

    I'm a big fan of word counts, and working on some writing project daily. I take Monday nights off.

  37. That was great advice from Carrie and K.M., and they each have a point.

    It was also neat to see what your daily goal breaks down to. My output is much better when I adhere to a per day rule, but what keeps me from writing on the days I don't? I allow myself to be distracted.

  38. What pulls me from my writing most is guilt that I'm neglecting my DH, my paying job, and that pesky thing called sleep. But I wouldn't want to live without him, I need the money, and I get cranky when I don't sleep. So, here I am.

    I find that a set amount of time works best for me. Better than word counts. I set goals, and write them down. That helps too.

    Bless you as you juggle, dear Jody. We're all very proud of you!

  39. Thanks for the quote & link!

    I think that having a system and sticking to it is key... 350/day is pretty low and achievable, but I just don't write on weekends unless there's something that HAS to get written (inspiration, fear of losing the idea, deadline, etc.) It doesn't work for me. Weekends are for family only.

    So, I have a weekday system, and I commit to writing even if I don't feeeel like it. (You heard the whiny tone of voice there, right? Yep. THAT'S what we have to avoid.)

  40. I get distracted the easiest when my muse is quietest. It's hard to just write without that flow - something I'm thinking it's time for me to push through. Great post, as always.

  41. Oh, wow, a new job has kept me from writing this week. I'm being forced to find a new normal this tax season. This is the first tax season I've tried juggling writing AND blogging with a full-time job, it's going to require a little adjustment. I definitely am not sticking to any kind of minimum word count at the moment.

  42. I like to write every day and I have a "just sit down and write" attitude. Setting a daily word count, however, doesn't work well for me because some days I struggle with scenes and other days the words flow freely. I prefer to keep a record of the words written and be encouraged by any progress.

    Family is my biggest distraction and I love it when they are here. But years ago when I started writing in earnest I decided if I didn't treat my writing as a job nobody would take my efforts seriously and I would never meet commitments. Now I may juggle my writing time to accommodate what's happening around me, but my family knows I've "gone to work" when I disappear into my office.

  43. This comment has been removed by the author.

  44. I've heard adjusting to life with deadlines, edits and the endless juggling can be overwhelming to a newly contracted writer. You seem to be making the transition beautifully. (Said with admiration and respect.)

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insights, Jody.

  45. You make so many excellent points, Jody. I am struggling with time management and writing right now and I'm not sure I'm winning. Thank you for this post. It motivates me to give my writing more priority. I needed to hear this today.

  46. Life keeps me from writing. As soon as I carve out a niche of time, something else comes up. I find the time to write by making it a conscious choice. My children understand I need a little time to work so we can play the rest of the time. It's a tough balance.

  47. I find work, and family obligations pull me away from writing the most. But both of the above items are very important to me, so I simply try to write as much as I can with my schedule. I wake up earlier, and spend the first hour writing, and also the hour before I go to bed. I'm also experimenting with word count goals to see how many words I can reasonably write in my time limits.

    Great post, Judy! :) And I agree with what some of the commenters said; you're doing a great job juggling all of those writing assignments!

  48. job and husband and sometimes kids keep me from writing. and I write for them (exclude job).. so it's a vicious cycle sometimes.

    great post.

  49. I totally needed this Jody. I am great at keeping word count goals... for about 5 days. And then I stink at it. I love the idea of recording how much you write everyday! Then I can see just how bad I've been and work for change.

  50. I've decided. I'm going to use time, not word count, as my measuring stick for my writing. It's like my exercise routine. I have set certain times when I go to the Y or need to get outside for a walk (when it's NOT negative degrees out). I'm using that same mental strategy for writing. This is the place I'm saying it first. Two hours a day, seven days a week. That might mean that I have to adjust a couple days to allow for something that comes up. Enough walking around wondering how I'm going to squeeze it in. It's time to start squeezing!

  51. Sheesh, what doesn't keep me from writing? There's always something that seems 'more important' to get done before I dive in to my WIP. I have to work on this...

    I left you a gift on my blog, so check it out!

  52. Jody, I'm sadly in a huge lull in writing now. Family is definitely taking over my writing time. But the itch is greeting me again, so I see discipline come calling again. Perhaps I'll be doing those 5 am starts to my day again soon.

    So if you write 800 words through the work week on your new novel, how much time are you putting in daily on your editing? Just curious how much time you can manage with such a busy household.

  53. What pulls you from your writing? My kids and household responsibilities. Of course, reading books pulls me away as well.

  54. I'm just now getting back in the habit of writing every day.

    Page goals work for me. And you know what? My current page goal is 1. Yep. 1. I'm at the risk of being shown up by several baboons with that one, but as long as I've written something...ANYTHING...I feel I've done well for the day.



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