Hello, writers! Before I begin, I must warn you that I have been murdering ants all morning, and if this post is a teensy bit incoherent it’s because I’m slowly losing brain cells to the toxic fumes still seeping out of my cabinets. In fact, I might be dying! So! Let’s get on with it while I still have some life left!
Today’s topic is very important to me, and one that I believe is crucial to any writer’s success: making a writing schedule.
Please keep in mind as you’re reading this post that this blog focuses on how I write. These are my opinions, and other writers may have very different ones. What matters, as always, is what works for you.
The topic of writing schedules starts with the debunking of some popular writing myths.
Stupid and Damaging Myths:
MYTH #1: Write Every Day
Loads of how-to blogs and books tell you that you should, ideally, write every day if you want to get anywhere. What has two middle fingers and thinks that’s a load of hot garbage? THIS BITCH. Personally, I think this “rule” does more harm than good, and here’s why:
-Not all of us have time to write every day. “But!” you exclaim, “You have to make time!” True, true, my writers. You do have to make time. But you have to make time when you can actually be productive. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I feel capable of doing after 9 hours in the office, a 1-hour commute, grocery shopping, dishes, and cooking dinner is sitting down to write some sick scenes. I’m sure some people can do it, and that’s great! But I am not one of those people, and I know it. Hell, I can barely keep my head in the game during my last 2 hours of work. Do you know how much candy it takes to keep me working from 3pm to 5pm? There’s a reason my boss’s candy dish is always empty (*whispers* it’s meeeeeeee). I would much rather write on my days off, when I can be 100% focused on my book. And that’s okay! Because…
-Writing every day doesn’t make you a better writer. Calm down, everyone. I SAID CALM DOWN. *slaps everyone in the face* I know this seems wrong. Writing every day is good practice, and practice makes perfect, right? Sometimes. But shitty, half-asleep, I’m-doing-this-because-they-said-I-have-to-write-every-day writing doesn’t help anybody, and it certainly won’t make you better. Think of it like P.E. Was your heart ever “in” P.E.? (Pipe down you naturally-gifted athletes, no one asked you. Okay, maybe I did, but shut up anyway). Mine wasn’t. I still did it every single day. Did it turn me into a professional badminton player? No. Why? Because I didn’t give a fuuuuck. And if you’re writing when your heart isn’t in it, you won’t be giving any fucks either, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise. So please, give a fuck when you write. It matters. And hey, maybe you are able to be focused and present every day for an hour or so. That’s great! Write every day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. All I’m saying is that for all of my day-jobbing tired writer-nerds with too much going on during the work week…it’s okay. You aren’t going to fall behind everyone else just because you have shit to do. Don’t let some dumb book of “writing rules you have to follow in order to be successful” tell you otherwise.
Even if you write every day, you should know that:
-Time away from writing is good for your writing. We need time and space to think, to let our subconscious minds solve the problems our conscious minds can’t get around. That doesn’t happen if you’re constantly over-working your brain. This is why daydreaming is so important for writers. Have you ever noticed a problem with your story and tried to fix it for hours and hours without getting much of anywhere? Then you go for a drive or start dinner or take a nap, and suddenly you’re like “A-HA! Why didn’t I think of that before??” It’s because you couldn’t think of it before. You were trying too hard. Overloading your brain. Poor brain. How dare you. Give your brain a vacation now and then. It’s good for both of you.
Personally, I find that spending the work-week away from writing helps me “digest” my ideas and logic things out from a different vantage point. That way I can really get down to work when the weekend comes. This leads us to:
-Writing doesn’t always look like writing. I may not write chapters and scenes during the week, but that doesn’t mean I’m not working on my book Monday through Friday. Reading, taking notes, brainstorming, daydreaming…all of these things make us better writers. They all contribute to a project just as much as “actual” writing. They all “count”(…so long as you, you know, do something with them).
