Focus On Your ‘Why’ To Supercharge Your Productivity

Desk with open notebook - writing

So, it’s almost the end of January and the optimism of New Year’s Eve has probably fizzled. It’s completely normal to have ups and downs in your motivation and energy levels, so don’t beat yourself up!

However, a drop in drive is a good time to check over your plans and goals and make sure you know your ‘why’ for each one.

If you set goals which you truly want to achieve (not things you just think you ‘should’ want to do) then getting re-energised should be simple.

It’s time to take a hard look at your list and think about WHY you set those particular goals.

For example, if you wrote ‘finish my novel in 2018’, then think about why that is important to you. Your ‘why’ can be financial, personal, emotional, whatever… It doesn’t matter (and you never need to tell another living soul) but it has to be real and true.

Be as specific and as honest as you can about your motivation and, ideally, write it down.

This process can be liberating, too, as it can help you to weed out goals in which you aren’t properly invested, giving you more focus for the things which are truly important.

It’s important to remember that your list doesn’t have to remain static and it’s not ‘cheating’ to alter your priorities.

If you go back to your list and find that you no longer care about something on it or that you have changed your mind about the value of a particular task, then you can cross it off with a clear conscience. Equally, you might find that your ‘why’ has changed for a particular goal and by recognising this, you give yourself a lovely jolt of enthusiasm for the project.

Now, pick your main goal and imagine you have already achieved it. Spend time in this daydream, imagining it fully and allowing yourself to feel the sense of excitement and achievement. Now, bring yourself back to the present and recognise that the only way to get from here to there is a matter of taking action TODAY.


If you are stuck on your current book and finding it hard to be productive, then you can use the ‘why’ question to reignite your passion for your story.

Get out your journal and freewrite your feelings on your WIP. Think about what excited you about the idea in the first place, list the fun things in the book or scenes you are looking forward to writing.

Write down WHY you want to write this particular story. Is it a topic which really interests you? Is the theme close to your heart?

Or, is your ‘why’ to do with your ideal reader and the experience you want to provide? Do you want to write something super-fun that will be a bright spot for your reader, cheering them up after a bad day? Or do you want to leave them curled in a foetal position, sobbing?

Again, allow yourself to picture having finished the story you want to write. Imagine the best possible result (why not, after all?) and write it down. If you are anything like me, you will resist this. It will feel like hubris. You will think ‘oh, but that will never happen’ and ‘I bet I will make a mess of this great book idea’. But, remember, this is completely private. And it is just day dreaming. Allow yourself a lovely, positive fantasy in which you have finished a book which you are really pleased with and which sells really well and brings you international acclaim etc etc…

And now get back to work!

For more productivity tips, inspiration and writerly support, why not check out my book?

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination

Now available in audio! Free with a one-month Audible trial





[Image Credit (desk): Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash. Image Credit (love): Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash]

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The Life-Changing Magic of Finishing Your Book

A comment popped up recently and, after replying, I found it was still rattling around in my mind. I know it’s something that many of us struggle with, so I thought I would discuss it here:

Hi I am a new and yes very worried writer, so am thrilled to have found your podcasts. I have started several novels, but never finished them, I’m hoping that I will get inspiration and hints and tips to finish one. Looking forward to listening to the other podcasts. Debs

First off, a big thank you to Debs for listening and leaving such a great comment.

Reading this took me right back to where I was stuck for a very long time… Throughout my teens and twenties, I dreamed of writing fiction: I thought about writing, I talked about writing and I read endless advice books and blogs about writing. I was looking for the secret. The magic ingredient that would enable me to write a book.

I started stories. I would write an opening paragraph or scene and just run out of steam. Occasionally, I would manage a few chapters, but I never knew what came next so I stopped. Until the next character or opening line or bit of dialogue would pop into my head and I’d write it down, only to get stuck again.

Behind all of this stopping was fear. I was scared that I couldn’t do it and so I never forced myself past the initial spark of an idea.

Also, I was making a crucial mistake: I thought that feeling stuck meant that the initial idea was no good.

What I didn’t realise was that feeling stuck as a writer is completely and utterly normal: It’s part of the gig! 

That having ‘no idea what happens next’ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep on trying. That, essentially, writing a book is hard graft, not divine inspiration.

Also, I hadn’t realised that nested inside my surface fears (of writing rubbish and not having enough ideas to fill a book) were deeper worries about finishing. If I finished, I would have to take the next step and actually show it to somebody else – argh!

