what to do when you fall behind

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”– Theodore Roosevelt

Authors, what do you do after missing your word count targets for several days in a row (or more)?

This is especially pertinent for those of you doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)  this month. But for the rest of us, consider the alternate wording to this question – What do you do when you’ve fallen off track from your writing goals for awhile?


First – give yourself some grace. We’re writers, artists, creators – not automated robot arms on an industrial manufacturing line screwing caps onto pill bottles. Writing is a combination of mind, heart, body, and soul. Give yourself a break. As committed as we are to our goals, our WHY behind our book, and as much as we practice our habits – sometimes writing days just don’t happen and word count targets start piling up like laundry in a hamper. You’re not a bad author, you’re just human.

Self-Awareness and a Path Back

The key during these times is to keep your self-awareness up, even as you’re circling the writing cave, trying to find a way back inside. Acknowledge whatever life circumstances are keeping you from writing, monitor those circumstances, and, as much as possible, create a pathway back from them into the writing cave.

It might look something like this: “Okay because of this thing happening in my life, I know realistically I’m not going to be able to write for the first half of this week (or not hit my word count). I accept that, but on Thursday, I see 2 hours on my schedule that I can devote to getting back on track.” Then schedule those 2 hours for writing.

This is a healthier way of dealing with the delay than mentally fighting against whatever’s happening in your life on Monday through Wednesday, feeling bad the whole time about not writing, and being so emotionally exhausted from the internal battle by Thursday that you throw in the towel and give up on the whole week. If you do have to stray from the writing cave do it with intention, self-awareness, and with a plan to come back.

Find an Excuse to Get Back at It

If you’re already at the place right now, “emotionally exhausted Thursday,” where whatever life distraction has passed but you’re now feeling too overwhelmed and guilty to get back on track – how about using this article as your cue to write today?

Use my message to you right here and now as an excuse to get back at it. You’ve got this, we all fall off track, we’re writers, it’s complicated, it’s fine, and there’s always a road back to where you were!

Find a part of your book that excites you, even if it’s out of order, and when you’re done reading this (or schedule a writing session later today), tap into that excitement and dive back in. Use whatever excuse you can dig up here and now to spark those writing juices!

Avoid the Editing Critic

I also recommend that for your first “writing cave” in getting back on track, you avoid reading what you wrote last, unless it’s absolutely necessary to get back into the flow. One thing we don’t want is for your editing critic mind to give you even more reasons to flee the writing cave for a few more days.

Find a way to dive back in with a positive mindset – everything’s going well, you’re doing great, you’re freakin’ Hemingway, keep going! Then, once you’re back in the swing of things, go back and review what you’d already written before your break (but without critiquing or deep level editing).

Habits 101

Remember those habits! Schedule your writing, piggyback it to a like-minded habit at a time of day when you’ve usually been successful at writing, and acknowledge every writing session as a “vote” toward rebuilding your writing habit. Important to note here – do what has already been working, habits wise. When you’re trying to get back on track is not the time to start experimenting with new habits. Go with what has already been working for you!

Author Community

Finally, remember to connect with your author community, because they get it! If anyone can relate to what you’re going through, it’s other authors. There are many author groups on social media and online, and when in doubt connect search #writingcommunity on Twitter!