MYTH #2: The Muse is a THING and She/He/It Dictates When We Should Write
I’m sorry, everyone who has ever used “the Muse” as an excuse for why they are not writing, but that’s bullshit. Writing is a job, and we must diligently sit down and make it happen ourselves. There is no magical inspirational force that shows up and helps you do it. There is nothing behind those words but YOU. If you rely on some vague feeling of “creative energy” to come over you, you will never get anything done. Procrastination is an instinct. “I have shelter, fire, food, and a mate! Why spend energy working? I must conserve it in case of LIONS.” We are still hard-wired this way. We must overcome it every single time we want to complete a task that isn’t necessary for survival. Relying on “the Muse” invites procrastination to take over your routine. “I don’t think the Muse will be knocking on my door today…there’s a football game on.” Sorry, bucko…NOT ON MY WATCH.
Writing, as I said, is a job. I don’t always feel like quoting truck insurance policies, but I suck it up, sit down, and get shit done until I get to go home. I do my work whether I’m feeling it or not. Writing shouldn’t be any different. DO IT. If you’re really stuck (I’ve never experienced true “writer’s block” but now and then I come across a plot problem that takes time away from writing to solve), do some brainstorming or worldbuilding. As long as you are working on something related to your book for your allotted time.
Which leads me to…
Making A Schedule
If you have a specific writing goal, such as writing a novel or completing a chapbook or a certain number of short stories, it will behoove you to make a writing schedule. Going into a day (or morning or hour or writing week) with both the intent to write and a plan for what you would like to accomplish during your session can make all the difference between finishing something and tinkering forever.
Personally, I have always tried to dedicate my two days off a week to writing. When I worked retail, that meant two random weekdays. Now that I work in an office, it means Saturday and Sunday. The key to making a schedule you can actually stick to is 1) knowing yourself, and 2) knowing your routine. To use myself as an example: I am an extreme introvert that rarely makes plans, and I find that I am the most energized and productive in the morning. I also work best when I don’t have a to-do list looming at the back of my mind. So, for me, weekends are perfect. I try to wake up as early as I can without being utterly exhausted. I get all of my “chores” done, make a big breakfast, chug an unhealthy amount of coffee, and get to work. I break for lunch when I’m so hungry it forces me to remember that I am a human being with a body that needs nutrition, and then work for a few more hours. I stop for the day at 4 or 5pm, because I also have a husband that starts to feel neglected if I won’t watch movies with him. If I have to make weekend plans, I try to make them for around 4 or 5, since I’ll be done writing for the day by then, anyway.
Think about when you feel the most energized, the most creative. When do you have a few hours completely to yourself? Maybe you have an hour or two when the kids finally go to bed, or are most energized during your lunch hour. Find your writing time and then stick to it. Make it a habit. Make sure to…
Protect Your Writing Time
Once you’ve established your writing routine, you will have to fight to keep it sacred, against family, friends, obligations, and even yourself. But fight you must, if you want to be productive with your writing. Your work is important. Recognize that. Own it. Prioritize.
Would you allow someone to repeatedly interrupt you while working on an important project at your day job? No? Then do not tolerate it when you are writing. Some interruptions are unavoidable. Kids projectile vomit all over the dog, toilets flood, emergency errands pop up, birthdays are apparently a thing that people celebrate and we must attend them in order to appear to be a normal member of society. But you need to be honest about what must be handled NOW and what can wait. Writers write, so you need to protect your writing time ferociously. If you find yourself constantly missing your writing-time appointments, you need to make a new schedule. If the new schedule doesn’t work, either, you need to examine how badly you want to do this. If you are passionate about it, you WILL find time.
John Grisham is a great example: “Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, he was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi, law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby—writing his first novel…Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill…” (I stole that blurb from here, if you must know). He found a time that worked for him, stuck to it, and became JOHN FUCKING GRISHAM.
Sometimes you aren’t going to want to work. That’s okay. We all have “off days.” Days where letting a bamboo shoot grow into your belly button and out through your spine would be preferable to writing one more sentence. I’ve found that setting modest goals is a great way to get through those days. I tell myself I’m going to sit down and write 10 pages, for example. They don’t have to be great pages, they just have to be pages. 10 of them. That’s all. Either I limp to the finish line and feel good that I made my goal and call it a day, or I get into a groove and do more than 10 pages. It doesn’t matter which one happens, because either way, I’ve done what I set out to do for the day.
So, what have we learned? Find writing time that works for you (even if it’s not every day), stick to it, and don’t wait around for the Muse. You are your own Muse, and you can do this.
Until next time, my writers!