How to Be a More Disciplined Writer
This post was first published in November 2017 and updated in February 2022.
While some people like to imagine writers working in bursts of frenzied inspiration, the reality doesn’t generally look like that.
There might be wonderful moments of flow – I’ve certainly had writing sessions where I lost track of time because I was so focused on putting words on the page – but a lot of the time, being a writer is about sitting down and getting on with it. Even when you don’t feel “inspired”.
Whether you’re a freelancer, a novelist, a poet, or a student, you’ll find it easier to reach your goals if you’re more disciplined about your writing.
What does that mean in practice?
Five Key Habits of Disciplined Writers
#1: Meeting Your Deadlines
Hitting your agreed-upon deadlines is critical if you’re a freelancer or working with a publisher. Yes, some writers are decidedly flakey and don’t meet deadlines – you want to be a wonderful exception! Impress your client or editor by meeting every single deadline or milestone along the way, and if you can, turn in work a little early.
Tip: Struggling with deadlines? Always allow plenty of margin for things going wrong. Set yourself an earlier deadline (I like to aim for two or three days early) so you can get ahead with your work: that way, you won’t have to rush things at the last minute.
#2: Sticking to Your Writing Commitments
When you’ve made a commitment to write, do your very best to stick to it. Personally, I don’t think you need to write every day, though many people find it helpful to. You might not even write every week. But you should look ahead in your calendar and block out suitable times for your writing sessions … and then treat them as important, fixed commitments.
Tip: If you’re at a stage in your life/career where things often change at the last minute, allow for this. Plan extra writing sessions so that if you have to skip one, you can easily make up for it later in the week or month.
#3: Focusing While You’re Writing
Do you ever write a sentence or two, then stop to see what’s happening on Facebook? Or do you pause to look up a quick fact or name … only to end up checking the news instead of getting back to writing? It’s so easy to end up breaking out of the flow of writing – and this can hugely slow you down.
Tip: Turn off your internet connection (or use a browser plugin to block distracting websites), put your phone out of reach, and use headphones to block out external distractions.
#4: Editing Your Work Carefully
The first draft of your piece (especially if it’s fiction) isn’t the place to worry about disciplined writing. My first drafts are invariably messy, with plot holes, run-on sentences, dodgy spelling … and it doesn’t matter. What’s important is taking the time to edit carefully, and probably in multiple stages: to prune away self-indulgent or clumsy bits of writing, and to shape that messy draft into a polished finished piece.
Tip: Get some space from your first draft before you edit. You might want to take a few days (or if it’s a long piece like a novel, a few weeks) off from writing so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes.
Discipline isn’t about being boring. You don’t have to stick to a rigid routine, or spend day after day writing something you’re not enjoying. Instead, discipline is about self-mastery: it means sticking to your commitments and treating your writing as something important. Something that matters enough to be taken seriously.
#5: Finding the Right Time of Day to Write
Do you find it easier to focus at certain times of day? I’m great at staying on-task in the mornings … but every time I try to work in the evening, I end up dragging things out and getting distracted every five minutes. As much as you can, write at the times of day when focus comes easily to you.
Tip: If you can’t write at your “best” time every day, perhaps because you’re at work, see if you can use that time at the weekends. Find your “second best” times to write during the week, and make sure you put good routines and practices in place to help you focus.
What one thing could you do this week to be a more disciplined writer?
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.