Making the time to write is universally one of the most challenging parts of being a writer.
It does not matter how long you have been writing, how much or little experience you have, how much you have or have not published, how close to your definition of “success” you happen to be at right now. Writing time is precious, but for some reason, each and every one of us seem to struggle with this in different but equally exhausting ways.
Why is it so difficult to manage writing time? Probably because most of us have absolutely no idea how to make time for anything that does not involve an appointment or a solid due date … or other people sending you passive aggressive emails asking you why you haven’t turned in your work yet because it should have been done by now but technically I can’t tell you what to do so … hello?
For many people, taking on a new hobby or skill or line of work such as writing starts with figuring out when you are going to take time out of your day to practice on a regular basis. Yes — even writers practice. That’s why that random 500 words about your cat’s imaginary friend Steve that is still hiding on your hard drive technically was not a waste of time. All forms of practice count.
When it comes to creating schedules, there is a tendency to treat every writing session as an “appointment.” Which makes sense — I do this too, on occasion, to hold myself accountable. But for some people, establishing a set time to write does not actually work.
So are there other options for aspiring and working writers to consider? Of course there are. Please allow me some time to tell you about them — and remind you why it’s OK that there are different ways of making writing work for every writer out there.
Routines are helpful, but they are not guaranteed. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but this is a concept I simply could not comprehend until my mid-20s when I adopted a dog. I know, I know. Here me out.
I am the type of person who gets frustrated when her alone time is interrupted — don’t we all, to a certain extent? Unfortunately, this distaste for spontaneous changes in the schedule that only exists in my head often transfers over to my writing time. If I say I want to start writing at eight o’clock, I would very much prefer to start writing at eight o’clock on the dot.
Guess what usually does not happen at eight o’clock on the dot these days? Writing. Not because I can’t stick to a schedule, but because it turns out dogs have absolutely zero concept of human time — except, to a certain extent, when it is usually time for food, walk, outside, and “dad comes home.”
So even when I want to sit down at eight o’clock and start writing, it is very likely that Isabella would much rather play with a toy or snuggle with her mom (me) on the couch. Eight o’clock writing time postponed. It doesn’t usually bother me too much when something soft and warm and adorable is involved, if I am being completely honest.
To schedule writing time into your busy (sometimes soft and cuddly) life, you first have to understand that routines, as an adult, are very often as close to a myth as you can get. You know this if you have tiny humans, friends or colleagues who thrive on spontaneity, or you own a high-energy doggo that can’t survive five seconds without being the center of attention.
So the next step in figuring out how to formulate even a loose writing schedule is to figure out how you personally prefer to track your writing progress or how you want to structure your writing sessions.
Your writing session does not have to start at a certain time. Trust me, the moment I realized this, my entire life changed forever — and for the better.
I like appointments. I like when things start and end at specific times (God forbid a brainstorming meeting runs over even just one minute … okay, to be fair, I’m a little more flexible than that). Knowing this, I always thought structuring my writing time with “eight o’clock on the dot” in mind was the only way that I would be able to motivate myself to sit down and write even when I did not necessarily feel like doing it.
Thankfully, I was very, very wrong. See? Being wrong isn’t the worst thing in the world. This is why we learn.
In reality, treating your writing sessions like appointments — with a set start and end time — is not the worst way to do it. For some people. Every writer is different in a variety of ways, and this extends to their preferences when it comes to deciding what a writing “session” looks like for them.
Some organize their writing schedules through blocks of time, but not necessarily at a specific time of day (especially those with unpredictable schedules like mine). Instead of saying they want to start writing at eight o’clock on the dot, for example, they instead decide they are going to write for at least one hour on the day they choose to write.
This hour could begin at eight and end at nine. It could be broken up into two 30-minute segments, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It could begin whenever you first get a chance to sit down for a straight (hopefully uninterrupted) hour to get it all done in one go.
Other writers prefer to track their writing sessions by word count, page count, sometimes even chapter count depending on what they are working on. They don’t measure whether or not their writing session is over for the day based on time, but instead based on the quantity of work they have accomplished. When I am actively working on the first draft of a novel, for example, I usually measure my sessions not by time but by 1,000-word blocks. If I can get a thousand words in on the days I am working, I call that a success.
Even still, others don’t write in sessions, necessarily, but in terms of assignments. This is especially the case for freelancers, bloggers, and others who typically work on multiple smaller projects at once multiple times throughout the week. Your only goal today might be to write a blog post, or an article, or the first draft of an email newsletter. It’s not about time or quality, it’s about making sure you produce the best quality piece of writing you can today. Sometimes only one thing gets done. And that’s OK, as long as it’s the best work you could have done.
Your preferences will most likely change depending on the day or what you are working on. Just know that it never has to be set in stone. In fact, it might very rarely be able to stay the same from day to day. And do you know what? There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way the lives of creators tend to go.
You do not have to write every day. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WRITE EVERY DAY. I will repeat this in bold and all caps as many times as I have to just in case those in the back weren’t listening. Because there are far too many self-proclaimed experts out there who still claim “daily writing” is the only way to function and succeed, and plenty of aspiring writers who innocently believe them.
Here’s the truth: Writing every day is not necessary. It isn’t even beneficial for most of the writers who try to make it happen. There is this widespread myth that daily writers are somehow better or more successful or more “serious” than writers who don’t follow this pattern. It’s ridiculous. And for some, misleading and even dangerous.
While it’s true that consistency in terms of your “practice schedule” will ensure that you will gradually continue to improve with the passing of time, there is no reliable evidence that writing every day will bring you to your own personal finish line faster. There is no guarantee that it will teach you more than what others might learn from writing less. There is nothing “better” about forcing yourself to do something every day without taking breaks.
If you are just starting out and you feel that daily writing is what you need to make writing more often a regular habit in your life, then by all means, spend a few weeks or even a month making writing a daily part of your routine, if you can.
But don’t do this with the idea that you HAVE to. A schedule is not meant to necessarily check off daily boxes. You can write every day if you want to. But anyone who says you have to or that you “aren’t a real writer” if you don’t doesn’t actually know what they’re talking about. Just because it may have worked for them in the past does not mean it will work for you, especially if you try and force it.
Writing is hard. Time management is hard. This is not an easy road, which is why not everyone in the world has their own book they are trying to sell or blog they have kept up with consistently for over a decade. This stuff takes hard work and massive effort, discipline, and of course, a LOT of time. More time than most expect either going into it or looking at it from the outside in.
Use your time wisely. Figure out the kind of schedule that is going to work best for you. And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy at least some of the time you spend writing. This is a privilege. Cherish your words, even on the days they don’t come as easily as you would like them to.
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.