Creating a Writing Schedule That Works
Like most writers, you probably have a full-time job and family commitments, but that doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish your goal of writing a book (or a second or third…). Many successful writers, such as Harper Lee, Agatha Christie, and Toni Morrison, had the same obligations.
When I wrote my first book, it took me months to figure out a cadence that worked for me. I tried writing at certain times of the day, tested out different rituals, but what ultimately worked was setting a daily word count goal.
Before diving into how (and why) this works, I’ve also figured out some advice that has been distracting, rather than helpful. These were time-wasters and didn’t help me put words on a page:
Writing Advice to Ignore
Scheduling Writing Sessions
It’s common advice to “schedule your writing time in your calendar and show up for it as if it were a dentist appointment.” This tip has never worked for me. I found that having an arrangement with myself meant I would easily skip it for more sleep, a social plan, or simply because I wasn’t in the mood. The other reason this doesn’t work is because only scheduling an hour might not be enough. If you use that hour as “warm up time,” then you might end the hour without writing anything.
Joining a Writer’s Group
Having a writing community around you can be a huge bonus, but it’s not necessary before you start. If anything, focusing on finding writing buddies or accountability partners can hold you back from just getting started.
It’s a myth that you have to be on social media to be a successful writer. Cal Newport is a great example of a bestselling author who doesn’t have any social accounts! Agents would rather read a great manuscript than see a writer with 10k followers. That being said, having a large following is seen as a plus. If you can manage both, great. If not, don’t worry about it.
Writing Advice to Consider
Write 800 words per day
If you commit to writing 800 words per day Monday through Thursday, you can write a 70k-word novel in 5.5 months. The root of success is consistency: small amounts daily and thinking about your story constantly. Here are some questions that may come up for you:
“How can I write 800 words if I don’t know what my story is about yet?”
Writing is the best way to figure out what your story is. What character comes to the page? What situation are they in? What line are they saying and to whom? If you get ideas onto the page, you’ll find what resonates.
“What if I write 10,000 words of a story I don’t like?”
Chances are, if you’ve gotten yourself to write 10k words of a story, that means you’re onto something. But if you find yourself truly hating it, you’ll be surprised how pieces of that book, such as characters or storylines, can be moved into a new story. Or, even if it all ends in a throwaway pile, you’ve created a habit of writing every day and that’s worth something.
“What if I write 800 words of gibberish that doesn’t connect?”
You’ll likely write different scenes in one day and you’ll understand what you need to flesh out later. This is completely okay. You might have to skip days to reread and take notes. Or think through what scenes are next. Either way, that’s progress.
“When am I supposed to find time to write?”
This is the difference between saying “I’m going to write from 7-8am every morning” and “I’m going to write 800 words per day.” With this goal, you get to write when it works for you, as long as you do it at some point during the day.
I’ve been writing my second novel entirely in the Notes app on my computer and phone, which means I can write even when I’m not on my computer. This has been an advantage, as sometimes I write 800 words right before bed, which means I can skip the next day (or get ahead of schedule). I’ve also downloaded the VoiceTextPro app on my phone to write while I drive.
“If I write 800 words per day then I won’t be focusing on other important tasks, such as editing, building an audience, or submitting to agents.”
Writing 800 words per day only helps you achieve the goal of writing regularly. You’ll need to find time to do other writing-related tasks, such as re-reading, editing, and working on your book marketing strategy.
I dedicate roughly 10-20 hours per week to my writing career and I divide up my time into four quadrants:
Write 800 words per day.
Dedicate one day per week to edit existing work. This can be your current work in progress or a previous book that you want to revise.
Submit to literary agents if you have a polished manuscript that’s ready to be queried.
This area means a lot of different things:
Connect with fellow writers
Visit local bookstores and build relationships
Meet up with local writers for a monthly or quarterly lunch or writing critique session
Build a foundation for a future marketing program, such as posting on social accounts, having a website, writing guest blogs, etc.
Add value for others, such as sharing advice and resources that have helped you
The core of this section is to connect with the outside world so the writing process is more than just you and your computer. This will also set you up for success down the road.
“Don’t Break The Chain”
Jerry Seinfield had a goal to write 1 joke per day, so he put a calendar on his wall and crossed off every day that he wrote a joke. Whether it was good or bad, he got in the habit of writing daily. This is sometimes referred to as not “breaking the chain.” I’ve started doing this for every day that I write:
When you see the visual representation of completing a task and your frequency, it encourages you to keep going.
Reconsider Social Media
If you’re struggling to find time and energy to write, then you need to re-evaluate what you’re spending time on each day.
It takes less than 10 seconds to delete all social media apps from your phone. And you can still access them from your computer, so it’s not as severe as cutting it off completely.
Download a Google Chrome extension called Work Mode. Turn it on when you start writing or turn off Wifi completely.
Think of the options that are available to you and seize them. You don’t have to stay “stuck.”
Assess Your Mindset Frequently
If something has been holding you back, try writing a 400-word blog post on the topic. For example, if you’re having trouble dealing with a doubt, such as “my writing will never be read by anyone.” Write a two-part blog post on why it might not matter and how to calculate the odds people will read your work. This could be an interesting way for you to find out:
1) There’s value in simply writing
2) Your chances of being read can be calculated and the odds are better than you think (or worst case scenario, you can revert to #1)
Celebrate Hitting Your Goals
Being dedicated to a goal every day for 5.5 months without an external reward can be tiring, but if you celebrate small victories along the way, you can break it down into manageable steps. Here are some rewards I’ve created for my second novel:
|5k||Swim in the Lake on a Hot Day|
|10k||Dine Out at a Fancy Restaurant|
|60k||Dine Out at an Even Fancier Restaurant|
Don’t Worry About Perfection and Planning
If you need to have all your characters and chapters mapped out before you start, then it’s going to take you months to get started, and you’ll have characters who seem like a shell of a person.
Sometimes the best way to craft characters and a story is to let the writing itself help you explore and make decisions. Your subconscious reveals thoughts to you easily via writing. You can let that be your guide.
If you’re overwhelmed, write down everything that you’re working on and start crossing things off. You may be worrying about something that you don’t have to do.
Creating a writing schedule that works for you might look different than setting an 800-word daily goal. This is just how I achieved writing my first book and it’s also working for my second, so I wanted to share. I spent months trying to figure out the best way to carve out time to write, and this has really worked for me. I’d love to hear what other writers are doing. Feel free to send me your goal and progress to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what’s been working for you along the way!