From Blank Page to Published Author: My Journey to Becoming a Writer

Published 27 Mar 2024
by Anca Antoci

I’ve been writing for many years solely for the pleasure of writing. Before self-publishing became a thing, I didn’t even consider publishing my stories. Why? Because I am Romanian but I write in English. Why would any publisher ever want to give me a chance? Why would I ever believe that with no formal training in creative writing, I could be a good writer? No reason. Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t suffering, just didn’t consider this path was an option. It wasn’t until my husband discovered an abandoned file on my laptop and asked me about it that writing became a topic in our house. You see, I had an idea and wrote about it until my motivation ebbed and then I abandoned after ten chapters. He asked to read it and I said, “Go ahead.”

To my surprise, he said it was a good story and I should finish it. Then he talked about publishing and suggested self-publishing through Amazon. You see, my husband is a problem solver. If you come to him with a problem, he’ll ask questions, challenge your perception, and give you several solutions, all with pros and cons. He’s amazing like that. He’s also great at optimizing and streamlining any process. That will be important later.

So, to make a long story short, it took me six years (on and off) to publish my debut novel Forget Me Not. Why is that important? Because at that time I had no idea what I was doing, no process, no goals, and no discipline. The only reason this novel got published was because my husband kept pushing me to finish it even when I didn’t feel like writing. For context, I was also a SATM with a toddler, so I had other priorities. I published my debut novel in 2020. It’s now 2024 and I have six self-published books and the seventh is already available for pre-order on Amazon. I may not be the greatest writer in the world, but I have come a long way, and I’d be a fool not to celebrate that. Of course, I’m still a work in progress, but I’m getting better at my craft with each book I put out.

Along the way, I fine-tuned my writing process, and I established routines and rituals that helped me increase my focus and my productivity. Now, I’m aware there are authors who publish a book a month. That’s the kind of productivity I’ll never achieve. And it’s not because I’m lazy, but I’m not only a writer, I’m also a wife and a mother. I want a balanced life, so I spend time with my family. I cook, I travel and I read a lot. Even so, I reached a point where writing for two or three hours a day from Monday to Thursday I can publish two novels a year. Now keep in mind that I write urban fantasy and paranormal mysteries, and these books tend to be on the bigger side. My last two novels were a little over 100k words. If you write in other genres where books are typically shorter, you could put out three or four books a year. For instance, romance novels can be 50k words and no one would complain.

So, if you’re an aspiring writer—by that I mean you have a story in your head but haven’t figured out how to put it on paper yet—keep reading.

Not everyone can be a pantser

I mentioned in the beginning that it took me six years to complete my debut novel. Here are some reasons why:

  • I didn’t have an outline, just a few disjointed scenes in mind
  • I had no idea where my story was going
  • The world-building wasn’t clear in my head. I made up stuff as I went.
  • I didn’t know who the love interest was going to be
  • I didn’t know how the story was going to end
  • I had no clear structure for my story
  • Because of all the above, I got stuck often (massive writer’s block) and writing became a chore. I lost all motivation to write.
  • Editing that story was a nightmare. The pacing was off, the middle part was sagging, and nothing seemed to work.

All the above happened because I was a pantser. Back then, I didn’t even know the term. If you’re unfamiliar with it, a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. Now I’m not saying this is the wrong way to do it. There are some brilliant best-selling authors out there who are pantsers and do an excellent job. Lack of outlining doesn’t mean their stories lack structure; experienced storytellers can naturally follow a structure.

As it turns out, I’m not one of them. Trying to write freely, I only painted myself into a corner. So for my second book, I created an outline first. Since I had no experience with plotting or outlining a story, I kept straying from the initial outline and had to change it several times to fit the new course. Even so, having a road map for my story made my job a lot easier.

So, if you get stuck a lot, try creating an outline for your story chapter by chapter. There are several popular structures out there: the three-act story structure, the hero journey, the save the cat beat sheet, and so on. Do your research on story structures and pick one that would work for you. The important part is to make your life easier and optimize your writing process. So pick something you can work with.

Then you need to establish some routines and rituals as they are one of the most important parts of your writing journey.

I’m sharing things I’ve learned by trial and error so you can develop your own set of habits and routines faster and become who you were meant to be.

The Science Behind Routines and Rituals

You may argue that just because something worked for me, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. Although there isn’t one size that fits all when it comes to creative writing, habit formation is backed by science.

