If you’ve read other posts on this site, you may have noticed that balance is a big theme. I think it’s important for us as writers to be dedicated to our writing, but I don’t believe we should run ourselves into the ground trying to make our dreams come true. Instead, I think that we should strive to push ourselves without killing ourselves. And if you ask me, that starts with creating a writing schedule that accommodates both our writing and lives.
With that in mind, here are eight steps to making an effective and practical writing schedule:
1) Find an amount of time you can write consistently
Consistency really is the key to completing your book and reaching your goals. If you truly value your writing, you need to make time for it. How much time depends on your life, commitments, and work style, but I would say you’re better off doing a little bit every day than a lot once in a while. If you’re just starting out, see if you can carve out fifteen to thirty minutes a day. The goal, in the beginning, is to simply make writing a habit. You may not end up writing every day once you settle in (I don’t!) but the point here is to get yourself in the used to writing on a regular basis. Once it’s a habit for you, you can have more flexibility. For now, just get yourself used to showing up regularly.
2) Figure out a realistic word count goal
Now that you’ve got a sense of how much time you can commit to, consider how much you’d like to get done during that time. I find having some kind of plan or goal for each day helps me to stay focused on my work. If I know what I need to get done in the time frame, I’m less likely to end up online or wasting time in some way. The key here is to be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish in that time period. You may have to time yourself in the beginning. See how long it takes you to write 100 words at a normal pace. Once you know that, you should be able to figure out what you can get done in your given time frame.
3) Consider making your actual goal 15%-20% less
That word count goal you just figured out? That’s how much you can accomplish if your story is cooperating, you’re not interrupted, and everything is going your way. That’s the dream! But it’s also not something you can always depend on. Instead, consider making your goal 15%-20% less than you can reasonably accomplish. If you accomplish this new goal early, spend the rest of your time going for that dream goal.
Setting an achievable goal is crucial to maintaining a regularly effective writing schedule. It’s important to feel like you’ve accomplished something each writing session, so you’re motivated to show up again the next day. For more on setting reasonable writing goals, check out these posts: How to Set Manageable Writing Goals, Why Setting Reasonable Goals is Important.
4) Commit to keeping your schedule for 21 days
Once you come up with your daily writing schedule and goal, commit to keeping it for 21 days. That’s allegedly how long it takes to build a habit. Don’t worry about what comes after those 21 days. Don’t worry about maintaining this time for the length of your book. Just worry about the 21 days! Set reminders. Turn down last minute offers to socialize. Fully commit as much as possible to these 21 days and protect your writing time at all costs.
But keep in mind, your writing time doesn’t even have to come at the same time every day unless that works for you. Just strive for the same amount of time at some point each day. Though, I’d suggest starting each day by planning when you will write. The more intentional you are, the more likely you’ll find the time. If you plan to squeeze it in when you can, there’s no guarantee that time will ever come. For more on how to commit to your writing, check out this post!
5) Assess and adjust
Once you make it to the end of your 21 days, you’ll likely learn a lot about how you work best. Now it’s time to adjust your writing schedule based on what you’ve learned. Did you feel like time was up as you were just getting into things? See if you can find more time for yourself. Did writing every day burn you out? Try cutting back to five or six days a week. Did you find it too hard to stick to the same amount of time each day? Could you be productive with a little less time on some days? Adjust accordingly, then try your new schedule for another 21 days (if you’re not writing every day, try for 21 writing days).
6) Do your very best to show up every day, but if you miss a day, let it go
This is where the “push yourself, don’t kill yourself” comes in. Somedays, life might get in the way. Maybe you chipped your tooth and spend the day at the dentist, or you need to pick your kid up early from school and you lose your writing time. If life happens, don’t beat yourself up or stay up extra late when you’re exhausted and run down. Don’t kill yourself! Let it go and add another day to your 21 day writing commitment.
On the other hand, if you have the writing time but “just don’t feel like it,” push yourself. Suck it up, get in front of your computer or notebook and WRITE. Even if you don’t meet your goals, move your project forward. Once you build a regular writing habit, you can play hooky sometimes. But until then, force yourself to show up when you plan to.
7) If you do need to catch up, don’t do it all at once
I wouldn’t recommend putting too much deadline pressure on yourself when you’re just starting out. Once you have a writing habit you can add deadlines. You’ll likely be able to handle that deadline better if you’re used to writing on a consistent basis.
But if you have a deadline, whether it be self-imposed or for a contest or editor, and you can’t write a missed day off, try not to catch up all at once. Doubling up might burn you out and you may run the risk of falling even farther behind. If you planned on writing 500 words on the day you missed, try adding 100 words to your goal for five days. That should put you back where you need to be without pushing yourself beyond your limits.
8) If you miss more than a day here and there, re-evaluate your commitment
Life may get in the way sometimes, but if that happens more often than not, you may want to think about re-evaluating your commitment. If you planned a half hour, consider scaling back to fifteen minutes and really digging into it.
However, if it seems that even that’s asking too much, you might want to re-evaluate your priorities. If you’re not getting your time in because you keep saying yes to outings with friends, or non-essential favors for friends and family, I’d encourage you to be more protective of your writing time if you really want to finish your book. (I have a whole post on how to protect your writing time and say no to others.) If you’re losing time because of a family emergency or some other serious, time-consuming situation, consider putting your writing aside for now. Handle your situation or adjust to your new normal, then come back and try this process again.
I hope this helps you create an awesome writing schedule that works for you!
Now it’s your turn: What does your writing schedule look like? What helps you stick to it? What do you struggle will? Tell me about it in the comments!
Pin it up!