Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How and Why You Need To Schedule Your Writing Time


I used to spend a lot of time on Pinterest, looking for tips on how to become a better writer. One day, as I was scrolling through, I came across a pin that said: “The three steps to becoming a great writer – 1) write 2) Write 3) WRITE.” I kind of smirked and kept scrolling. I mean, I was looking for real tips, not sarcasm. After spending almost an hour on research, I began getting frustrated at the lack of good advice in this area, so I decided to shut down my computer and call it a day. Just as my screen went blank, my mind suddenly lit up with inspiration. Those three steps to becoming a great write were possibly the most genius things I had ever read!

There is no specific formula for becoming a better writer. No one can teach you that. You have to learn it for yourself. How? By writing. All the time.
But telling yourself this just simply isn’t enough. Believe me, I know. When I first saw those 3 steps and realized their significance, I told myself I needed to write more and that I’d start soon. And then I got too busy or decided I’d wait till tomorrow to write. And then tomorrow would come, and guess who sat down and started to type? Not me. So I came up with a solution. I am now what I like to call a Scheduled Writer and wow, what a difference!

But wait, you’re a writer. You can’t force creativity! You have to be in a specific mood to write!

Lies. All lies.

Think about it. In order to become good at something, you have to practice. You have to form a habit, a schedule. Writing is no exception. Yes, it’s hard for the first few days, but after that, you’re golden. Your writing will be better, your productivity will be greater, and your ideas will come more quickly. Don’t believe me? Just give it a chance. Follow these 9 steps for 3 weeks and then see how you feel:

1.      Pick a time of day. By choosing a specific time of day to write, you won’t be able to put it off for a ‘few minutes,’ which we all know usually turns into hours. I like to start writing at 5:30 in the morning, which I know is a bit crazy for most people. But I like it because I know nobody else will interrupt me. But if 5:30 a.m. is not an option, try to pick a time of day that you know will be yours, and yours alone. This time should be used for writing only. No social media, no e-mail, internet for only project specific use.
2.      Pick a place. It’s easier to form a habit if your surroundings are the same every single time. So pick a place to sit and write that you enjoy. I like to write at my desk in my room or sitting in bed. 
3.      Plan how long you want to write. No, don’t set a word count. This is possibly the worst piece of advice I’ve ever tried to follow. It just stressed me out and made me feel bad when I was unable to finish my 1,000 words by the time other duties asserted themselves. Having a minimum time limit is great because it’s not stressful and allows you to fit it into your life more easily. I like to write for at least 30 minutes, but 20 minutes works too. Sometimes I only get a few paragraphs, but that’s okay because it’s better than nothing. However, most of the time I end getting ‘inspired’ and writing much more than that.
4.      Decide how many days a week you want to be on a writing schedule. It shouldn’t be less than 5 days, otherwise the habit becomes too easy to break. The more frequent, the easier it is to stick to. However, it probably shouldn’t be every day of the week. It’s good to take a break and have ‘freedom days,’ days where you can choose to write or just let it alone. I only stick to a writing schedule on the week days, but that’s just me.
5.      Tell the world of your commitment. In this case, pride is a very helpful thing. If you tell others what you are planning on doing, you’ll be less likely to break your habit. If you have a Facebook, post every day that you stick to your plan. If you use Twitter, tweet about it ( #TheScheduledWriter). If you have a blog, post about it. Yes, you get to brag about how many days you’ve stuck to your schedule. But here’s the thing: you have to tell the world if you quit or mess up. And if you’re anything like me, that is not at all appealing.
6.      Find your weaknesses and destroy them. By now, you probably have come up with reasons why this will be hard for you. Write them down and then think of ways you can make these less of an issue. If you’re afraid of sleeping in, set an alarm clock. If you might get distracted by text messages, turn off your phone. It’s easier to deal with issues before they arise, so plan out how to remove any disruptions before they happen.
7.      Define writing. If you’re going to sit down and write on specific days, in specific places, at specific times, you need to have a specific definition of writing. If you’re trying to write a novel, don’t go writing a blog post. Find a category of writing you want to work in like novel writing, blog writing, short stories, or even editing and stick to that. Don’t bounce around from blogs to short stories to novels, otherwise you’ll never finish any of them.
8.      Give yourself some flex-space. Even though you should define the kind of writing you are doing, try to think outside the box. For example, just because you’re going to try to write a novel doesn’t mean you need to work on the book starting at Chapter 1, moving to Chapter 2, and then 3 and so on and so forth. You can write scenes for chapter 22 even if you’re back in Chapter 4. You can go back and add scenes to Chapter 1 even if you’re almost finished with the epilogue. You can edit passages that your wrote just a few days ago. You can write out a character’s back story or a world’s history, even if it will never make it into the book. That way you won’t get stuck staring at a blinking cursor until your allotted time is up.
9.      Keep it fun. Just because it’s a schedule doesn’t mean it has to be unenjoyable. Listen to music, drink some tea, eat a cookie. Find things that make you happy and surround yourself with them while you write. This is really dorky and you can laugh at me if you want – I probably deserve it – but I have a little Ariel Polly Pocket standing right next to my computer. For whatever reason, that always provides me with a lot of amusement. It’s the simple things, right?

