Monday, 15 July 2013

Inspiration versus Discipline: Quoth The Raven #1

This article was originally written for the new issue of Write Mag, an amazing free magazine for authors and readers! Get a copy on Magcloud today and visit 
There is a time-old question among writers: is it better to write every day, or only when you feel like it? Does a burst of inspiration really produce the greatest work, or is a steadfast, disciplined approach the sure-fire way to pen that bestseller that’s dying to pour out of your brain?
As a teacher of creative writing, I have often encouraged my students to always be writing, to pen notes, words and phrases as often as possible, every day if they can. But I have to admit I have not always practised what I preach. I used to hear tales of Philip Pullman going down to his garden shed to pen his target words for the day and I always thought that that kind of writing could only produce contrived and constricted prose that did not really have the flow of truly inspired writing. And so for many years I wrote only when I felt inspired to put pen to paper, which resulted in something like six disastrously unfinished novels and me calling myself a writer whilst only actually spending an hour or two each week actually practising my craft.
Now you may have your own style as a writer, and perhaps only writing when you’re ‘in the mood’ for it really does produce your best work, and perhaps you do get novels and stories completed in that way. If so, then I applaud you, dear friend, for you are a rare breed. In my experience in teaching other writers, the single most vital thing I have learned is that ‘lack of inspiration’ is the biggest excuse that writers make for not producing any work at all, and that a prolonged period of feeling like this will inevitably lead to the dreaded writer’s block. I myself have fallen into this trap too many a time over the years.
But no more.

I have become the very thing I once despised the most: the disciplined writer, the scribe with a daily wordcount to hit, the embodiment of Pullman in my proverbial garden shed. And what’s more: I love it. Now that I write to a target of a measly 500 words a day, I find that I become more and more inspired as I strive to reach that goal, and invariably I produce a great deal more words than the target itself, sometimes two or three thousand more in a single day. The disciplined approach keeps my mind immersed in my story every day and leaves me thinking about it even when I am not writing, which has led to huge breakthroughs in working out the plot-holes and grey areas that would have previously given me the much-feared writer’s block, which would eventually have stopped the manuscript from ever reaching completion.
I will give you an example of this approach from right here and now. I set myself the target to develop my novel notes into a complete 50,000 word manuscript from scratch for a competition this October. To complete the manuscript in time I would have to write approximately 571 words a day. I started on June 27th with the idea that I would reach my minimum target every day. As I write this it is July 6th, so I have done ten days’ writing. This should have produced 5,700 words, which would have been great in itself. But I actually have 15,078 words so far, more than a quarter of the novel completed in such a short space of time. And what’s more, I feel more inspired and confident in my writing than ever before.
If this approach seems like something you would like to try, I will share a secret with you that has really helped me to keep tabs on my target. It is a fantastic little online calendar system called Write Track, designed by a smashing chap called David S. Gale after his and his wife’s experiences of completing (and actually winning) the NaNoWriMo writing event held online every November. Once you have signed up for free, the calendar allows you to put in your desired word count and time frame, (for example 60,000 words in three months), and then calculates the words you need to type every day to meet the target. But that’s not all, oh no, because this fantastic little piece of programming grows with your novel. If you produce more or less writing than your quota when you enter your figures, the calendar recalculates your daily target to match. As I said before I started with 571 words per day to complete my novel in time. Now I have to write just 443 per day to stay on track, which is both satisfying and extremely motivating to help me go on.
So if you’re not someone who’s ever tried the disciplined approach, I say give it a go and see what happens. If you’re anything like me you will be dolling out the novels in no time and stay totally inspired all the while!
Find David S. Gale’s free ‘Write Track ’software at:
Find more by K.C. Finn at her personal blog:


  1. I agree with you that authors, anyone who takes writing seriously, should discipline themselves and plan to write every day. Can you imagine baseball players, singers or dancers practicing only when they were so inclined? They certainly wouldn't advance their careers very quickly.

    1. Totally! Since writing that article I've actually finished that novel already, 65,000 words in 24 days! I'm definitely going to be working with this approach all the time now to make sure I get the job done rather than letting ideas fester in my head or vanish altogether.

  2. Even when I can't write big projects, I think writing down notes and ideas are immensely helpful. I once wrote an entire outline during my breaks at a full time job. That certainly helped me get started on my first novel.

    1. It's funny how the best ideas often do come whilst you're working. It's like when your brain is focused in on that one task at work, the ideas in the background are taking shape on their own! Thank you for coming to read this, it's great to hear from other writers on the subject.