Ultimately, I was terrified that if I did finish a book and it sucked, then I would have confirmation that I was a terrible writer and would never be an author.

It felt safer to dream of ‘being a writer on day’ rather than risk exposing my lack of ideas and talent through actually trying.

So, just in case you are where I used to be (or you are Debs – hi Debs!) I’m going to reveal to you the big secret about writing novels.

The reason you are finding it hard to finish your novel is because it is SUPER HARD TO DO.

But, here is the big secret… All you have to do is slog through this first one.

It doesn’t have to be good.

There is one rule: If you get to the end, you have succeeded.

If it sucks (and, fair warning, it probably will) that doesn’t matter. Every single author you have ever loved sucked when they started writing. Just think of it as a necessary stage.

And here is the best part – the magic lies in the act of finishing. Once you have finished that first book, I promise it will transform your writing life.

You might choose not to finish projects in the future, but you will carry with you the knowledge that you ARE capable of finishing them and that makes all the difference in the world.

So, having explained why I think finishing your book is so gosh-darned important, here are a few tips to help you get from beginning to end (or middle to end):

  • Don’t focus on the writing. Focus on the act of doing the work, not the writing you are producing.
  • Make finishing your book (no matter what) your one and only goal.
  • Break the goal into manageable steps and add a deadline.

Happily enough, there is a group writing challenge starting next week which will help you with all of these tips. It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and it starts on 1st November. You can sign up (free) here.

Or, you can set your own version of the challenge… Remember – the only thing that matters is getting to the finish line, not how you run the race.

Also, if you prefer your cheer-leading in book-form and liked this post, why not try my guide? It’s packed with tips and advice to help you start (and finish!) your book:

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.









Thanks for reading!

Are you struggling to finish your book or have you got a tip you want to pass on?

Got a subject you would like covered or a question for the podcast?

Join in the comments or email me anytime!

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The Worried Writer Episode #32: Monica Leonelle ‘I’m a burst of energy writer’

My guest today is Monica Leonelle. Monica is a USA Today bestselling author writing YA urban fantasy and paranormal romance, as well as practical books for writers such as Write Better, Faster and The 8-Minute Writing Habit. Before becoming an author, Monica had a successful career in digital marketing.

For more on Monica’s latest website for authors, head to The World Needs Your Book

And there is still a wealth of information on

Prose On Fire

For all of Monica’s books head to Amazon UK or Amazon US

Or find her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

In the intro:

I give a small writing update (10,000 words on my shiny new first draft!) and share tips learned from the process of recording the audio book of Stop Worrying; Start Writing.

I answer a listener question:

Matthew asked:

The late great Terry Pratchett insisted in his will that the novels he was working on at the time of his death be crushed in their hard drive. By a steamroller.

This action was carried out today.

Morbid Q for the podcast – what would you want happening to your unfinished works in the event of your demise? Tolkienesque approach – the family get to cash in through publication of a bunch of things of varying quality that were never meant for public consumption, or Pratchett’s cleaner approach with death as a full stop rather than an ellipsis?

I talk about my own preference (for early drafts to be deleted!) and discuss how thinking about this kind of thing can help us to place proper value on our work and to consider the long-term strategy for our career/finances.


Neil Gaiman’s post on will-making for creatives (with sample template).

Helen Sedwick (writes about legal/financial stuff for authors).

In the interview:

On publishing:

‘I’m all for traditional, I think there is a lot of opportunity there.’

On self-doubt:

‘Everytime I publish a book I still feel self-doubt… You don’t know how a large group of people is going to respond to your book.’


‘The way I think about fear is really that you’re going to feel fear and it’s going to be there with you, but can you take action anyway.’


‘I will say that years and years ago I was a procrastinator… I remember when I was trying to establish a daily writing habit, that first day I sat at my computer with my ms open and I stared at it for an hour without writing anything…. It was like my mind couldn’t process or something.’


‘A lot of this is a muscle that you have to work, but I also think ‘yes you are afraid’.’


On the ‘eight-minute writing habit’:

‘It feels like a long enough period to get something done, but short enough that really have no excuse not to do it.’

‘A twenty-five minute timed session where you’re focused and then a five minute break… So with the eight minute thing, I was like you can do eight minutes, two minute break.’

‘Eight minutes is very easy to add to your morning routine, so do eight minutes in the morning, eight minutes at lunch and eight minutes in the evening.’


