One Day at a Time

A new concept was introduced to my life, in 2016, when I started the treatment that got me into recovery.

Take things one day at a time, I was told.

Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t dwell on yesterday. Focus only on today.

At the time of writing this I am 1331 days sober (I have an app). When I first stopped drinking I didn’t view my challenge as “I’m about to stop drinking for over 1000 days”. Goodness, that would have seemed even more daunting. No, I focused on the first day. One day. If I could get through that I was winning, it was an achievement I could build on. This approach made the challenge more manageable and I could even break that day down into smaller segments like one hour, if I wanted – and sometimes I’ve needed to do that, to get through.

I crossed the days off the calendar and one by one, all of those individual days started to add up.

However recovery still boils down to that basic thing – all you’ve got to do is keep sober for the next 24 hours.

This approach is excellent for all areas of life and can really help with your writing career.




Writing your manuscript

People often say to me that they can’t imagine having to write a whole novel, what a gargantuan task that might be. And I tell them I agree but I don’t think about it in that way when I sit down to start a new project. I tackle it one chapter at a time. Each day has a different focus but overall, added up, they all move the story forwards and before you know it you’ve written several thousands of words.

It doesn’t matter how many words your write each day because they all contribute, slowly but surely, to the overall goal.

The one day at a time approach is about not giving yourself such high aims that you are setting yourself up for failure.

“I am going to give up drinking for a year” versus “I am not going to drink today”

“I am going to sit down and write a novel” versus “I am going to write a scene or chapter of my story”

Small achievements boost the ego and keep motivation going.

And if you set yourself huge goals the time will never seem right. A busy year ahead might make you think you couldn’t possibly find time to write a novel – but it wouldn’t stop you from writing an individual chapter.

Just crack on with it, start today, doesn’t matter how much or how little you write.

This approach helped me enormously during this year’s lockdown when I had to write my next 2020 release, The Winter We Met (out October 8th). It was so hard to get words down as the pandemic unfolded, me constantly flicking between my manuscript and the latest worrying, incredible news headlines. But I carried on as I usually do, one day at a time, not thinking too much about the end goal but focusing on what I could achieve each day. And somehow that book was written.


Building your career

It can be very hard looking at other authors and seeing their achievements and wondering why you may  not have reached those dizzy heights yet.

But there is rarely such a thing as instant acclaim. As the wonderful George R. R. Martin once said:

“Most people were startled to find out there were books that preceded Game of Thrones. I’m a case of working 40 years to become an overnight success.

Authors have built their brands one chapter at a time, one book at a time. You need to give your career time. A lucky few will hit it big with their debut – for many others it’s about not dwelling on disappointments of the past, not fantasising about the what ifs of the future, but focusing on the day in hand. And my agent will attest to the fact that I, like so many other writers, haven’t always found this easy!

When I first started writing I used to dream about standing on the red carpet at a premiere of a movie based on one of my books – and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have our daydreams – but now I know they’ve got to be backed up by daily grafting and focus, focus on the current project, the current chapter, the current scene. Focus on today without being distracted by the “I’ll never manage that” “My goals seem so far away” “I must be doing something wrong” “Luck’s just not on my side”

Often *debut* authors have several books under the bed (I’d written five novels before my debut Doubting Abbey got a deal). Some debuts are actually authors who’ve previously written under a different name and aren’t finding the success they want so try a change of direction.

Try not to get distracted by the noise of publishing, the hoo-ha about a big new author or ground-breaking novel that’s sold multi translation and movie rights – instead focus, focus, focus, on your own work, your own journey, and soon that novel will be written or that brand will begin to take shape.

You won’t always manage this. There will be relapses, in the same way there are for people in recovery – I picked up a drink again, after my initial 3 months of sobriety. And at times you might feel like giving up on your writing goals, feel that the hurdles are just too big to get where you want to or feel despondent after another rejection or a bad review.

But you now have a plan to get back to when this happens. That is, you get up the next day and, just for those 24 hours, you start again




  1. Sharon Booth says:

    Thank you, Sam. Sometimes I really need to remind myself of this. Life feels a bit overwhelming at the moment, but the “one day at a time” thing really does make it all seem more manageable. Great post. And congratulations on over 1300 days of sobriety. xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Sharon. Yes, this approach has really helped me get through lockdown in terms of not trying to look far ahead and second-guess what will happen. It really does make it easier to cope with.
      Thanks and you take care 🙂 Sam xx

  2. Joy Lennick says:

    I loudly applaud you, Sam. I have never had a drink problem but it must need a huge amount of self discipline to overcome. I had a nervous breakdown way back & became agoraphobic, which is also difficult to conquer..Bite size pieces are usually best. As you say, one day at a time. It’s amazing what you can accomplish.Upwards and onwards. Hugs xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Aw thanks so much, Joy – yes, I had a few stumbles at the beginning but got there in the end.
      And hats off to you too, for overcoming your agoraphobia, what a challenge. Yes, it really makes such a difference if you break goals down into smaller targets, and it’s so satisfying when you reach them. Hugs back xx

  3. Jessica Redland says:

    Huge congratulations on your sobriety. What an amazing number of days which will keep growing and growing. Great advice. A whole book can definitely be overwhelming and the comparison of careers is something I think we all suffer from. It can hold us back so much from enjoying each goal achieved and each small success. I need to work on that!
    Wishing you all the best
    Jessica xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Jessica – yes, we could probably all work on that department! Congratulations on your success. Sam xx

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