Have you stalled on a big project?
Maybe it’s a novel that you began a couple of years ago—and never finished. Or a blog that you started last January with great intentions—that you haven’t posted on in months. Or a side project that you keep thinking about—but never quite get around to doing anything about.
Whatever your project is, this is your 30-day plan for getting it back on track.
Please think of it as your plan … not my plan. I don’t mind at all if you skip days that don’t quite suit you, or tackle two days in one, or do things in a different order. All writers and projects are different, after all, so use it however works best for you.
I’ve split the plan into five-day chunks. You might want to tackle one straight after the other, and finish the plan in a calendar month, or you might prefer to take weekends off, and finish in six weeks.
Important: While you’re welcome to read through the whole plan at once, it’s designed so that you can look at it each day. I’d strongly recommend bookmarking the post (or copying it into Evernote, or printing it out) so you can easily keep coming back to it.
Also, we’d love to hear in the comments what big project you’re going to be working on … leave a comment to tell us when you start the plan, and come back at the end of your 30 days to share how much progress you’ve made.
One reason your projects may stall is that you aren’t quite sure where you’re going. Maybe you got started because you wanted to explore a new idea, you ran along with it for a while … and then you lost momentum.
During the next five days, you’ll figure out where your project is going and what you’re committing to.
This might seem an odd way to begin … but I want you to take a full day off from working on your project, reading about your project, or even thinking about your project. (Or your projects, if you have several in a half-finished state.)
Sometimes, a big project has loomed over you for so long that it’s hard to feel anything but a sense of pressure and guilt about it. Today, you’re deliberately not working on your project … so have some time off, guilt-free.
I’ve allowed two days for this because it’s the sort of decision that’s well worth sleeping on. Do you want to continue with your project(s) at all?
If you started your novel three years ago, and you’ve written 10 sporadic chapters since then, maybe you’ve lost interest. If you launched your blog in January, wrote four posts, and then didn’t touch it again, perhaps it’s time to move on to something new.
I firmly believe that nothing you write is wasted: Every word helps you grow as a writer even if you try something that ultimately doesn’t work out. Sometimes, though, you need to let your old work go so that you can move on.
If you’ve got multiple big projects on the go (like a blog and a novel and a short story collection and a fledgling freelancing career), then this is the day when you pick one of those to focus on for the next 26 days. You might pick the one that needs the least work—so you can complete it and move on to something else—or the one that interests you the most.
Let’s face it: If you’ve barely written on your blog in three months, would it really hurt to leave it another month while you get going with your novel again? Or alternatively, maybe it’s time to let the novel go and focus on your blogging—after all, you don’t have to be a novelist to be a writer.
This is a crucial day in the plan because it’s the crux of where you’re going with your project. What does “success” look like to you, with this project? Write it down, as clearly as you can.
With a novel, you’re probably aiming for a finished, polished manuscript to either submit to agents or to self-publish. With other projects, like a blog, your end result might be less clear—maybe you want to set a goal like writing a certain number of posts.
Depending on where you’ve got to with your project already, you might need to create a plan for pretty much the whole thing … or you might be replanning part way through.
During the next five days, we’ll get clear about where you are and where you’re going next.
I’ve allowed two days for this because if you (a) got a fair way into your project and (b) haven’t worked on it for quite a while, it might take a bit of time to pull everything together. Chances are, your project has been languishing for a while—and you may need to hunt back through files or notebooks or blog pages to work out exactly where you got to.
With a novel, you might want to list chapter numbers and note which ones are complete, planned, half-written, and so on. With a blog, you could list the titles of all the posts you’ve written—and the names of any fellow bloggers you’ve built relationships with. If you made a start on a side project, you could gather together the research you’ve already done and the bits and pieces you’ve written.
On Day Five, you figured out what “success” means for you and your project. Now it’s time to start planning how to get there.
For instance, if you want to grow your blog to a readership of 5,000 email subscribers, a very brief big picture plan might look something like this:
With a novel, you might not be ready to create a chapter-by-chapter outline … but you could think about the key events that are going to happen along the way.
