Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Author Stacy Ennis: Setting Goals and Staying Motivated: 5 Tips for Writers

By Stacy Ennis, @StacyEnnis

JH: Staying motivated can be hard enough for any writer, but it gets worse over the holidays (and right after NaNo) when work and family obligations demand more of our attention. Stacy Ennis joins us today to share a few tips on how to keep going and keep writing, so let's give her a big welcome.

Stacy is a book and magazine editor, writer, book coach, and speaker, as well as the author of The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great. Her greatest joy is helping people achieve their book-writing dreams, and she has had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of authors in varied genres, editing several chart-toppers.

She was the founding managing editor of a lifestyle magazine. Later, she became the executive editor of Healthy Living Made Simple, a Sam’s Club magazine reaching over 8 million readers. She now works with a wide range of clients, from celebrities and corporate clients to independent authors and small book presses.

Take it away Stacy...

Writers are known for having a way with words and an ability to use their imaginations. They’re lauded for artistry and passion; they’re heralded for the power to connect with readers. But they’re also notorious for lacking drive, stick-to-itiveness, and the ability to complete projects.

Just as the stereotype suggests, many of the writers I work with struggle with two seemingly elusive things: focus and motivation. They have a hard time focusing on one project, often letting daily distractions take over, and struggle finding the motivation to sit down and write consistently.

If this describes you, you’re not alone. Statistics show that more than 80 percent of people want to write a book in their lifetimes, yet only a small portion actually achieves the status of “published author.” What are your writing dreams? Here are five ways to make them happen:

1. Set goals. Most people work better when they’re working toward something, and it’s no different with writing. Set specific goals, and assign a date of completion. For example, your goal might be to finish your novel within six months. Break down your bigger goal into smaller milestones, so you can celebrate along the way.

2. Create a plan. Goals are necessary, but you need a plan for making them happen. Your plan might include writing 1,000 words four days per week, for example. I offer a strategic method for creating a writing plan in The Editor’s Eye.

3. Turn it off. The New York Times reported that Americans spend almost three hours a day watching television. Three hours! Imagine how much writing you could do in that time. Limiting your television viewing and other unnecessary distractions can dramatically free up time to write, while allowing you to avoid becoming distracted from your goals.

4. Set (and stick to) a writing routine. Carve out time in your schedule for writing, preferably at the same times each week. Create a routine to follow—a hot cup of tea, instrumental music, or whatever accesses your creative muse. As Stephen King puts it in Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, “The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, ‘You’re going to be dreaming soon.’”

To help establish a writing routine, ask yourself questions like: When am I most productive? Where do I work best? What kind of environment do I work best in? What things distract me? Do I work well on my own, or am I motivated working in the same space as others?

5. Designate a writing area. If possible, convert a room (such as an unused office or den) into a writing space. If this won’t work, “reserve” an area of the house during your writing time, preferably somewhere with a door you can close. Make any adjustments you need to so that it will feel like a writing space, whether that means rearranging the furniture layout, investing in a pair of headphones, or buying an ergonomic desk and office chair. Finally, establish your work boundaries early on, and make sure people who live with you know not to disturb you when you are writing. Most of the time, your loved ones will be happy to support your goals.

I could write an entire book on the topic of focus and motivation (and maybe I will someday), but I hope these five tips will kick-start you in the direction of your dreams. Do you have more advice to add? Leave a comment or connect with me by e-mail or social media. I’d love to hear from you!

(Portions of this article are excerpted from the book The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great by Stacy Ennis. Copyright © 2013 by Stacy Ennis. Reprinted with permission of Night Owls Press.)

About The Editor’s Eye

The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great shows you how editing can help you write your best book. In this no-nonsense guide, book coach and editor Stacy Ennis takes you through the ins and outs of the often bewildering book-editing process. As you begin to understand how writing and editing complement each other, you’ll become more confident as a writer, finish your book faster, and move toward the ultimate goal: publication.

Website:  Twitter: @StacyEnnis  Facebook: Author Education


  1. Those are great tips, Stacy. I know I started getting a lot more writing done when I followed number 3 (cut out TV) and 4 (create a routine). I found that, as much as my family supported my writing in theory, in practice, they still came to me with questions and sandwich requests no matter how many times I told them it was my "writing time." So now I get out of bed at least an hour ahead of the rest of them, and use that time to write. I am not a morning person, but I've learned.

    I'd suggest that, related to number three, the internet and email are a major time-suck. I get more writing done when I turn off my connection, or work in a notebook.

    1. Thanks, Amy! I agree: It's best to totally unplug, including online distractions. When I was writing my book, I didn't check my e-mail or social media until the afternoon. Once I opened my inbox or checked Facebook, I felt like I'd opened the distraction floodgates.

  2. Hi Stacy
    Great tips, thanks.
    I enjoyed the phrase, 'stick-to-itiveness', a great way to put it! :)

    1. Thank you kindly, Mike. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. All true! WIll link to this for my writing students. Thanks

  4. I'm buying your book. Lucky for me I have enough ADD to stampede Easter Island statues into a ho-down. My method is simple. I give my mind nothing else to do but write for a period everyday. You covered that idea nicely. My ONLY goal is to be able to polish my novel of 120k words into something good. So very grateful for this site per Janice Hardy and to you Stacy Ennis for helping the rest of us with that last step. I got twelve more to go.... gads this is great!

    1. Harry, I hope your novel includes comedy because your comment is hilarious. Best of luck to you!