Create Your Writing Habit: 8 Tools to Manage Interruptions

Written by Claire L. Fishback, PMP

Book Coach & Story Strategist

November 7, 2022

The feasting season is nigh. Be thankful!

The feasting season is nigh! At least here in the US where we celebrate Thanksgiving in November and the various December holidays. This is the time of year in which we fatten up for our winter hibernation. Haha just kidding. Wouldn’t that be awesome though? Eat and fatten up, sleep for a few months, then wake up all skinny (and depleted and atrophied). Okay maybe not that last part, but man do I love a good feast. I can practically smell the turkey already.

Heading into the holiday season is usually stressful for a lot of people, especially with how commercialized Christmas has become, how dysfunctional family gatherings can be, and just the expectations around it all.


I’m going to put my soap box away before I even get up on it. Just know this, I know this time of year can be a joyous time we get to spend with others, it can be a sad time as we remember those we lost over the past year, those we used to spend the holidays with. It can be a time of giving and also a time of greed. Disappointment. Surprise and excitement. It’s up to you to determine how your holidays go.


Be thankful for what you do have. Maybe take a few minutes each day and write three things you are grateful for. Big or small, doesn’t matter. This is a time of giving, a time of peace and love. Don’t let the evil side of the holiday spirit take you in a choke hold.

Life finds a way

So, today, aside from seemingly poo-pooing the holiday season (I actually do love this time of year), let’s talk about planning for anything to get in your way. I’m specifically talking about interrupting, disturbing, distracting, or plain old canceling your writing time.


Because chances are, even if you have a regularly scheduled writing time, something or, more likely someONE will try to sabotage that time and steal you away from it. Or steal it from you.


Don’t let them do it!


The truth is? The person sabotaging your writing time is probably you. Don’t hate me for saying that!


According to the March 2022 survey, Life Reasons were the main excuse for not showing up to their writing time. I broke these into four categories: family and people, events, health and wellbeing, and other.


I am going to show you how!


This is the first part of a two part post on planning for anything to get in your way. The tools I’m going to talk about are designed to help you plan for interruptions and use resilience, perseverance, and advancement behavior to bounce back, press on, and do the next right thing.


These tools will help you resiliently bounce back and keep going despite pitfalls and perceived failures.


They will help you persevere and keep showing up and keep trying even in the face of rejection, your Negative Self-Talk, procrastination, and days where you just don’t wanna.


They will knock out avoidance behaviors – which are anything that you do that you don’t have to do right now that takes precedence over your writing time. Like menial chores. These tools will help take you toward your goals, get back on track, and more forward.


These tools will get you to consistently show up and keep you on track even in the face of LIFE HAPPENING.


The first tool I want to share with you is: Reboot

Rebooting is particularly useful if you fall out of a multi-day writing streak. Or you take a day or two off. Or you just can’t seem to get back to Old Musty (Old Musty is your manuscript that’s languishing away on your hard drive, in your notebook, or stone tablet).

Get one of the trackers from my free mini-course, Write More in Less Time, and log that first Toucan20 session. Fill in the fields. Add stickers. Get back to it!


The next tool is, Level up!


I feel like writers ‌create absurd daily word count goals (I certainly cannot be alone in this). In fact, NaNoWriMo has an absurd daily word count goal. I learned from experience that I certainly cannot sustain 1,667 words per day beyond 63 days.


What feels like a reasonable goal (I’m going to write 1,000 words every day!) can suddenly become daunting, or even overwhelming. Especially when procrastination has you in its grip. 


You know how it goes:


“I’ll take today off and make up the word count tomorrow.”


Your reasonable 1,000 word goal is now 2,000, which is just too much (especially if you are balancing [*ahem* juggling] other responsibilities).


Set level goals. You know, like leveling up in a game. You become stronger with each successful level you obtain, and so does your writing habit!

Start with three levels:

  • Level 1: Everyone gets a trophy goal. This goal should be easy to accomplish. If you have some Toucan20 data collected, look at your lowest word count session and use that as your level 1 goal.
  • Level 2: Stretch it out. Level two should be level 1 times two. Double it. Maybe make it even stretchier and add another 50 words to it. Don’t be too easy on yourself, but don’t make it too overwhelming either.
  • Level 3: Ultimate writing day. Look at your Toucan20 tracker again. Look at your best word count session. Use that number, but add 50 words to it. If you’re feeling super ambitious, add more words. Think of this as boss level achievement.


This will set up small incremental steps toward a bigger daily goal. And that’s what creating habits is all about.


The next tool is: The Joe Dirt (aka Keep on keepin’ on)


Remember the movie in which David Spade plays a red neck mulleted character named Joe Dirt? That movie, though idiotically funny, has a lot of great gems of wisdom hidden within it. Though Joe’s motto of keep on keepin’ on isn’t the wisest bit, it is the key to consistency and the key to forward progress on your manuscript.


Adopt a keep on keepin’ on attitude and keep moving forward. What does that mean? It means nothing can stop you. Not yourself. Not someone else. Nothing! You are invincible!


Show up, write the words, log ‘em, see results. Simple as that. And if you have a setback and miss a writing session or two or more, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back to it the moment you can.


Next up is, Commit Already

Creating a consistent writing practice is about showing up when you say you’re going to, and the first part of that is to make a commitment to yourself and to your manuscript.