While many projects are hard to plan from start to end in detail (there are too many things that might change along the way), you’ll want to have a detailed plan for at least the next few steps of the process.
With a blog, for instance, you might plan a detailed content calendar that lists the posts you’ll be writing on your blog plus the guest posts you’ll be pitching each month for the next couple of months.
With a novel, you might write a bullet-point list of what’s happening in each of the next few chapters, and you might start to think about anything else you need to get into place (like if you want beta readers to take a look at your draft, you may need to line them up ahead of time).
You’re clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ve got a plan in place. Now it’s time to jump back into the actual writing of your project.
I know how daunting that can feel (I’m the sort of writer who loves the “making plans” bit of writing rather more than the “actually getting started” bit of writing). We’re going to take it step by step during the next five days.
I’ve allowed two days here, as you may need to do a bit of coordinating with your partner or other close family members in order to pin down a schedule that’ll work for you.
Depending on your circumstances, a “realistic” schedule for your project could be almost anything. If you work full time but have no dependents, you might be able to happily write for an hour every morning before work and for three or four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
On the other end of the scale, if you have a baby and a toddler to care for, “realistic” might be writing for 15 minutes most days while their naps overlap (this was my own writing schedule for my novel at one very hectic point four years ago).
Note you’re not setting your schedule in stone here or creating a schedule that will work for all time. You’re figuring out what will work for the next two weeks only. (We’ll be coming back to scheduling on Days 26–27.)
It’s time to take the plunge. Pick somewhere—anywhere!—to begin. You don’t need to write the perfect first line straight away. If you’re writing a novel, you might start where you left off, but you could also choose to write a chapter that particularly excites you. If you’re working on some new posts for your blog, you might want to choose the easiest.
Like many writers, you may find that the point just before you start is when resistance is at its highest. Don’t give in. Set a timer for 30 minutes (or 10 or 15, if that’s all you have today), and work on your project until the time is up. Don’t worry about whether your writing is any good: Just get those words down.
While I’m not normally a fan of the advice that writers “should write every day,” I’m making an exception here.
When you’re getting back into a project, you need to re-gather momentum—and one of the best ways to do that is by writing (even just a little bit) every single day. So today, find some time to write even if this wouldn’t normally be a writing day in your regular schedule.
Today’s another writing day; again, even 10 minutes counts. Get those words down … and celebrate! You’ve successfully worked on your project for three days in a row. Well done, you.
You might celebrate with a long bubbly bath, by ordering a new book or CD, with a special meal (or with chocolate—one of my favourite ways to celebrate!), by opening a bottle of nice wine with your significant other … or in any way you like. But do find a way to mark three successful days of writing.
(Feel free to leave a comment on this post, too, to tell us you wrote on days 13, 14, and 15 so we can cheer you on.)
During these five days of the plan, we’re going to look at ways to stay focused on your project—both in the context of your life as a whole, and in terms of your actual writing sessions.
You’ve struggled to focus on your project in the past (which is nothing to feel bad about—I think every writer goes through this, often more than once). You can turn that around, though. The techniques you’ll try out during these five days should help you to stay focused, or to regain your focus if things do go a little awry in the future.
While you don’t need to work on your project every single day, you might want to try having a slot in your regular daily routine when you think about your project. This could be a couple of minutes at the very start of your day or a quick conversation with your spouse over dinner. I often do this sort of thinking while I’m exercising, or washing dishes.
You might think/write/say:
I wouldn’t recommend telling your spouse much about the content of your writing (all the cool scenes you can’t wait to write or all the blog posts you’re mulling over). Talking too much about your story can lessen your motivation to write, and it’s never exactly encouraging to see your spouse’s eyes glaze over as you explain in great detail the ins and outs of your new subplot.
Just spending a couple of minutes reflecting each day helps keep you focused on your project, however busy the rest of life is.
I’ve allowed two days for this because (if your desk looks anything like mine!) it might take a little while to create a clear and welcoming writing space.