Here’s why it’s important to establish a writing routine:

  • Habit formation: Regular routines and rituals can help you form new habits by giving you structure and cues for desired behaviors. Doing these things over and over makes your brain get used to them, so you’ll do them without even thinking.
  • Dopamine release: When you do activities you enjoy, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel motivated, happy, and better at learning. Routines and rituals boost mood, reduce stress, and enhance well-being.
  • Reduced decision fatigue: Constantly making choices can drain your brain and leave you exhausted. When you have routines and rituals, it saves you mental energy because you have structure and make fewer decisions.
  • Enhanced focus and concentration: Having a routine helps your brain focus and ignore distractions.
  • Improved self-discipline and willpower: Routines and rituals can help to strengthen your self-discipline and willpower by providing a framework for making consistent choices and sticking to your goals. They can also help to reduce procrastination and promote a sense of accountability. I’m still working on that.
  • Enhanced productivity and goal achievement: Routines and rituals are key to being productive. They give you a schedule and help you prioritize what matters most.

I stand by all these key points. I created and fine-tuned my routines and rituals mostly during the pandemic because nothing motivates you to put order into your life like a lockdown. It’s funny now. It wasn’t funny then. I’m not very organized by nature, but I’m lucky to be married to an optimizer. Every time I complained that I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted to, he took a look at my schedule and changed things around. And somehow now I have time for everything, including self-care. So here’s what my routine and rituals look like. You don’t need to follow them, but based on your goals and your lifestyle, you can adapt them and find what works for you. The important part is to improve your productivity and develop your own writing process.


Pre-Writing Routine

  • Morning Yoga or Pilates: Sitting long hours in front of your computer typing is challenging for your back. I’m no spring chicken and I feel the sedentary lifestyle I had for many years in every creak of my joints. Now I do a brief session of yoga or Pilates on the floor of my living room every morning. I have a few full-body workouts saved on rotation on YouTube. Yoga and Pilates are my choices, but you can do any workout you like. Engage in 10 minutes of full-body workout before starting work to improve posture, flexibility, and mood.
  • Big breakfast: I don’t skip meals. Ever. When I’m hungry, I can’t focus and I’m unreasonable (read: bitchy). If you don’t do breakfast and you’re not hungry, then you do you.
  • Schedule chores: I can focus better on writing if I don’t have chores on my mind so I meal plan for two weeks, and schedule chores so I can get them off my head but not forget about them. We share the chores and cooking meals, so I’m not overworked.

Writing Routine

  • Pomodoro Technique: I implement the Pomodoro Technique, working in 25-minute sprints with 5-minute breaks in between to enhance focus and avoid burnout. For the moment, I write in Google Docs and I use the Pomodoro Chrome extension. It tells me when to focus and when to take a break. You can use a timer if you prefer. During the writing sprint, I don’t stop unless it’s an emergency. It’s so much easier to focus when you know you only have to do it for a short time. Absolutely no social media, no checking notifications, no texting, no bathroom breaks. You can do all that in the five-minute break.
  • Daily Goal of 2,000 Words: I aim to write 2,000 words daily to maintain productivity and progress. Most days I reach my goal. Some days I fail — life gets in the way and that’s okay. Some days I surpass the goal. I only write Monday to Thursday and still, I see amazing progress with my word count.
  • Small Breaks for movement: Take short breaks every 25 minutes to get up and move around, whether it’s drinking water, using the restroom, or stretching. I always get up when it’s time to take a break, even if it’s to take a stroll through the house. Just move. If you’re young you don’t get it now, but you will in your 40s.
  • Hydrate: I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel the need to drink water often. If I don’t pay attention, I won’t drink more than a glass of water a day during the cold season. Keep a glass or a bottle of water next to you while you work.

Contingency plans

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. No matter how well you outlined and plotted your story, sometimes you hit a roadblock. Maybe you’ll be better at this than me. I sometimes get carried away and stray from the outline and that opens the risk of plot holes. So what do you do when, instead of following your outline, you let the characters run wild and then write the incident report? You find yourself in an unexpected situation and writer’s block hits. I have two ways of dealing with writer’s block.

The 5Ws technique—I take a step back and make sure I know all my Ws (who is in that scene, what is happening, when it’s happening, where it takes place and why is this scene important?). If I can’t answer all these questions, I need to rethink the scene.

The scene/sequel formula—think about the story as a chain of actions and reactions. Every action must have consequences that move the story forward.

Whenever I suffer from writer’s block, I use one of these two hacks to get back on track. They both work well and since I started doing that I haven’t wasted time once. That is a great way to increase productivity and it feels good to have a plan for when you hit a roadblock.


So, there you have it, my journey from aspiring writer to self-published author. It hasn’t been an easy road, but it’s been incredibly rewarding. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’m still learning. But one thing I’ve learned for sure is that anyone can become a writer if they’re dedicated enough and willing to put in the work.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that writing is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser or an outliner, the most important thing is to find a process that works for you and stick with it.

I also believe that it’s important to establish routines and rituals that help you focus and stay motivated. This could include anything from creating a dedicated writing space to using the Pomodoro Technique.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. There is no one right way to write, so don’t be afraid to break the rules and do your own thing.

* This article was originally published in Illumination's Mirror on Medium.