On her own process:

‘Some people do really well with 1000 words a day, kind of paced approach… For me I might write 5000 words a day for two weeks and then not write for a month…. I have embraced that I’m a burst of energy writer.’

‘About thirty percent of my time goes to fiction but, that being said, I have kind of mastered my own writing productivity. So, this year, for example, I’ve published three YA novels, two novellas for that series and a short story and that’s as of June 2017.’

‘It’s not my dream to just do fiction… I do have varied interests and I do love both sides of it.’


Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or the podcast app of your choice) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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The Worried Writer Episode #29: M. J. Lee ‘Let Yourself Enjoy Life’

My guest today is Martin Lee who writes under the name M.J. Lee. He is a bestselling author of historical crime fiction and his books include the Jayne Sinclair genealogical mysteries, Samuel Pepys and The Stolen Diary, and the Inspector Danilov series which is set in 1920s Shanghai. Before turning to novel writing, Martin spent 25 years working for advertising companies in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai.

For more on M.J. Lee and his books, visit or find him on Facebook or Twitter.

We talk about the skills he brings to novel-writing from his experience as a creative director, plotting versus ‘pantsing’ and Martin’s own process.

Apologies for the sound quality in the interview – we had some technical difficulties. I’ve done my best in post-production and I hope you can still enjoy it, as Martin and I had a really good chat!

In the intro I give a small update on my writing/life. I mention the ‘Goals Update’ post I did recently, and my guest spot on Paul Teague’s Self Publishing Journeys podcast: Episode 66: Sarah Painter

I also answer a listener question from Janine Swann.

Janine wrote:

I’m currently editing my first draft and am struggling to come to terms with the ‘taste gap’ (Ira Glass’s quote, in case you’re not familiar with it). I’ve been reading Jojo Moyes’s latest novel which is just fantastic, and returning to the editing afterwards is really rather difficult. I struggle to imagine my writing will ever be as good, and I so desperately want it to be. Do you have any advice?

You can read the Ira Glass on the ‘taste gap’ quote here.

I think the key to this lies in focusing on practice over product – something I talk about in detail in Stop Worrying; Start Writing!

If you have a question you would like answered on the show, do get in touch. You can email me, find me on Twitter or simply leave a comment on this post.



In the interview:

On getting stuck:

‘Read it through until you feel where you’ve gone wrong and then you rewrite it.’


On process:

‘Writing’s an exercise – the more you do it, the better you get.’


‘You need to be disciplined about your time, it’s a job, it’s work, and then let yourself enjoy life.’


The importance of getting into the zone:

‘I’m in that little world. Everything else vanishes around me…’



Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast in iTunes and makes it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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The Worried Writer Episode #28: ‘Guarding Your Writing Time Is A Matter of Training’

In this ‘just me’ episode, I give a writing update and answer a couple of questions.

Writing update:

I’ve been on tight editing deadlines all month with my latest novel, Beneath The Water, but the end is truly in sight. Huzzah!

I mostly enjoy editing and rewriting as it’s a brilliant chance to make things better. I’m always grateful that I’m a novelist and not, say, a stand up comedian. With writing, you can work away at something for ages before going public and you get loads of chances to make it as good as possible.

Of course, the flip side is that no book ever really feels finished. If I didn’t have deadlines – either external ones or ones I set myself – I would truly never let go and just keeping on tinkering.

Having said that, I’m really looking forward to letting this one go, now. I’ve hit the ‘I’m sick of it’ stage and other shiny ideas are clamouring for my attention.

Next month, I’ll still be in rewrite mode as I’ve had the edit notes for a different book from my agent. It’s a bit of a departure, genre-wise (supernatural thriller-ish) and I am really excited about getting back to it.

I’m also planning to record the audio book of Stop Worrying Start Writing. Lots of you have asked me to narrate the book myself (thank you so much for the vote of confidence) so I’m going to give it a go. No promises, though… If I start and it’s a disaster, I will book a professional!

Listener Question:

This month’s question comes from Janine. She asks two questions and they are both excellent so I attempt to tackle them both.

Janine wrote:

I’m really struggling to find time to write. Specifically, I seem to cave whenever I have writing scheduled but people want me to spend time with them or do them a favour. I have a deadline in August and I’m terrified that I’m not going to meet it. I do feel guilty spending time on writing, which is probably why I cave so quickly. Any advice gratefully received!

