Don't let anyone tell you that writing a book is easy--it's not. Writing a book is hard work. My very first book--Negotiating to Win--was published in 1991, and I have written, co-written, ghostwritten, or been intimately involved in more than 100 more books since then. I have definitely found my purpose in life.

If you hope to be published someday--and that is the goal of the many executives, consultants, and academics I have worked with over the years, who have found that a book is a tremendously powerful calling card for them--then you'll need to devote a significant amount of time to writing. And because we all lead such busy lives nowadays, with so many competing priorities and demands, this means that you've got to learn some basic time management skills.

Despite rumors to the contrary, there still are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. However, finding the time to write is possible for anyone to do. But to do so you have to carefully and consistently manage your time--and yourself. One of the best ways of doing this is to establish and sticking to a writing goal

William Faulkner once said, "I write when the spirit moves me, and the spirit moves me every day." That's exactly how I feel. I write every single day of the week--anywhere from just a few hours to 12 hours or more, late into the night. If I'm really crunched on a deadline, I've even been known to ship my family off to Disneyland for a few days to remove the distraction and better focus on writing.

So, how exactly should you go about setting aside time to write every week? Here's what has worked for me:

1. Create a specific writing goal

In my experience, your best bet is to create a goal that has you starting small and steadily working up to longer periods of writing time each week. By starting out small, you'll break your goal into bite-sized chunks. This makes them easier to swallow. I suggest you begin by setting aside, say, half an hour or even an hour of time for writing each week. As time goes on and your writing muscles get stronger, set a new goal of carving out three hours each week of honest writing time. Whatever goal you choose, make sure it's something that you can realistically do. If it's not, you may very well give up on it after a very short period of time.

2. Write down your goal

Researchers have found that people who write down their goals have a much better chance of reaching them than people who don't write them down. So my advice is to write down your writing goal. Write your goal on a piece of paper taped to your computer monitor or wall, on a to-do list, or create an entry in your scheduling software. Your written goal may look something like this: "This week, I'm going to spend two hours writing. In that hour, I'm going to write at least 500 words, and I won't quit until they're done."

3. Find the time to work toward your goal

This might seem like a really difficult thing to do, at least on the surface--we all lead very busy lives nowadays. But here's an idea: If you don't know where your writing time will come from, list all the optional things you do each week--the things you do for fun or relaxation. In my case, even though I write many hours a day, I still set aside time for playing some guitar, taking the dog for a walk, catching up on yard work, and spending quality time with my wife and family. Still not sure what those optional things you do each week might be? Make a quick estimate of how many hours you spend on each of the following:

  • Watching TV
  • Reading magazines or newspapers
  • Browsing the internet
  • Socializing with friends
  • Doing optional activities related to your job, school, family, or church
  • Doing other things for fun

So, what did you find out? I'll bet that some of these activities are chewing up anywhere between one and ten hours per week of your time, maybe more. So here comes the hard part: If you want to get serious about writing, you'll need to trade some of these optional activities for writing time. Start small and give yourself a few months to wean yourself away from them. For your first week, maybe commit to watching one hour less TV on Wednesday night, and using the time to write instead. If at all possible, I strongly advise that you don't stay up beyond your normal bedtime to write. And don't skimp on exercise. Your brain needs to be engaged and firing on all 8 cylinders, so make sure you're well rested when you write.

4. Tell anyone who needs to be informed

Unless you are a hermit, living all by yourself on the side of some mountain, chances are that your day is full of interruptions. These interruptions aren't going to magically go away just because you've decided to write. In fact, they may very well increase unless you take action to nip them in the bud. Tell everyone who needs to know that you are working on your writing and that you would appreciate it if they would leave you alone for the period of time that you've set aside. This way, hopefully they won't interrupt you as you work to achieve your goal.

5. Find someone to hold you accountable for achieving your goal

Although you may very well be able to commit to a goal and follow through to achieve it all by yourself, I have found that having someone else hold you accountable can keep you motivated. This someone else can be a friend, work associate, spouse, or significant other. Give this person a copy of your goal and ask him or her to check in with you periodically to see whether you're meeting your promises. Consider setting up a system in which you promise to pay some sort of fine for failing to achieve your goal. The fine should not be a mere token -- it should be stiff enough that you'll do whatever it takes to hit your target.

The coauthor of my book Writing Fiction For Dummies--Randy Ingermanson--had a writing buddy once who made this deal: Any week he failed to hit his writing quota, he had to pay Randy 50 dollars. Randy's buddy was just out of graduate school and working at a low-paying job, and 50 bucks really hurt him where it counted--in his wallet. But guess what? He rarely missed his quota. And when Randy recently talked with him on the phone, his buddy was raving about the gorgeous cover his publisher had just sent him to review for his sixth novel.

Take my word for it--the more you write, the better you will get at it. Practice really does make perfect, and this is your primary goal--to get your book written and published. I can tell you that there's nothing quite like the pride you'll feel when you hold the book you wrote in your hands.

Published on: May 16, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.