Guest Post for The Writing World: Establishing a Writing Schedule

The Writer and the Writing Schedule

When setting out to write my WWII historical novel Why Aren’t You
Sweet Like Me? I felt that I needed to have certain writing goals in
terms of time and length. These became difficult to satisfy, but their
presence helped me complete my 110,000 word manuscript in a little
less than a year. You already have a writing schedule that works for
you? Stick to it! But keep in mind that every process can be perfected
just a little more!

Since I can only write at night, sticking to a schedule is crucial
(since sometimes I’d rather just relax with a Pepsi and The Walking
Dead than go over chapter summaries or work on my synopsis!) but the
commitment to a writing schedule is a decision that I make every day.
For instance, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is coming up on April
19th, and I will be having dinner with agent Don Maass. Due to this
very specific date, I want to have at least the skeleton (first draft)
of my second book EMPIRE completed. That means that I need to ensure
that I have 130 more pages (rounding out the book to a cool 300) to
complete my last 3 chapters (and while we’re doing math, that means
that 12 working days that I have, I need to be ACTIVELY writing 10-11
pages a night, not just doing my usual editing/writing from 8 pm – 12
am). This is a very steep goal. What’s more, is that I need to keep
this four hour window dedicated to writing, and that gets difficult
with 2 kids (a 3 year old and a 7 month old infant) who have nighttime
schedules of their own. So my advice is this:

1) MAINTAIN a schedule that is both feasible and enjoyable. You aren’t
going to feel like writing if you have to wake up at 5 am and slam an
espresso in order to get your writing in; also, your work will appear
forced (what one of my college poetry professor charmingly referred to
as “constipated” writing – classy, huh?) As such, clear this time. Eat
first. Make your phone calls. Do your household chores in advance so
that you are not distracted from it (though I do recommend having a
cup of tea nearby!) Take a few short breaks if you’re doing a marathon
session, but for me, having a timed deadline can hurt the process.
Need to edit? Time yourself! If you have to edit for more than 30
minutes, skip to the end and only do the final paragraphs. Give
yourself some leeway in terms of the finish line.

2) DEDICATE yourself to that schedule and don’t make excuses for why
you can’t do it. This is not the same as “making” yourself work. You
are simply allowing yourself the time/space/motivation to work. You’d
rather be doing something else instead of writing? It could be helpful
to recruit a writing buddy (yea Twitter!) to check up on you to keep
yourself accountable.

3) SET writing goals in terms of hours spent and pages written. For
instance, if your goal is to write 5 pages in 5 hours, and your
chapters are 25 pages long, then you have 5 days to do that single
chapter. That’s a part-time job! That’s serious! 10 pages a night is a
solid 4 hour stretch for me, but 7 or 12 or 2 might be the same amount
of work for you. It doesn’t matter. Your goals are your personal best?
That’s fine! Writing is just like another job, but it’s far more
enjoyable! Take it seriously. Have the will to complete your goals and
it pays off.

4) COMPLETE chapter outlines with different writing prompts to keep
you diversified and motivated before you start the creative process.
Coincidentally, Don Maass’ book The Fire in Fiction and his website
have prompts that not only stir the imagination, but they really
improve the quality of your work.

So my question to you is this: WHAT are the set goals in your writing?
HOW can you improve upon them? WHY is this important?


2 thoughts on “Guest Post for The Writing World: Establishing a Writing Schedule

  1. All great advice. I write in the evenings, too, when my wife and son have gone to bed and the house is quiet. There are some evenings, however, when I’m simply not “feeling it.” While this is rare, I don’t have a problem allowing myself to take a night off.

    There are times, where, if I force myself to write, I’m simply setting myself up for failure. Taking a night off here and there, I find, recharges the creative batteries. But that’s just me!

    • You are quite right! Taking a break to read another book or to get some distance can be helpful (especially if you’re like me and find yourself repeating ideas). I guess I should just stress the need to take a break differs from the want to be lazy 😉

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