Following on from the previous question, I’m considering booking myself into a hut for 3 nights in order to get some work done. Is this something you’ve had to do yourself? And is it something you’d recommend, or is it better to fit writing around life in 20-30 minute slots as I have been doing? Perhaps I’m worried that if I book it, I won’t have the stamina to write and edit all day!

An extract from my answer:

Guarding your writing time is a matter of training and every time you break your plan to write and cave in to other people’s needs, you are training everyone around you to believe that you are not serious about your writing and that it simply isn’t that important. Worse still, you are training yourself to believe the same.


If you’ve got a question you’d like answered, please email me or find me on Twitter.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).


If you are interested in what makes stories work, then I highly recommend Lani Diane Rich’s  How Story Works podcast series.

Lani is an alumnus of the podcast (listen to her interview: ‘Claim Your Awesome’) and is a bestselling and award-winning author of twelve romantic comedies. She has also been teaching story craft for years and is absolutely brilliant at explaining the concepts. A big turning point for me came when I took her novel revision course back before I was published. I was working on the book which became The Language of Spells and Lani gave me an encouraging critique of my opening chapter which gave me a much-needed boost, but she also managed to explain the three act structure in a way in which I could, finally, grasp it. I still use her techniques in my revision process and if she ever teaches that class again I definitely recommend it.

I also give a quick shout out to Annie Lyons (another brilliant podcast guest) who reviewed Stop Worrying; Start Writing with these amazing words:

If Stephen King is your writing godfather then Sarah Painter is the writer’s best friend – kind, honest and full of wisdom.

Stop Worrying; Start Writing is available now from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Nook and in paperback, too!


My guest next month is historical crime novelist M.J. Lee, also known as Martin Lee. We had a great chat about historical research, Martin’s writing process and views on writers block, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.







Thank you for listening!

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a rating for the show on iTunes. I truly appreciate your support.


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The Worried Writer Episode #27: Tracy Buchanan ‘Write A Novel That You Want To Read’

My guest today is Tracy Buchanan, author of The Atlas of Us, No Turning Back and the number one bestseller, My Sister’s Secret. My Sister’s Secret was one of the top ten bestselling books of 2015 and has been published in the US, Denmark, Italy, Hungary and Germany and My Weekly said it was ‘both heartbreaking and uplifting’.

We talk about the pressure of writing under contract, plotting using an Excel spreadsheet, Tracy’s writing routine and the opportunities for authors in this new publishing landscape.

For more on Tracy and her books, head to or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

In a quick intro (I’m very tired!), I give a happy and grateful update on the successful launch of Stop Worrying: Start Writing. It hit number one in the creativity chart and got to hang out with Stephen King in ‘authorship’. Meep!

I have also been bowled-over by the wonderful feedback and reviews (phew!). Here’s a small extract from one of the Amazon reviews:

‘The best book on writing and productivity I’ve read in years. Sarah tackles the fear we all feel when it comes to our writing in such an honest way that I was left feeling like here was someone who really understood…This book, was refreshing because it deals with the things most writers truly face, and more than that it really offers actionable steps to help see you through the other side.’

Dominique Valente, Amazon Reviewer

You can get Stop Worrying: Start Writing from all good retailers including Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kobo, iBooks or Barnes&Noble.

Next month, I’m planning a ‘just me’ episode so that I can give proper attention to some of the wonderful listener questions I have received.

If you have a writing (or publishing) question that you’d like me to tackle, please get in touch via email or Twitter.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

In the interview:

On Tracy’s writing process:

‘In the past I would just be very dreamy and just start writing it and let it lead me… but I have to be a lot more disciplined now.’

On writing the Atlas of Us:

‘It was a really cathartic, wonderful experience and it helped me with all the infertility stuff I was going through.’

On getting started:

‘Write a novel that you want to read.’

‘First drafts can be rubbish, just write and enjoy it.’

On her routine:

‘I need to get the boring stuff out of the way first… That usually takes a couple of hours and then I start writing.’

‘I don’t really have a daily word count. My aim is to write as much as I can as quickly as I can.’

‘I really find walking helps me unblock plot issues.’

‘I’m trying to do things like go to the cinema and see that as work or go to a museum to get inspiration, but I’m being really rubbish at that!’


FB groups

Absolute Write forum

Listening to podcasts like this one!

‘Listening to other writers and hearing what they are going through feels like a support network, it really helps because you don’t feel like such an alien and so weird.’

Writer’s retreats such as The Urban Writers’ Retreat

Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast in iTunes and makes it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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