Very few writers have the luxury of a dedicated office or studio outside their home. Most write from home—maybe working from the kitchen table, a spare bedroom, or a convenient corner.
If you don’t already have somewhere set aside to write, try to find some dedicated space for your writing in your home, however small. Can you fit a little desk into a corner of your bedroom, for instance? Could you create a “writing nook” in a hallway?
If you really need to write in a communal area that gets used for other things (like the kitchen table), then get a box or two, or clear a shelf or drawer nearby where you can keep the things you need. Even if you work on your laptop, you might want a notebook and pen on hand, for instance, and writing-related books.
Even if most of your writing happens at home, you may find it’s much easier to focus when you deliberately go somewhere to write.
A couple of years ago, I spent an hour or so looking through several websites for hotels within a 10–15 minute drive of our house. Not for out-of-town visitors … but for me. My main criteria? That the rooms had a desk.
You might not be in a position to get away overnight, but how about looking into coffee shops or libraries that you could easily get to? Look at some photos online, read reviews on TripAdvisor, or ask for recommendations in local Facebook Groups.
Every three months or so, I go away to “my” hotel to write. The rooms I book are in the far wing of the hotel and have such feeble Wi-Fi that my ailing laptop can’t connect—which is a dismayingly huge boost to my productivity!
I’ve taken to deliberately switching off my internet connection (and putting my phone out of reach!) when I want to focus. If you find yourself easily distracted by the web, give this a try. You might be surprised just how much difference it makes.
What about the research you need to do for your novel or the links you need to look up for your blog post? Either bring them up as webpages ahead of time and leave them open as tabs in your browser while your connection is off—or leave a “[note to self]” in your text and look them all up at the end of your writing session.
What about music? If you normally stream music while writing, download your favourite albums in advance, or break out your old CD collection.
I’d love to promise you that by this point in the plan, you’ll be writing away without ever getting distracted, or wondering if it’s all worthwhile, or running into roadblocks.
The truth is, all writers face tough patches and times when they want to quit altogether. Maybe you’re trying to write something bigger and better than anything you’ve attempted before—and it’s, quite understandably, hard! Maybe life has ended up busier or more tiring than you anticipated .
During these five days, we’re looking at ways to stay motivated (and be kind to yourself), even when things are difficult.
With big projects, your end goal might be a long way away—months or years. Your daily or weekly efforts probably feel like a tiny drop in a huge bucket, and that can make it tough to stay motivated.
So, set yourself minigoals—writing milestones—along the way. For instance, if you’re aiming to finish a novel, each chapter or major part of the novel could be a milestone, and the complete first draft could be a big milestone. You might want to set yourself deadlines, or you might prefer to just work steadily toward your milestones, celebrating once you reach them.
Sometimes, it’s not the writing itself that’s tough—it’s everything else in life. Maybe you’ve got a lot to cope with, whether it’s a big issue like debt or illness or a small one like the mountains of laundry.
Writing can be a much-needed refuge in a hectic or difficult life. The 30 or 60 minutes you set aside to write are an opportunity to forget about everything else, just for a little while, while you concentrate on creating something.
To help you frame your writing time in this way, you might want to physically get away from the rest of life (go into a room where you can shut the door, or leave the house altogether). If you start thinking about something other than your writing, remind yourself that you’ll have time to worry about that later—once your writing session is over.
While fighting your way through a tough bit of writing helps you grow your skills, sometimes you need to find a different way forward.
Maybe that epic blog post you’d planned is just too much to manage right now, or that scene of your novel just won’t come together, or that pitch for a big potential client is terrifying you.
Go easy on yourself. Skip it! Move onward to the next post or scene or pitch. (You might even find that after you’ve written something easier, you feel like you’ve got the energy to come back and tackle it after all.)
Does this sound familiar? You’ve made some good plans for your writing time: You’re going to get up at 6 a.m. every day and write for a half-hour before your kids wake up, maybe, or you’re going to write for three hours on Saturday mornings.