Now don’t let this be one of those articles you read and then shrug off! I challenge you to put these 9 steps to practice for 3 weeks (21 days). Let me know how it goes by tweeting me (@_HannahHeath) or leaving me a comment. I want to hear all about it!

16 comments:

  1. I am so going to try this! Thank you for actually laying out a strategy to make this work. So far I've been writing whenever I could during the day (or night), but I usually get bogged down by chores and entire days can pass without my having written a single word. Which is extremely frustrating.

    May I ask if this took from the first try for you? Or did you have mornings when you missed your writing time?

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad that you found it helpful. I'd love to know how it goes for you. =) It actually went pretty well for my first try. During the first two weeks I did miss a few mornings now and then, but all in all it went very smoothly. I was surprised at how easy/natural it felt. =)

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    2. So far so... OK :)) I missed two mornings last week on account of having come down with a cold, but I managed to make up for it in the meantime. I guess, as long as I try my best to stick by a schedule, that's still something.

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    3. Yay! Good for you. Hope you're feeling better now. =)

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  2. I just found this guide and am going to try it in the next couple of days, Thanks for the steps :)

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    1. Yay! I'm glad you found it helpful. Best of luck!

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  3. I am so doing this. YES. ALARMS ARE NOW SET.

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  4. These are great tips. The hardest thing for me is just STARTING. I am always so worried that I won't be able to bring the idea I can see in my head to justice on the page. So today I will just START WRITING! And hopefully stick to a schedule :)

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad to hear that. And try not to worry about not being able to do it justice. Maybe you won't get it perfect on the first try, but with editing and time, you can make it beautiful. =)

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  5. I am an independent game developer, but to pay the bills, my full time job is front-end web development. I'm also in a long-time relationship with my best friend, 2 dogs, a backlog of games to play and tv shows to watch (I find its important to digest media to help draw inspiration and motivation from, while critiquing its technique and execution) In addition, I run and maintain a social network website I built for game developers. It's quite a full plate to manage.

    With so much to do, my have-to's can easily fill 80-100 hours a week.

    For me, sticking to a schedule helps in one major way you didn't list:

    It helps alleviate guilt.


    With this work load, I have to - need to, even - enjoy my life. I have to be able to just curl up with some mindless shooting game, or catch up on 'just-for-fun' tv, like The Carbonaro Effect, where I'm not analyzing the medium.

    However, without a schedule, the entire time I'm doing something non-productive, I feel guilty for not working in that moment. Then, I feel too guilty and down on myself that when I am working, it's really hard and the time I spend doing it is less productive. A lot of the time, the guilt actually prevents me from working at all. The guilt adds up and creates a cycle of ever-increasing guilt that's hard to break.

    When I started implementing a schedule, it broke that cycle. During work time, it's time to work... but more importantly, when it's not work time, it's *not. time. to. work.* Even if I feel super motivated and energized to be productive, I refuse to work.

    I can let it go and actually enjoy my leisure time without wallowing in self-deprecating thoughts. When it is time to work again, all that pent up energy is fused with motivation and hope, and it reflects in my output.

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    1. What a great point! I also have noticed this with my own writing, but I've never been able to put it into words. For creative people, the line between work and play can sometimes be very thin. It's important to make time to allow ourselves to just unwind without feeling guilty. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

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  6. Thank you for this great post! The desire to write is all there, but sometimes the time isn't there. I work part-time with a schedule that is different every week, and am taking an online class with homework that isn't always predictable. I'm not using those as excuses, but those are my biggest obstacles to implementing a strategy like this.

    Do you have suggestions for scheduling writing time in a schedule that isn't consistent?

    Again, thanks for a great post! I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot. :)

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    1. Great question, Melissa. I've had trouble with this exact problem. What I've done is this: When your schedule keeps changing, you then have to decide to write whenever you have finished something specific on your schedule. For example: You just finished work, so now you're going to sit down and write. Or you just ate lunch, so now you're setting aside 30 minutes for writing. Or you have 20 minutes between a homework assignment and work, so you write then. So the times you write change every day, but at leasts there's some semblance of structure. It's kind of luck an "if this, then that" schedule. =) Hope this helps!

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  7. oh my goodness i have just binge read so many of your posts and damn you have given me SO MUCH HELP AND MOTIVATION ASWELL!!! Thanks so much, you are a writing queen!

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    1. Sorry, super late response. Somehow I didn't see this comment until today. So here we go:

      Awwww. This comment made my day! I rather like the title of Writing Queen. I think I shall keep it. =) Thank you! And I'm so happy that you're enjoying my blog and being helped by it! Happy writing!

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