Writing to a Schedule
It is probably appropriate that the Tuesday’s post was typed right around midnight the day before. In my present, it is just shy of the bell toll Monday night—and this is the first chance I have had to dedicate time to the blog. I am tired and the cats are mewing that it’s bedtime (or that they need a second dinner); my eyes are a little buggy, and I keep missing the space bar.
So. Why am I writing this now? Because I made a commitment—I will write for the blog everyday of the work week.
Dead-lines and time-lines
Some people like deadlines. They work best when the clock ticks over their heads, measuring out lives in the clicking of Greenwich’s cosmic meridian. Personally, I can’t say I particularly enjoy the crush of time. I’d be happier not really knowing if it’s Tuesday in June or Friday in August. But even so, I still like a schedule. There is something very necessary in routine—it is 6am, so I must go to the gym. It is 9:30 so I must begin transcribing these notes—or grading these papers—or preparing these documents. It’s a bit of emotional training, a bit like finding that writing place (mentioned in an earlier blog). Writing to a schedule is one more way of chasing the muse.
Schedules have to be flexible sometimes. Finishing at 3pm would have been more sensible than finishing at midnight—but at least I am finishing. That is the way forward. I have three jobs. So do most authors, even the professional ones (who are also fathers/mothers/lovers/children/ caretakers/teachers/speakers/agents/marketers and etc.) Without some accountability, we could not manage.
I won’t lie to you. Not everyone thinks the writing schedule matters… The Renegade Writer, for instance, asks: Are you unable to stick to a schedule? Here’s why it doesn’t matter. But for many of us, it is truly a necessity. Let’s take a page from academic writing. You have a goal—you want to finish your dissertation and get your degree, for instance. It is no good waiting for a flash of inspiration. Yes, we certainly hope that comes. But these usually arrive with—or in the middle of—work. It’s more like gardening than you might suppose (all those garden-plot metaphors from the 18th century can’t be wrong). You dig, you furrow, you water, you plant. Eventually something grows from it
Writer-online suggests following six steps—including keeping track of how you spend your free time. Study Hacks Monday Master Class provides some additional ideas, culled from professional writers of non-fiction.
To keep it simple, we will stick with five writer-schedule goals: easy to remember, easy to follow.
- Clear your head. It doesn’t matter if you give yourself five minutes or five hours; if you are distracted or preoccupied, you won’t get work done. I usually try to clear out the little things first—do the quick items, make lists to keep track of those to be done later. Put the angst to rest or you can’t do your best.
- Chart your day. You know yourself. Take a look at the average day and figure out 1) when you have most energy and inspiration and 2) when you have the fewest other obligations. What you will find is that these two things do not regularly overlap—mostly because we schedule the greatest number of things during times when we feel most able to complete them. By charting your day, however, you will find those sacred hours when you have both energy and time—perhaps at the edges of your bell-curve. These are the working hours.
- Copy your schedule. I mean this in two ways. First, copy it down—make it concrete. Paste it somewhere you are likely to see it. On the fridge. In your workspace. On your PC. Second, copy the routine. For at least a week, stick to the schedule. You need to train yourself and also to try out the schedule as you have imagined it.
- Complete your tasks. Now that you have provided a time and endeavored to be there mentally and physically, schedule and complete some tasks. It does not have to be that formal. “Free write for ten minutes” is fair game. But set goals and do your best to accomplish them; there is nothing like progress for progress.
- Be Charitable to yourself. Be reasonable. Allow for flexibility. Expect bad days. Do not beat yourself up and don’t expect miracles (back to the dissertation writer: you will NOT write a chapter in one day. You just won’t.) Realistic, humble goals that you can meet without making youself crazy: that’s what you want.
So, Clarity, Charting, Copying, Completion, Charity. Five C’s
In many ways, making time to write is an act of willful deliberation, a decision that you won’t allow other things to replace writing time, even if it occasionally displaces it. Like any other profession—any other important work—writing will require (and does deserve) our time and attention. A writing schedule is not supposed to be a whip—or a carrot. It is a framework for arranging our time so we have time to arrange our works
And what do you know… 12:09. It is tomorrow. Welcome to the Tuesday Fiction Reboot: Writing to a schedule
Tomorrow, tune in for the next installment of Here Comes Troubelle! And later this week, the interview with Alex Grecian. (Coming soon! Robin Blake, Barry Lyga and Stephen Gallagher!)