Finding the Time: Making (and Sticking to) a Writing Schedule

Posted by Ethan Keeley, GD Fiction Editor for 3.2

It often seems that our lives are endless collections of to-do lists and deadlines. Whether we’re in school or at work there are always things that must be done and seldom enough hours in a day to do them all. Relaxation is that rare oasis that soon dries up as a new day begins and the new to-dos congregate.Writer's Clock

While it would be nice to live in a world where all hours of the day were free for us to ruminate and type away with peace of mind, this is mere fantasy. Indeed, writing must take place amidst all the other duties of life, which are always trying to take precedence over it (see: classes, work, homework, social obligations, chores, sleep, basic hygiene, etc.). But if we’re serious about our writing we need to make it just as much a priority as all those other facets of life. We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’ll write when I have time,” because we’ll always spend that time in other ways, especially in ways that require less mental effort. Relaxation is so infrequent for most of us that we immediately go for that option when all other obligations are momentarily taken care of.

The truth is, most of us do have time to write. We just tend to utilize that time in ways that give our busy brains a reprieve, which is totally justified. So, how can we make time for writing and still leave room for this much-needed downtime? The first step is to outline a schedule designated specifically for writing. This can be detailed or more general. Some people might want to be very specific with their time and deem 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM and 9:00 PM-10:00 PM their writing slots for each day of the week. Others might want to be looser and have a more general rule of writing a paragraph or stanza first thing in the morning and then expanding on it later that night. Breaking down a writing schedule into numbers and word counts is better for some people; Joe might aim for five-hundred words a day and Jane somewhere around two double-spaced pages. Find what works for your daily schedule and if one method doesn’t feel right try another until it does feel right. Just keep writing.

It’s easy to be discouraged by online articles with titles like, “The Daily Routines of Great Writers,” which list the sometimes seemingly impossible regiments of Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Maya Angelou, E.B. White, Ernest Hemingway, etc. My advice here: Let these writers inspire you, not dishearten you. While these authors are larger-than-life keep in mind that they’re human beings who found ways to make time for writing. Much of their success is a result of that. So tell yourself that making a writing schedule and adhering to it is the first step in your own success.

Once you’ve created a schedule that works, the trick is to follow it on a regular basis. This is the hardest part of getting into the writing groove, largely because when we’re only accountable to ourselves we tend to make innumerable excuses. And if we miss a day we’re tempted to beat ourselves up and give up altogether.

One way to curtail this lack of accountability is to promise a friend, peer, or professor that you’ll have something for them to read by a certain date and time. This way, you’re still imposing the deadline on yourself, but now there’s more at stake; namely, your embarrassment when the other person points out your lack of material. It’s important that you find someone you trust both as a motivator and a reader of your work. Also, by introducing this second party into your writing process you’re killing two proverbial birds with one stone, because not only will you be more motivated to complete your work, you’ll also have an immediate source of feedback upon completion—and feedback, if it’s honest and helpful, is a writer’s lifeblood. It’s how we improve and develop a thicker skin. Again, make sure your readers are familiar with your work and honest enough to tell you what’s really working and what’s really not.

Another creative way to stay on track is to come up with a self-reward system. For instance, make a pact with yourself that if you adhere to your writing schedule all week you’ll treat yourself to an extra-long Netflix binge or that shockingly unhealthy but amazing specialty drink from the café that weekend. This system requires significant self-discipline so it won’t work for everyone. For the masochists, a self-punishment system is another avenue (i.e. no Facebook for a day or no candy all week, etc.), though I’ve personally found this method to yield negative results by its nature, and demotivate further progress.

One thing holding many people back from writing on a regular basis is their conviction that there are simply no good ideas, nothing to grasp onto to begin a story or poem. My advice here is this: Don’t filter yourself. Unless your computer gets hacked by North Korea or a literary thief steals your physical notebook, no one besides you will read anything you write without your consent. So go wild. Write a ranting manifesto about the pointlessness of grapefruits or make a list of every expletive you can think of. Nothing you write needs to be so extreme or bizarre, of course, but the point is that it can be. These stream-of-consciousness expressions may eventually yield a brilliant piece or a nugget substantial enough to evolve into something else. Who knows?

I realize I’m no authority of any of this, because I’ve just begun to work out my own writing schedule. I’m starting light, allotting a half-hour of writing right when I wake up at 7:30 (pre-coffee, which yields interesting results, to be sure), and another half-hour or so right before I go to bed, five days a week. I also write more loosely during other intervals if I feel inspired. Admittedly, sometimes I write for a bit less than an hour a day and sometimes I can’t get my brain to function properly so early in the morning. Still, I’m trying, and that’s the important thing. I’ll probably have to readjust my schedule soon to make it work better for me. But that’s all part of the process.

The goal is to just try to write when you have the time, because there is in fact more than enough time in the day to write if you make it the priority it deserves to be. When you finally come up with something you’re excited to work with, and you realize it’s because you took the time to sit down and write for a bit, you’ll be glad you’ve taken this step as a writer. My writing schedule has already allowed me to generate ideas for a new character and a few scenes, and I know more will come if I keep up with it. In the words of William Faulkner, “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”

Oh, and make sure you find the time to revise, too.

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