How I wrote a million words in twelve months – 7 ways to stay motivated

Self-discipline is something I lacked for a long time. Most of my childhood years were blighted by it, leading to me crashing out of my school with shocking results and no place at university.

This was, it turned out, the best thing that could have happened to me, because I attended a music school, where I was taught by some of the best drummers in London at that time. What I learned there, amongst the hundreds of wonderful drumming lessons, was the direct correlation between hard work and discipline, and success.

If there is one way to instill discipline in someone, it is to show people to him or her who have used it to get somewhere he or she wants to be. I was surrounded by drummers who were really doing it, playing professionally and making a living from it. It didn’t take long to recognise that in order to achieve the same, I would have to practice, and practice, and, well, practice.

So, having applied this practice routine to writing, I tried to pick apart the things that enable me to have the self-discipline to write every day, and remain focused, aside from chocolate brownies, and the promise of more chocolate brownies tomorrow. I’m going to drop the drumming comparison, and just focus on the writing, but I do believe most of these points will fit for most things.

I’ve split self-discipline into a few different areas, and the one for today’s blog is motivation. How do I remain motivated to write every day? Below are seven things that help me, and will hopefully do the same for you.


1. Word Count: It’s a cliché, but I have a big blackboard up in my kitchen, and every night, before going to bed, I write up my word count, along with ‘scenes edited’, and a few other things. Having it there, in white and black, keeps me focused, and also gives me the urge to beat myself, to write more today than I did yesterday. As an added help, I also have a weekly total that I aim toward. At the moment, it’s thirty thousand words. It’s crept up steadily since January 2013, when it was around ten thousand. I’m not sure how much further I can push it, but knowing that’s what I’m aiming for really keeps me going.

Word count board

2. Characters: My books are based, first and foremost, around characters. This is partially due to the fact that all my favourite books have great characters, and partially due to my desire to create fantasy books with strong characters and emotional weight, something missing from some fantasy. So for me, every time I sit down to write, is a chance to not only interact with the characters, in that weird, ‘I’m a writer but also a bit strange and lonely’ sort of a way, but also to find out what they’re going to do next! It’s like reading a great book, only if there’s a bit you don’t like, you just go back and change it. (I tried that with books that weren’t mine, but wifey got mad at the red ink all over her copy of Twilight)

3. Getting Better: The idea of getting better, of learning something new about myself and my skills, is hugely exciting. Every time I sit down to write, I’ll try to find a new way to say something, a new way to describe an emotion, to show not tell. This is never ending. I will never write as well as Charles Dickens, or Sarah Waters, or Stephen King, but every time I write, I get a tiny bit closer. What better reason is there?

4. Pantsing: My style of writing is pretty random, in many ways. I find some characters, and let them tell me who they are, then I start writing, and they tell me what happens to them. My planning is often done fifty thousand words in, and takes the form of a half side of A4 scribbles. Now, I do hold a lot of stuff in my head, and constantly revise as I go, but the sheer excitement I get from sitting down thinking. ‘Hmm, is Aryan going to get out of the whole ‘broken leg, freezing to death on the side of a mountain’ thing? And if so, how? And if not, what the hell is Darryl going to do, what with the whole argument over Lissa thing?’

Every thousand words is a revelation, and that’s way more exciting than pretty much anything that doesn’t involve chocolate.

5. Past Experience: All of my experience, both good and bad, tells me that doing something every day, and persevering with it, leads to success. Now, I must confess, I (mis)spent many hours as a teenager playing headers and volleys and drinking tea instead of going to school, yet I remain entirely inept with a football. I am, I’m pleased to announce, exceptionally good at drinking tea. However, I am of the school-of-thought that says try everything, and if you love it, keep trying it. If you have an aptitude for it, you’ll find it easier, and it will take less time to achieve a certain level of mastery. But if I spent two hours a day, every day, kicking a football, I’m pretty confidence I’d be… quite good. In a few years.

6. Freedom: Not so much in the ‘FREEEEDOOOOOM’- ‘Braveheart’ sort of way, but more the freedom to step away from a nine to five job and the structure and binds that accompany it. I love teaching, and imagine I will always do it in some form or another, but being able to get up and have breakfast with my girls, and go for a walk in the country side, then return to write, would be a dream come true. I am, in most senses, right at the beginning of my path. I’ve been doing this seriously for only one year, and have a long way to go, but that elusive freedom makes it remarkably easy to sit down at the computer. The thing I did to help with this was to plan, in detail, what an average day would be like for me, were I writing full time. Any time I get disheartened at how long everything is taking, I return to that plan, and have a little dreaming time. And eat some brownie.

7. Self-expectation: I teach students between the ages of 11 -19, most of whom come from deprived, difficult backgrounds. Something that ties many of them together is a shared lack of worth, of not believing they can achieve. For every one that leaves our school and goes to university, we get a massive sense of pride, and achievement, and they get a dose of confidence that cannot be underestimated. I have done many things in my life that, looking back, I feel reflected poorly on me, and my parents, things I would take back, or change in a second. But I can’t, and that’s fine. But with that realization, and with the sense of self I now have, to expect any less than the best from myself would be criminal. So, there it is, that helps too.


So, these are seven things that get me sat every day, in front of my computer, fingers tapping. Next blog will look at how being connected, and learning, helps my self-discipline.

How about you? What keeps you motivated to write? And how about editing? I’m not nearly as good when it comes to that, so any help would be most appreciated!

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

2 thoughts on “How I wrote a million words in twelve months – 7 ways to stay motivated

  1. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m ever going to finish my book, but I always feel motivated to write blog posts as well as work on editing projects. In so many ways, I wish I had focused more on writing some shorter works before delving into my first novel. I guess I just gotta make it through this first one and keep trying to silence the inner-editor as I type… you’re pretty inspiring 🙂

    • Hey Jeri
      Thanks so much, that’s a lovely thing to say. 🙂
      As we’ve talked about before, I struggle with the editing, which is maybe why I’m so good at paying no attention to my inner editor when I’m first-drafting!
      Is there anything to stop you from putting the main manuscript aside and trying something shorter?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *