Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing Schedule: How To Create and Manage Yours

Note: This time I'm inverting the order, so instead of babbling about my personal experience in the beginning, I'm showing you the good stuff first. Then I get to babble, heh.

So, when thinking about a writing schedule, first and foremost we should ask ourselves:


Why Having a Writing Schedule, And Why Not Having One?


What's the use of a writing schedule? Well, the obvious objective is organization.

"Why would I want to be organized? I'm a creative person, I have a naturally chaotic mind," you say.




Well, when we organize ourselves we're less susceptible to distractions, we tend to focus on the task ahead, increasing our productivity and allowing us to do more in less time.

Besides, there's the sense of accomplishment when finishing an assignment or a deadline -- without hair pulling and churning stomaches, that is.

"Ok, you've convinced me. What do I have to do?"

Oh, wait, before rushing into making yourself a schedule, you should consider if it's a good thing for you at all.

"Now you're contradicting yourself!" you say, frowning.

Yeah, in a way I am... You see, there are people who don't feel comfortable with assignments, even if they were the ones to assign the tasks!

I, for instance, like organization, but I always thought that a writing schedule would stifle my creativity, that I'd feel imprisoned. Incredibly enough, setting up and following a writing schedule felt liberating.

"How?" you ask.

Well, I made myself a flexible schedule. Stick around for a while and you'll learn how make a writing schedule that works for you. :)

Weekly Schedule


"Why make a weekly schedule? It takes several months to write a book!"

True, but months are composed of days and weeks, and by breaking a month into smaller periods of time you'll be able to manage your time better.

So, the weekly schedule would be good to help you setting aside some time for your writing activities...

  • writing (duh), editing;
  • researching;
  • submitting finished stuff;
  • networking, which includes blogging (writing your posts, reading other people's posts, and commenting), visiting friends on facebook, linkedin and other social network sites like twitter, etc;
  • marketing, which comprises some of the above plus participating on conventions and other events, organizing physical marketing material, etc.
... in a way that will not compromise your daily life; you know, those mundane activities:
  • cleaning up;
  • taking the kids to and from school;
  • walking the dog;
  • breathing;
So, how do you do it?

Well, start with making two lists, much like the ones above: one for the writing activities, and another for the mundane activities.

Now put them together in a time table more or less like this:

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
early morning
morning
afternoon
night
late night
obs: *

* "obs" stands for observations.

"But how exactly do I do it?" you ask me, "You gave me a blank template!"

Yes I did. You see, each person should create a schedule that fits better her necessities. That's why I called it a flexible schedule. But I understand why you feel lost, so here's how I mixed my writing and mundane activities in a table like the one above.

I'm much more productive at night, so instead of opening a line for early mornings, I left only line one for the whole morning, which activity was 'ZzzzzZzz'. (yes, sleeping, heh)

So, for the afternoons I've set time for the mundane activities, like cleaning the house, walking the dogs, etc. This was my personal choice, because the afternoons are the less productive periods of the day for me, so that's when I do things that don't demand mental effort.

I've also prepared myself to have teaching sessions in the afternoons and early nights. (Yup, in case you're wondering, teaching languages is my so-called day job.)

As the sun sets, this night owl's brain starts to wake up. So, the nights and late nights are the crucial part of my schedule, where I've put my writing activities and planning lessons.

Inspired by Kathleen Duey's example (aka @kdueykduey), who shared a simplified version of her schedule on #LitChat, I've decided to set aside two nights to visit other people's blogs, leave comments, chat freely on twitter, and connect with people on social network sites. (She has a different program, in case you're wondering.)

I've chosen two twitter chats to participate in, on regular basis: #Litchat (M-W-F at 4pm EST) and #writechat (Sun at 3pm EST), which on my time zone are 10pm and 9pm respectively.

Also, Sunday is the day I've dedicated to preparing the week's lessons, besides the #writechat time.

All remaining time I've left to the writing activities, with one exception. My whole Saturday was meant to be a resting day.

"Are you insane? Do nothing for a whole day? I could never do that!"

Well, if you don't mind me saying, maybe you should. It's very important to rest your mind and body for a whole day (a weekend would be even better), as you'll be able to resume your crazy routine with a refreshed and relaxed mind. Your productivity will increase significantly, I assure you! :)

Now, it's obvious that for a writer an important "writing" activity is reading. So, you can kill two rabbits at once by reading something useful for your work in your resting day. ;)

But I'd warn you against reading things that are not meant to give a kick at your inspiration. That is, if you have to take notes, read with critical eyes etc, it'd be better allocating this activity on a normal working day.

Finally, you may have noticed that I've created an "obs" line, for observations. I've chosen two days of the week in which I'd forbidden myself having any contact with social networking sites. Since the most distracting of them all is naturally twitter, where I've met so many good friends, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I've put a big "No Twitter" on my writing schedule, just in case I got tempted to say hi, heh.

To summarize, my (nocturne) writing schedule would be like this: 1 x 2 x3 (preparing lessons, networking, writing, respectively), besides the free day.

Monthly and Yearly Schedules

Now that you have your daily routine organized, it's time to decide what you're going to do with your writing time.

This is the moment you'll evaluate all your projects, ongoing and future, and determine which is/are your main focus.

For that, you'll need reflect upon an important skill:

Prioritizing


Riight, we all get to snort now. (if you haven't yet, that is, heh)

If you're published, or are about to be, the first thing to consider is your deadlines.

Now, if you're a freelance writer, you probably have many assignments, so I'd suggest you make a list of them before considering the ideas below to prioritize them: (in no particular order)
  • Which projects you're most fond of, and thus you feel more like writing at the moment?
  • Of those, which do you think would be more viable commercially? (if that's something you ever consider in regard of your writing, that is)
  • If time is an issue (as it usually is), which project will take less effort to finish?
So, if you put the deadlines, your mood, your view of the market, and the effort factor in a big bowl, mix and cook them in wood fire (like the old witches did) you'll have an almost instant writing schedule, with priorities set an all, heh.

So, why don't you tell me, do you have a writing schedule already? How did you set it up? Are you finding easy follow it, or hard? Did you find this post useful? Do you have doubts about my suggestions? You have something to add maybe? Go ahead, ask away or share your thoughts on the comments! :)

Final note: Here's where I found all the pictures used in this post: messy desk, neat desk, writing, breathing (I recommend reading the article that comes with the picture), sticky guy.

16 comments:

  1. Lots of good advice here. I, unfortunately, do not follow a schedule and this makes it really hard for me.

    I do spend too much time on Twitter. Your suggestion about setting aside specific times to connect here is a very good one. This way I can get my work done first, then reward myself with visiting with friends.

    I don't have any real deadlines so that's another problem. But, this is the year I want to write and submit AND get published...SO I should get myself on a happy schedule in order to accomplish this.

    Thank you, Mari-girl, for all the helpful suggestions!

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  2. Yikes! Gotta admit I'm a little terrified right now :)

    I'm a pretty global thinker and although I can create really pretty schedules, I don't like to follow them. Well, I do at school, but only 'cause I have too :)

    My job takes up so much time, I'm never able to schedule anything definitive for the evenings. Tonight I'm taking a short break checking out blogs, but I've got 4 hours or so of tests to mark and comment on. There's no such thing as a simple right or wrong on a test any more - I have to comment on each section about how the child can move to the next level. Lots of work!

    I'm a morning brain, but that's never possible for writing, so I just do what I can when I can. Wish I could have a more linear brain at times :)

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  3. Great post!
    I'm good to keep to a schedule, only thing is, it's often a schedule of things I like to do/are easy to do. For example, I'm putting off writing the third book, although I have a few ideas floating around, as it seems too hard for the moment! I'm lucky though, as I'm doing this full-time, I can imagine it's probably a lot harder to find a block of time to write, if you're also trying to hold onto a full-time job. Also, I like your idea of a monthly/annual schedule. I'm great for daily/weekly schedules, but not so much for long-term plans. Thanks!

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  4. Former-Witch FriendMarch 9, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    Thanks for the tips! I'm not a writer, but have a busy schedule, what with work at the office, taking care of the house, managing a Hare Krishna Temple and spending time with my beloved husband, so this schedule thing might come in hand to help me find time to breathe...

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  5. >> Marisa: I don't have deadlines either (except for preparing classes), but the schedule did help me focusing on my writing (on the periods I set aside for that) and relax when I was on twitter and hanging on the internet for fun (no guilt! heh).

    So, IMO it seems that a writing schedule could be good to you as well. If you decide to set one up, would you tell me how you felt? I'm curious by nature, heh. ;p

    >> Jemi: I truly believe that every creative mind is non-linear, or dare I say that every human mind is non-linear? Maybe the scientific ones would make an exception, but what I mean is that you shouldn't feel bad about not liking the idea of a schedule for yourself. If you manage to get things done (and by your blog I see you do it pretty well), than it's ok!

    This is exactly why I mentioned in the beginning of the post that maybe a schedule isn't the right thing for a certain type of person. Maybe you could represent the 'non-schedulable' folks? heh ;)

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  6. >> Olive, I don't know if you have a modus operandi for re-inspiring yourself for a project, but I usually browse at related things for inspiration. For instance, reading a book on the genre, researching something, watching a film or anime etc. Maybe you could set aside some time to do that, and you might get a kick of inspiration to move on with book 3? :)

    >> Former-Witch: Yeah, breathing rocks! heh

    I'm glad this post was helpful for the non-writer folks too. As usual you have an impressive open mind. Thanks for that! :D

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  7. I keep a flexibly strict fiction-writing schedule. It goes like this:

    1. Get out of bed early in morning (usually around 6 am)
    2. Make coffee.
    3. Turn on computer.
    4. Play with dogs while hovering over coffee machine.
    5. Pour coffee, open WIP.
    6. Review what I wrote yesterday (or last session).
    7. Write new scene (or if in revisions, edit forward in document).
    8. Walk back and forth to coffee machine several times, nuzzle dogs, write/edit until appx. 10 am.
    9. Email document to myself at two different email addys (lazy back-up).
    10. While working on other stuff (magazine journalism and event planning), my WIP is always on the forefront of my mind. When tomorrow comes, I'm ready to go again.

    Flexibly strict.

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  8. Mariblaser, Thanks for this post and thanks everyone for the comments. Scheduling is always a *thing* for me. I am under too much pressure,too many deadlines and upcoming trips just now...but when I can, I am going to take your advice and carve out a day of rest.
    .
    I do, every day, spend an hour or two outside pulling weeds, gardening, entertaining my dog, trimming big old trees, etc. I need physical work or I get squirrely and can't think. It's astonishing how many good ideas come to me when my hands and knees are dirty. I usually come back in and make good progress on the book at hand. Carolyn, I do the two-addy backup, too, and it has saved me a few times.

    May the words fly out!

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  9. Excellent guide, Mariana. You have given us lots to think about.

    I have always tried to organize my time, but sticking to a schedule is hard for me. I am a super organised person otherwise, I like a clutter free environment, but for some things, mostly solitary activities like writing or studying, I can never stick to a time table. Maybe I haven't found a system that agrees with me. What I have been doing is I allot a minimum number of hours per day or per week to do a task - For eg. I plan to write for at least 2 hours/day, read/study for 2-3 hours, exercise for half an hour or an hour. I do them at any time of the day when I can, but I make sure I do them. Some days I am so busy I cannot get a solid 2 hour block to write, so I do half hour sessions throughout the day. If I am sufficiently motivated or inspired, I write for more time.

    This is not the most efficient of methods, I know, but I feel it is better than being completely disorganised, confused and nothing getting done.

    Thanks for the insight into your schedule, I am not sure if I can adopt it for myself, but it has given me some ideas I want to try out.

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  10. >> Carolyn: Your flexibly strict schedule seems very effective! I could almost feel how productive is your day. Too bad I'm a bad morning person, heh.

    Great tip on emailing things to two different email addys; I'd never thought of that. I'm starting a (lazy as you say, ha!) back up system right away! Thanks for sharing! :)

    >> Kathleen: Thank *you* for sharing your ideas back then on #LitChat! :) I'm so glad that this post was somehow useful to the person who inspired it. Cool! ehh

    I totally understand your need of some physical work/exercise to clear up the mind. When I'm walking the dogs, cleaning etc, I feel as if my brain were organizing itself as well, to work better and faster. Although my ideas usually come when I'm trying to sleep and can't, which I call creative insomnia.

    My best wishes for you having a resting day. It works wonders for the productivity, and the skin! lol

    >> Nishi: As far as I can tell, yours is the most flexible example of a writing schedule ever! I can't see why you'd want to change for my template if it seems to work so well.

    I'm happy this post made you think though. After all, it's always good to have new ideas to improve our "working system", yes? ;)

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  11. My favorite part of your list is the observations. INSPIRED! We need to understand ourselves better to maximize productivity.

    As for me, I meet deadlines. Sometimes I write all kinds of crazy hours amd other times I play 3 days in a row. I am most productive on a schedule of whatever.

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  12. Thanks Charlene! It was really hard for me to keep from talking to dear twitter friends as yourself, but in the end it was for the best.

    Cheers for your own schedule, even if it's not "real" schedule in the sense we're talking here. What matters is being productive and well, right? ;)

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  13. Fantastic, Mari! And so glad you included breathing - sometimes it feels like it gets forgotten :)

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  14. >>> Merrilee: Yeah, I myself forget too often! That's why I included it, like a note to self, heh. ;)

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  15. Mariblaser, nice post. I'm always interested in how people organize things. I've used a less compact version and was surprised at how much thinking about what I wanted to do when made me more productive. (My format is here should anyone be curious: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/266883/schedule.pdf)

    However, one important thing that I found was also keeping track of my goals. I set a word goal (actually I track 3 word goals: first drafts, plot revisions; line-edit revisions) for myself and check once a week whether I'm hitting that goal and if not, why not. (Some weeks are excused because I know my other work is going to affect my counts etc.

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  16. -- Aidan: Thanks for stopping by, and sharing your schedule. :) I too am curious as to how other people manage some aspects of life, hence this post. Of course it's meant to help people as well! heh

    About the word count, I don't do well with this kind of goal, but many people do, and I find your idea of checking the progress periodically simple and very effective! Thanks for sharing it!

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