1. Just write it. Fix it later. That means: don’t worry about word choice or grammar. Don’t worry about getting your facts right.
2. You do have time — if you really want to do it. You have a full-time job? A family? Carve out an hour or two early in the morning before the rest of the house gets up, or before you go to work. Or at night, if you’re not too wiped out to write. Try to make this a regular time slot — do it at the same time each day, for the same amount of time. Make it a habit. I know a number of writers who finally started making enough money from their writing to be able to quit their day jobs, only to discover that, as soon as they started writing full time, they suddenly became far less efficient. All that time stretching before them in the day — the two hours of writing per day they used to squeeze in here and there now took them eight hours. There’s something to be said for not having a lot of free time to write. It tends to make you more efficient.
3. Writing is a job. Treat it like one. I don’t work at home; I have an office, and I go there to write. If you don’t have an office, you should set aside a place that is just for you and your writing – the attic, the basement, a corner of the laundry room with a screen around it. If you treat your writing like work, your family and friends should do the same, and be more respectful of that writing time. No one thinks twice about interrupting a hobby, so make it clear that it’s not a hobby; it’s work. It’s your time.
4. Be ruthless in managing your time. This is the biggest problem most writers have. I have a big old hourglass on my desk for use on those days when I’m tempted to check my Facebook page. I upend it and don’t let myself get up until the sands of time have run out.
5. No e-mail! E-mail is truly our modern curse. It interrupts our attention span, fragments our concentration. Sign off. Do not let yourself check your e-mail or go online. Use an hourglass or a kitchen timer (if the ticking doesn’t drive you crazy) for 30 minutes or an hour, during which you may not do anything but write. In order to write you really need to get into the zone, and to get into the zone you need to be distraction-free. I love e-mail — but it’s the enemy!
6. Set interim goals. A full-length novel can be anywhere from 75,000 to 150,000 words, or even longer. If you think about having to write 75,000 words – 200 pages – you’ll freak yourself out. But if you write 1,000 words a day, you can finish the first draft of a novel in less than three months, even if you take some weekend days off.
7. Work toward a deadline. Everyone needs deadlines. Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time allotted; among my author friends, I know only one who regularly turns in manuscripts before they’re due (she was probably like that in school, too). The rest of us need deadlines. My publisher sets mine, but even before you’re published, you will find that your own life gives you natural deadlines: finish that draft before you leave for your next vacation, before you turn 40, before your next high school reunion.
8. Reward yourself. In The Fine Art of Feedback, I write about the challenges of getting and processing feedback – but while you’re writing, it’s not unusual for your brain to second-guess everything you’re doing. Override this by promising yourself rewards for getting work done. “When I hit 5,000 words, I’m going to the movies,” or even, “When I finish this paragraph, I can have another cup of coffee.” It worked in kindergarten and it works for me now.