Except it never quite seems to happen like that. You go to bed late, sleep through your alarm, and wake up groggy at 6:40 a.m. when your 3-year-old comes to poke you in the eye. (Mine has a habit of doing this.) Or you realize on Friday night that you’re out of milk and bread, and you need to run to the grocery store on Saturday morning.
Instead of getting frustrated or blaming yourself, look for the point at which it all starts to go wrong (probably when you go to bed later than you intended or when you failed to check what food you had in for the weekend). Find a way to change things so that it goes right, instead.
The writing life can be lonely at times, especially if your loved ones don’t really “get” what being a writer is all about. However well-meaning they are, they might not be able to truly share in your triumphs and commiserate when things go badly.
Other writers tend to be a much better source of support. You might want to join an online group or forum or find a local writers’ workshop or critique group. Classes, courses, and writing conferences can also be a good way to meet fellow writers.
If you want a low-key way to engage with other writers, try Twitter. Search for #writing or #amwriting, and follow a bunch of people who look interesting. Hopefully some of them will follow you back, and you’ll have a ready-made group to share your writing progress with.
We’re into the final stretch: the last five days of the plan, where you’ll be looking back at what you’ve accomplished so far and looking forward at where you’re going next.
During days 11 and 12, you wrote a two-week plan. It’s time to return to that plan—how did it go? Did you manage to stick to the writing sessions you’d set out, or did it not quite work?
Look at your calendar for the next four weeks, and figure out when you can fit in writing sessions on your project. You might want to have a single consistent slot when you write (like 5–5:30 p.m. daily, straight after work), or you might instead want to plan for some shorter and some longer sessions to give you a variety.
As before, be realistic with your plan. Writing takes a lot of energy as well as time, so do allow for that. You might also want to build in some margin for things going wrong (especially if that’s happened over the past couple of weeks)—for example, you might plan a “spare” writing session each week that you can use if an earlier one gets disrupted.
If you want to plan in more depth at this point, this is a good time to go back to your definition of success and to revisit the brief “big picture” plan you made on Day Eight so that you can come up with a more comprehensive strategic plan.
Choose a notebook or set up a document on your computer that you can use as a writing journal. At the start and/or end of each writing session, jot down a few notes. For instance, you might want to record:
By recording how things went during a session, you can start to spot patterns. Perhaps there are some types of scenes you find easier to write than others, for instance, or perhaps you always make great progress in morning sessions but struggle to write much in the evenings.
Even if you don’t want to keep a regular journal, or if you want to use it as a brief record of words written/time spent, this is a good point at which to reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself and your writing process during the past 28 days.
You might want to use these questions as prompts:
By recording your answers, you can build on these in the future—by doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t!
You made it to the end of the 30-day plan—huge congratulations! First, make sure you leave a comment below to tell us how you got on. How many words/chapters/blog posts/pitches did you write?
Second, find a way to celebrate your hard work. Maybe that’ll be a meal out, or a special day trip with your kids, or treating yourself to that new laptop you’ve been eyeing for a while, or booking a weekend away. (If money is tight, look for cheap/free ways to celebrate—spending time cooking a favorite meal, taking a whole day off just to read, having a board game marathon Saturday with your partner … whatever you’d enjoy.)
Congratulations on making it through to the end! (If you’re just reading through before starting, this is where you go back to the beginning and enjoy taking a break for Day 1.)
During the 30-day plan, you:
An awful lot of people want to become a novelist, blogger, freelancer, or published author. Most of them end up quitting part way. Just by continuing to write, you’re doing an amazing job—more than many people ever manage. Keep it up for the next 30 days, and the next, and you’ll soon have a finished book, a thriving freelancing career, or a successful blog to be (very deservedly) proud of.
Ali Luke has been freelancing and blogging since 2008. These days ,she juggles freelancing, blogging, novel-writing and two young children. As well as blogging for a number of large sites (ProBlogger, The Write Life, Make a Living Writing and more), she writes about the art, craft and business of writing on her long-running blog Aliventures.com. If you'd like to spend more time writing, download her free ebook Time to Write: How to Fit More Writing Into Your Life, Right Now -- it's a short read, with ten practical tried-and-tested tips.