By Kylie Gilmore

If you’re one of those writers who buys a planner six months early, I’m betting you’re psyched to see the title of this article! If not, I hope to lure your over to the dark side. Not with bullet journals and Kanban boards (though those can be awesome), but with some guidelines to help keep you on track as an author and savvy entrepreneur.

Step One: Take Stock

Do you know when you work best? Morning, afternoon, evening.

Where you work best? Home, coffee shop, etc.

How you work best? With music, treadmill desk, before workout or after, dictation

Keep track of what works best for you and figure out your ideal writing setup for productivity. I already knew I worked best at home. I experimented with some of the other variables and discovered I can write 1,000 words/hour in the morning, but only 500 words/hour in the afternoon. Brain stuff, yo.

Also, using a music playlist specific to each book helps me get in the story groove. I listen to it every time I open the document, which amounts to hundreds of plays, so my brain goes on autopilot and puts me right back in the story. This is immensely helpful when I have to step away from the story, or when I return to it during revisions or copyedits. My friend finds a similar effect using a scented candle.

Know your optimum writing conditions.

Step Two: Take Care

Despite the feeling many indie authors have that you must write more and faster, creativity needs breathing room and burnout is a real, scary thing. Self-care is a must. Prioritize sleep, healthy meals, and regular exercise. Plan it into your schedule. I spent a solid year working on better self-care, which ate up a lot of the time I would’ve spent on writing and the associated business side. That meant time for exercise, meal planning, prep, and cooking, as well as an earlier shutdown of electronic devices to help my brain turn off. I feared all that time spent not writing would slow down my productivity, but it was actually the reverse. My productivity improved, my mood improved, and I lost the weight I’d gained from so much keyboard time.

Another important part of self-care is to plan downtime. And by downtime, I don’t mean scrolling your Instagram feed while eating chips on the sofa. I also don’t mean taking weeks off (unless that works for you). I mean high-quality downtime that brings you pleasure. I love stories in all forms and make time for reading, movies, theater, and music. Working with my hands is another satisfying and different way to engage my brain—knitting, playing the keyboard, painting by numbers. Hey, no one says you have to be good at a thing to enjoy it. Make sure to plan real-life activities (not virtual) on a regular basis that bring you joy.

Note: I’m an author with older kids, so I have some flexibility and downtime. If you’re juggling a day job and/or little ones, adjust accordingly, but do prioritize self-care.

Step Three: Big Picture Planning

Figure out how long it takes you to write a book, add in extra time for self-care and YOUR LIFE, and plan your deadlines. I plan the number of books I’ll release in a series, calculate the number of writing days I’ll need for each, and figure out deadlines that will get my book to my critique partner, editor, and copyeditor on time. For my current series, I have two years of writing deadlines planned on iCal, a digital calendar. If possible, I’ll order the book covers in advance. Nothing like seeing the book cover to make me eager to write that story!

Step Four: Daily Grind/Joy

Now you have deadlines, and you’re hopefully well-rested, well-fed, fit, and in synch with the immense creativity that lies within, so how do you keep motivated day in/day out to get words on the page? Here’s my unsexy secret—habit.

Now, I’m one of those people who read productivity books for fun, and they all boil down to habit. We humans have limited will-power, so once it’s used up, that is it. Make it easy on yourself and develop a no-brainer routine that gets your fingers on the keyboard. Don’t think about it, let the habit groove get you there. Mine is: kids off to school, water and coffee in place, music playlist on, and GO.

Important side note: I have all notifications turned off on all devices, and I have scheduled times for going online. You do know online stuff is designed to reward our endorphin-seeking brain and keep us there for hours, right? They want our eyeballs!

Find joy in the little victories along the way, like making your word count or figuring out a plot point that totally works. Of course, not every day at the keyboard brings joy. It can be a frustrating grind. But that’s also what makes it so rewarding. You brought all of you to the page, you wrestled the thing into something resembling an actual story, you reworked it, and ultimately gave birth to your own creation. A miracle! You’ve created something out of nothing! Celebrate!

Now, go do it all over again.

Kylie Gilmore is the USA Today bestselling author of steamy romantic comedies. Check out her latest series, The Rourkes, featuring swoon-worthy princes and kickass princesses. The first book, Royal Catch, is free!

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