You plan out your story, you plan out your characters’ arcs, you even plan what you’re going to do once your fifth version of a draft seems presentable enough to show to someone else.
But there’s one type of planning you might not be doing enough of — and you should be.
Humans are terrible time managers — but you don’t have to be. Listen. Between the time-sucking powers of social media and internet streaming services, all those responsibilities that accompany adulthood, and “the hustle” constantly hanging over the head of everyone with unconventional career aspirations, 24 hours basically just feels like zero. How do we get it all done? Mostly, we don’t. Not all of it. Not ever.
When was the last time your to-do list was completely empty? Has it ever even happened to you? That’s because time management is something they — surprise! — actually don’t teach you in most organized education systems. They expect you to figure it out on your own. Some do. Some don’t. Still, we all struggle — not because we’re incapable of getting it together, but because it’s HARD. Life is UNPREDICTABLE. Stuff HAPPENS.
It’s safe to assume most members of the cultures that operate on strict time constraints are also really, really bad at it. Today I was minding my own business, being super productive at work, and decided I had time for a five-minute Twitter break. Twenty minutes later … yeah. I’m behind on work again. Oops?
We don’t do it on purpose. Time just gets away from us. We have no clue how to prioritize and save the least important tasks for last. We get frustrated when it’s nearly 10 p.m. and we haven’t gotten everything done. We might have a list of what needs doing, but it’s not in any particular order, and that’s why things sit there for days before we end up finishing them. Sound familiar? I bet it does.
Here’s the good news: There are ways to prevent bad time management from completely derailing all your ambitions. And it all starts with planning out, in greater detail, when you are going to sit down and work toward achieving your long-term goals.
You must plan out when you are going to write — especially if it isn’t a daily task. You do not have to write every day to become a successful writer. Let me repeat that: you do not have to write every day to become a successful writer. It is not a requirement. It is not some kind of magic formula that will guarantee your success or give you a major advantage over other aspiring writers.
But guess what will? Consistent practice. I know you’re probably tired of me beating this over your head by now, but that’s why I keep repeating it over and over. If you don’t keep coming back to your craft, it’s going to continue to feel like a chore. You have to get into the habit of sitting down and doing it, almost to the point where you barely have to think twice about it.
But why plan when — maybe even where and what and how — you’re going to write before you get to it? Simple: It lowers your barrier to entry and forces you to actively resist a commitment, which is actually harder to do than passively deciding, “Nah, not today.”
A plan — think of it as treating your writing time like an appointment that isn’t casually skippable — isn’t going to stifle your creativity. It isn’t going to suck all the fun out of your craft. Who knows? It might become something you actually start looking forward to once your brain starts to recognize the pattern and can anticipate the thrill.
This, of course, requires that you actually follow through on the commitment you’ve forced yourself to make. Which, in turn, depends on the fact that you’ve created a plan you can actually stick to, instead of one someone else claims is the “right” one.
Creating a plan that works only requires that it works for you personally. One of the major downsides to giving (and seeking out) writing advice on the internet is that it’s nearly impossible to suggest tips and strategies that will work for everyone universally. Every writer has their own preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and pain points. Everyone moves at their own pace. Everyone has different goals, and achieves them by following different paths.
So when you are sitting down to figure out how you will go about actively pursuing your writing goals, you can only take bits and pieces of others’ advice and apply it to your own life to fit your own needs and desires. You have to be honest with yourself and admit what you can and can’t handle. And you have to be willing to compromise and make sacrifices along the way — all for the sake of your craft.
Here are just a few questions you can ask yourself when coming up with a writing plan. Starting with just a few of these can help you start to identify and tackle your creative barriers so that you can begin (and continue) writing even when you face daily challenges and roadblocks.
- What time(s) of day are you most productive? Is it possible to do at least some writing during that time?
- Is there an activity or commitment on your schedule that can be moved to a different day/time?
- Can you seek outside help in an effort to create small blocks of time set aside for writing (a babysitter? Dog walker? Trading off responsibilities with your partner)?
- Are there certain activities you can afford to give up or do less of and replace them with writing? (Netflix?)
- Can creating a new habit simultaneously create more time for writing? (Waking up 30 minutes earlier on certain days? Meal prepping on the weekends to save time during the week?)
- Do you know what’s most likely to derail you from your plan? Do you have a plan in place for when your plan starts to unravel?
Creating time in your world for writing isn’t easy. Things come up. Plans change. Schedules fall out of sync. Routines scatter. But what almost always remains constant is this: Writing is something you have wanted to take more seriously for a while, and it’s not something you want to give up on. Even in moments you have to step away from it, you don’t just stop thinking about it. You try, in your head, to map out when you will be able to come back to it.
This means you are dedicated. You want this. Your desire is stronger than your fear, your doubt, your busyness, your uncertainty. You’re not perfect — none of us are. You might try and fail to establish some kind of routine, some knd of foolproof writing schedule, many times. But that’s okay — because trying, really trying, is so much better than never having tried at all.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.