Tips to keep you writing

Many have the notion that writing is this airy fairy, artsy fartsy pursuit. Creativity can only come if you’re feeling inspired. You need that spark that unleashes your imagination. You need that idea to pop up and grab you. You need your muse to lift you to that lofty realm of creative consciousness. You need your coffee.


Baloney. Well, maybe you need your coffee. But you can’t wait for that warm, fuzzy writing feeling to overwhelm you. Sometimes it doesn’t happen—for a long time.

Just write. Write now.

Set goals

  • Decide who and what

Maybe you don’t know what to write about it, but you can decide now who you want to write for: children’s magazines, a hobby magazine, a contest, or a traditional book publisher.

From there, whittle it down: an article on how to pick a family pet, a children’s nonfiction picture book on worm farming, a murder mystery, a memoir  …

Take a gander at the library and bookstore shelves. Jot down ideas.

Go to book or magazine publishers’ websites. Find their writers guidelines and see what they want.

  • Schedule time

It’s up to you to decide how much time you can or need to devote to your writing. But devote, you must—even if it is one evening a week, or two hours on Sunday, or 20 minutes a day. Schedule the time in your calendar.

  • Set deadlines

Fill your calendar with deadlines: The third week of next month, I will have my children’s story finished and ready to submit. Three months from today, I will have the first three chapters of my novel written.

Make a chore chart, if you need to: start outline on YA novel, edit nature article, rewrite ending of short fiction story. Check off each goal and add to the chart.

Also, make a chart to keep track of submissions to magazines, publishers, and agents. Include date of submission, response (if ever) date, published or no, payment info.

Go out to write


  • Treat writing like a job

Get up, get dressed, and drive or walk yourself to your writing job—at a coffee shop, the library, at a picnic table in the park.

While writing in your jammies is a definite perk, sometimes it’s easy to get distracted at home. When you’re grappling with the first seeds of a story, it’s too tempting to find other ways to be “more productive.” There’s always something to do around the house, after all

This was my problem. I had only the vaguest idea for a story, and I couldn’t move forward. So, I found a local coffee shop filled with people tapping away on their laptops. It worked. I couldn’t just sit there and stare into space—I had to do something. I started writing on the topic and didn’t stop until I had a story.

  • Write with writers

Plan to meet often and promise to keep chatting to a minimum. Set the timer on your phone to sit and write and nothing else.

  • Invest in writing

Classes, workshops, seminars, retreats—they all have something in common: They force you to write.

When I needed to exercise, but wasn’t making time to do it, I signed up for a class. Paying for the time motivated me to attend. Who wants to waste money?

Be accountable

  • Critique group

Once or twice a month, pages are due—online or in person. My writers group gives me plenty to write about each month—or should I say rewrite?

  • Writing partners

Besides the critique group, I meet with a writing partner once a month. We share what we’ve written, what we’ve submitted, talk about writing goals, and give a few words of encouragement.

  • Don’t be perfect

Sometimes writing seems easy—the idea’s there, the words are flowing, the page on the screen is filling up. But sometimes, it’s not. Write anyway. Write anything.

Pick someone at that coffee shop. Write a description. Imagine a personality, a life. Write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good. It doesn’t matter if you’ll ever use it. It will get you writing. And maybe that’s the simple goal you need right now.

Does my novel make me look fat?

Want an honest, helpful critique of your manuscript? Find a group of writers.

Business Colleagues Together Teamwork Working Office

Who, tell me, who in your personal life is going to point out the weaknesses in your novel? Who among them would not be afraid to hurt your feelings? If you’re looking for an honest, helpful critique of your manuscript, do not go to a family member and certainly not your spouse.

Weeks into my marriage, I asked my newbie husband, “Does this skirt make me look fat?”

“No,” he said, but then added, “Even if I thought it did, which it doesn’t, do you think I would tell you otherwise?”

No husband with any sense of self-preservation is going to say anything negative about your looks—or your novel. Neither will your kids, or your BFF, or that guy you buy organic lettuce from at the farmers market.

Now, if you have a female spouse—maybe. Females can be rip-your-heart-out honest, for your own good, mind you, because they love you. Maybe. But is she a writer, too? She can criticize but can she critique?

Get helpful input

You need a critique group, or a beta reader, or a manuscript critique pro, or a professor with a creative writing class—someone who knows about writing.

Sorry, copy editors generally do not critique manuscripts on setting, plot, or character development. I’m kind of like that person at the end of the car wash holding the squeegee and the shammy towel. No, wait. I’m a little more involved than that. How about a house inspector? I didn’t design or build your house, but I can walk through it and tell you if it’s up to code. (For details, check out I Spy Edits.)

Manuscript critiques will elevate your writing and improve your story. Don’t write in a bubble. That was probably the best advice I heard when I first started writing. When you are alone, wrapped up in your own writing world, you rule supreme. You are the awesome emperor of your writing universe. The emperor might believe he’s all decked out in a glorious, golden robe with tassels and sequins. But the emperor needs to hear it: Dude, you’re buck naked.

Get a reality check. Is your novel as good as you think it is? Is it ready for submission or self-publication? There’s only one way to find out: get an honest, helpful critique.