Wednesday 10 April 2024

How I Schedule My Daily Writing

woman sitting and writing
One of the hardest things for many writers (or wanna-be writers) is having a consistent writing schedule. I used to be the same. I kept saying I wanted to write every day but instead I got busy doing other things, telling myself that as soon as I had time I’d get my writing done.

And I didn’t understand my own reluctance to writing. I like to write so why wasn’t I writing every day? Why did I put it off all the time? 

The reason was that writing wasn’t part of my daily schedule, so it often didn’t get done. Yet all I could think about was the writing that I wasn’t doing, and that made me miserable and frustrated. So what I did was make writing a part of my daily schedule.

When I first began to write professionally, I had a job and a family so I fit my writing in around those things. But I still did my writing because I wanted to work as a writer, so I was doing freelance writing, and plenty of it.

I always told myself, and I thought it was 100% true, that I’d eventually stop working and write full-time instead. And I did. But it turned out to be so different than what I’d imagined.

In my day dreams about working as a writer, I was sat at my desk every day producing thousands of words and amassing a whole collection of published books. But in reality, I found it harder and harder to sit down and write every day, thinking that I needed to do other things first. My procrastinating got so bad that at one point I decided to give up writing and go back to work because I felt like I was just wasting my time every day. I was actually doing plenty of things, but none of it was writing.

But when I started to go through my files, deciding what to get rid of, I realised that I didn’t want to stop being a writer. I wanted to start being a writer. But I still had no idea why I was so reluctant to write when it was the thing I wanted to do. I even asked myself if I did actually want to write or did I just want to ‘be a writer.’

So I began writing again, but I also began reading books by other writers about their writing processes. And it turned out I wasn’t the only one battling the ‘wanting to write but never doing it’ problem. But no matter how much I studied the problem, I couldn’t find a solution. People just said they decided to take their writing seriously, or would sit in their writing chair no matter how unmotivated they felt.

I even tried forcing myself to sit down and write a certain number of words a day because that was the advice from several writers. But that didn’t work for me because I mostly write by hand so it was distracting to have to stop and count words all the time. Eventually, I settled for writing for a certain amount of time every day. But that became a problem too.

I’d tell myself that I’d write from 9am to 12am every day. But other things would happen and I wouldn’t be at my desk at 9am so I’d blow my schedule. I event tried writing at different times of the day thinking that maybe I wasn’t a morning writer but an afternoon or evening writer. But that didn’t work either because no matter what hours I scheduled for writing, things kept getting in the way. I also tried going somewhere else to write every day so I’d walk to the library or sit in the park, but the weather would often stop me by being too hot or too wet or too windy.

Then I read an article by an author about her writing schedule. She is a prolific and award-winning novelist and she says that she writes for 2 hours a day. She doesn’t set the hours she writes except whether she writes in the morning or afternoon/evening. Some days she writes for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon as well. But she has her 2-hour daily schedule and sticks to it. She also said that if something else comes up in the morning and she doesn’t get her 2 hours done, she does her 2 hours later. And she also said she’s surprised when people call her prolific, but her simple writing routing does allow her to write more than most others.

I thought that was brilliant. A writing schedule with a set number of hours, but no exact time to do it. So I did the same. I wrote up a loose schedule of 2 hours every morning, minimum. Two days a week, my schedule is to write 2 hours in the afternoon as well. And it doesn’t matter what I’m writing just as long as I’m writing. And it works out well because some of that time may be taken up with online work, or correspondence, or any number of other writing-related tasks. But I don’t have to worry about getting them done because I know I’ll get to them during my writing schedule.

And this frees me up to get on with other things when I’m not writing. And when I am writing, if I’m deeply into what I’m working on, I carry on as long as I need to.

So after all my years of trying to figure out the best time for me to write, it turned out that my schedule was just too strict. So every morning I know I have to write for 2 hours, so I need to be sitting down by 10am at the latest. And if my schedule also involves the afternoon, then I know I have to be sitting down by 3pm. I usually sit down well before these times, I mean, why wouldn’t I?

And this schedule gives me plenty of time to do other things, like chores. I cannot sit down and write if the dishes aren’t done or there are other outstanding things that need doing. But my schedule gives me time to do them which frees up my mind to write without the distraction of things that have been left undone.

I also have several writing projects on the go all the time, so if I get stuck on one, I move on to another. I find that taking a break from a piece of writing can free up my creative brain so that by the time I get back to it, I’ve got fresh ideas.

Also, having an established daily writing habit, means that it’s something I want to do every day. They say that we don’t miss something unless we’re used to having it, such as, if you ate a piece of chocolate cake every day, you’d miss it if you gave it up. Or if you go for a run every day, you miss it on days when you can’t do it.

Which is probably why I like to write short stories at night. I don’t know why, but after my shower, which I usually take after dinner, I like to sit down and write short fiction or read for a while (maybe an hour). Again, it probably comes down to routine. It’s something I started doing a long time ago and I still do it. It’s so routine that as soon as I’ve had my evening shower, I look forward to either picking up the book I’m reading, or I get out my folder where I keep my short stories and carry on with the one I’m currently working on. It’s like my own private little quiet time that I always look forward to at the end of the day. Yet at the same time I used to struggle with writing during the day.

I used to think that I couldn’t sit down and write if I didn’t feel inspired. But that’s just BS. Stephen King put it best when he said, “Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon, or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up.”  
~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

And he’s right. Just sitting down, getting out all my stuff ready for writing, and looking at what I’m currently  working on, gets me straight back into my writing. Which is why his other quote is true when he said: 

The scariest moment is always just before you start.” 

It’s all about starting. Starting isn’t hard. It’s making yourself start that can seem hard. I know that I have to sit down and write for a minimum 2 hours a day, so I’ve stopped giving myself excuses like, “I just don’t feel like writing,” or “I don’t have any idea what to write,” or “I haven’t been shopping today and there’s loads of stuff I need to get.” I know that all I have to do is sit down and I’ll soon be writing. Sometimes, if I find I can’t sleep and I wake up in the early hours of the morning, I go and get myself a cup of herbal tea, sit down at the dining table, and start writing. This helps to focus my mind and after an hour or two, I’m either tired enough to go back to bed, or I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I keep writing till breakfast time. Either way it’s a win-win. And I still sit down and do my 2 hours later because a schedule is a schedule so I need to stick to it.

So if you’re struggling to sit down and write, just decide how long you’re going to write every day, put it in your schedule, and stick to it. And before you know it, writing daily is a habit and you won’t want to stop or you’ll miss it.

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