I know, I know. You hate planning ahead.
Or you’ve tried, and you can never seem to stick to a schedule.
Planning takes the spontaneity out of creativity. What’s the fun in that?
You technically don’t have to schedule specific writing time for yourself. If you just want to keep things casual, write when you feel like it, and ride the unpredictable, inconsistent waves of inspiration, you’re totally welcome to do that. I’m not here to tell you your way is the wrong way.
Let’s say, hypothetically, you set a goal at the beginning of the year to finish the first draft of your current work-in-progress (WIP for short).
You figure you’ll be able to make your way through the rest of the draft by October or November. Is it really the end of the world if you spend the first few months just mentally preparing yourself for the journey? And along the way, if you stop and take a few week-long breaks here and there, that’s probably fine.
Except time is a funny thing. When we’re not procrastinating, it moves so slow we have to check the clock to make sure it’s not moving backwards.
When we are, well, you already know how it goes.
One blink, one breath, one “I’ll do it tomorrow” and it’s six months later and OOPS you haven’t actually written a single word OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.
Do you see now, why avoidance of anything even resembling a schedule can result in your epic downfall?
What does it mean to “plan” or “schedule” writing time, anyway?
It does not mean you have to write every day. People who tell you that you have to write every day to become a successful writer aren’t dishing out good advice. Ignore them.
It does not mean that you have to drop everything else — friends, your job, sleep, chocolate cake — in order to succeed.
It doesn’t even mean you have to buy a planner or actually use the calendar app on your phone if that’s just not your thing.
However, it does mean you have to decide, here and now, several things.
When are you going to finish your book? Give yourself a hard deadline.
Decide your best strategy for getting from here to there. Do you need to write a certain number of words per week? Would you rather spend a certain number of minutes writing per day? Can you dedicate one day of the week in which you do nothing else but write?
From there, create a writing “schedule” you can stick to — but make it flexible. For example, Monday through Friday, before I start my full-time job at 8 a.m., I spend 45 minutes to an hour writing a blog post. I know that during this time, I am not to do anything else — no email, Facebook, or Subnautica (do not play this game, unless you can afford cognitive behavioral therapy for your new addiction). BUT, if for some reason I oversleep and this does not happen, I have an hour blocked out in the afternoon reserved either for blogging or … yes … Subnautica.
Block out time for ‘not writing.’ Schedule Subnautica into your daily life if you have to (or don’t). No one can, or should, work 24/7. Been there, barely survived that. I call these blocks of time “planned distractions.” Help your brain separate work time from play time, and don’t merge the two. If you need to write in one room and do all the fun stuff in another, make it happen.
You might think you’re a hopeless case, always on BuzzFeed when you should be writing. Chances are, you didn’t actually plan out your writing time beforehand. It’s not guaranteed you’ll actually follow through at first, or all the time. But the first step is to say, “From six to eight, I’m going to write. I’m going to block the websites that distract me, silence my phone, and get to work. But at eight, I’m going to stop writing and reward myself with
the strange pleasure of building an underwater base to hide from giant sea creatures something relaxing, because I earned it.”
Use your time wisely. It’s not as difficult as you might think.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.