If you say you’re going to write at a certain time, make sure you show up to that time unless the world is ending (your world ending could be a sick child needs you, of course).


If you skip the session you had planned and tell yourself you’re going to write later, and then something else comes up and you have to skip again (twice in the same day, I might add), you will miss a day of writing. Your Toucan20 streak will be broken! You don’t want that!


Similarly, recognize the little pockets as they come up. When you have “free time” and “nothing to do” to fill it, recognize that you can get in a Toucan20 session at odd times of your day.


Just in case life happens during your regular writing time and you have to adjust your schedule, why not log a Toucan20 during one of these strange empty time slots?


If you have twenty minutes before a meeting or while the lasagna is in the oven, or before the kids (or significant other or roommate) get home from school (or work or wherever the roommate goes every day), or while you wait to leave for an appointment, get in a quick Toucan20 session.


This way, if life happens during your regular time and you have to miss it, you’ve already at least gotten 20 minutes and that many words in for the day.


And if life doesn’t happen and you get another writing session? It’s a double prizes bonus! Jackpot!


The next tool is, Go Streaking

I’m not talking about shedding your clothes and running down to the quad like Will Farrell in Old School. I’m talking about a string of days in which you show up regularly and write. Then, Reward yourself. Yes, that’s reward with a capital R.


My mom used to do a summer reading program for us. If we read one book, we got to pick out a bookmark from Walden Books (remember Walden Books? It was my favorite bookstore as a kid).


After three books, we got something better (maybe an actual book). After five, something even better (ice cream from Friendly’s). This is what I’m talking about. Make each reward for each goal increasingly valuable and attractive.


First, create small goals. Start with a three-day streak, then five, then seven, then ten. Keep it to short incremental goals and watch your word count pile up!


Second, brainstorm some increasingly great rewards for each small streak goal you accomplish to further inspire you to keep showing up, just like my mom did with our book reading goals.


In the words of Elizabeth Sims from her book You’ve Got a Book in You, “If it isn’t fun, make it fun.”


If you aren’t having fun writing what you’re writing, and you dread showing up every day, or it’s a slog to get going, it’s possible you need to write something else.


Before you throw gasp and splutter and fight me on this, hear me out! I’m not talking about giving up. That would completely negate the Joe Dirt tool I told you about earlier!


Here’s what I mean by writing something else:


Try writing the scene you’re working on from another character’s perspective.


Try writing by hand. I know that’s not new advice, but it’s worth mentioning because it works.


Take a day or two away from Old Musty and work on a pet project, or try experimenting in a different genre.


Write something fun and meaningless that has no pressure attached to it. NaNoWriMo is perfect for this, by the way. In fact, that’s what I used to use NaNoWriMo for! To get away from the pressure of writing something serious.


Sometimes changing things up like this is enough to get your brain excited again.


In Disney’s Frozen II, Anna has a whole song about doing the next right thing. Though she’s talking about being sad and pulling herself up by her bootstraps, if you’ve taken the time to watch the show on Disney+ about the making of Frozen II, you’ll discover that Kristen Bell who does the voice for Anna, suffers from depression, so this tool to for advancement behavior has deeper meaning than just a song in a Disney-Pixar animated movie.


It also applies to you and your writing.


The following are some questions to ask yourself when you find you are squandering your writing time by doing things other than adding words to the page (if you’re in drafting mode) or revising (if you have completed your first draft).


The most important question is:


“What is the next right thing?”


Example: If you’re editing a previous chapter to proverbial perfection when you should be writing an epic battle scene, ask yourself, “Is this the next right thing?” No! You should be adding words!


Other questions you could ask yourself:

  • Is this what I should be doing right now?
  • How does this align with my WHY?
  • How does this help bring me closer to The End?


Closing the door is a way of setting physical boundaries with other people in your life who are the biggest repeat offenders of stealing your writing time. It’s as if they are moths and your writing time is a flame. Or a lamp.


If you write in a room that has a door, close the door. Put up a do not disturb sign. Tell your family, roommate, or whoever else shares your domicile that you are not to be disturbed for the next twenty minutes.


Another reason why Toucan20 is great! It’s only twenty minutes. People can manage without you for that amount of time (I hope).


Closing the door isn’t only actually closing a door. It’s eliminating any distractions.


Silence or set your phone and other devices to ‘do not disturb’ mode. Better yet, turn them off altogether, so the siren call of social media, email, or whatever else you do on your phone won’t tempt you.


If you write somewhere without a door, consider changing up your writing place to a room with a door. Or, notify your family of key indicators that you are unavailable, even if you are right there in front of them.


If you are wearing headphones, or this funky hat, or this particular article of clothing, or sitting in a certain place, you are not to be disturbed for twenty minutes.


I highly recommend investing in a pair of noise canceling headphones (I almost wrote head canceling noisephones).

Tools to plan for anything part 2 next week!

There you have it my friend. The first tools for planning for anything and for resilience, perseverance, advancement behavior, and consistency. In next week’s blog post, I’ll share with you even more tools to keep you on track to finishing your book or at least creating the writing habit of your dreams.


Can’t wait? Get the Plan for Anything Quick Reference Guide in The Resource Library. The Resource Library is chock full of useful cheat sheets, guides, workbooks, and planners. More added as I make them!

Check out the Resource Library

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