Everybody knows what a deadline is. Lots of writers I know secretly love a deadline because it is the one thing that stops procrastination and gets you writing. But when you are writing "on spec" - writing without anyone in particular waiting on you to complete, polish and submit by a certain date - it can be hard to stay motivated. Especially with novels. The writing of a novel can go on for years (let's not think about decades!). It can help to be in a writers' group, whether you are workshopping chapters with them or not. The support and encouragement of other writers can be magical sometimes.
Some of you will know from my posts that I am a goal-setter. Years of doing this has proven to me over and over that it works, if you find the right way to approach it that works for you. But it's the day-to-day stuff that gets most of us. It's so easy to spend the whole day on busy-work, doing much and achieving little, least of all writing. If you work in a paying job, it's easy to simply feel too tired to write at night, or even think about writing. Get up half an hour early to write? "I really need my sleep," you say.
So when a billion blog posts (OK, I exaggerate a little) came along at the end of the year about goal setting and procrastination and all of that, I remembered a seminar I went to a few years ago with a hard-talking fitness/motivation guy called Craig Harper. Craig talked about changing or aiming for one thing at a time. For 28 days, and only 28 days. If, at the end of it, it worked for you, give it another 28, and then another. By then, you have a habit. I wrote a lot about this on my ebooks blog.
The key is accountability - checking in with someone. So in January, just through talking to some other writers, I ended up with a couple of accountability partners. Then some other writers wanted to do it as a group. I now check in with both groups. It's not up to me to "police" how they are going at all. I'm only doing this for myself. This is the other key. You also become accountable to yourself.
Right now, I'm up to Day 5. Hardly worth writing about just yet, you might think. But I have 15 pages of a brand new novel already. I have confirmed that yes, writing first is much, much better than trying to do it at the end of the day. Yes, all that other stuff will wait. Yes, my brain does work better in the morning! Best of all, writing for this 30 minutes, no matter what, means I have to push away the dread that the novel is going to be a pile of garbage and just keep going.
As for the first time I tried this after listening to Craig - three years later I am still walking every day for 20 minutes, come rain, hail or shine. Now I'm thinking about my novel while I walk!