My family and friends tease me about “scheduling fun.” I’ve made 5-page itineraries for big family reunions, and with a straight face, have suggested conference calls before vacations. Call me neurotic, but I want to make sure we get the good stuff in. Ironically, when I first started writing, I was very hesitant to approach it in the same way. I viewed writing as this romantic endeavor, not the stuff of schedules and deadlines. While this mindset made me feel quite artistic, I was getting very little writing done.
If you are anything like I was, maybe now’s the time to take stock of your own writing productivity. How many days do you actually sit down and write each week? If you had to guess, how many hours a week do you spend on it? And do you ever find yourself thinking about writing (and wanting to write), more than actually writing?
If you’ve asked yourself these questions and aren’t happy with your answers, I’d like to make a case for developing a writing routine in order to get into a habit and gain true momentum on the novel or story you’re working on. After I created my own routine, I went from touching my work-in-progress a few times a month to writing every day. Some tips to make it happen:
Study Your Day: It often feels like there’s never enough time to do what we need to do, let alone to write: there are classes, homework, work, child care, friends, chores and… we need to sleep obviously. But there are pockets in everyone’s day – you just need to be adamant about finding them. Does it take you over an hour to get ready for class? Do you have a long commute, or a lunch hour? Does every day between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m. pass by in a TV haze? Study what your day looks like. Be ruthless. Pick a few open slots, as short as fifteen minutes or as long as two hours (and if you have more than two hours, great – but personally, I find my concentration dwindling after an uninterrupted, two-hour writing session).
Find Your Peak Time: Not all time is created equal. As I was going through this “finding time” analysis myself, I noticed that my fingers would fly across the keyboard before 10 a.m., but that after 10 p.m., I would end up deleting more words than I added. All writers are different: Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates always write in the morning, while Jack Kerouac worked after midnight. Think about when you’re naturally sharpest (Before coffee? After coffee? In the middle of the day when your wheels are already churning?)
Consider the Time an Appointment: Once you figure out your open time slot when you’ll be most productive, mark it as an appointment on your calendar. Give this time the same priority as a high school or college class or a work meeting –you need to show up.
Stay in the “Chair” with the “Page”: Then, just like a class or a work meeting, stay present. Don’t jump out of the chair to throw in laundry or do the dishes – and don’t fall down the black hole of social media while your precious writing minutes tick away. Even if you have nothing to put on the page, stay glued to your chair (or subway car seat, driver’s seat, wherever), and to your blank page (or iPhone screen, or voice recording device, what have you). It took me a few weeks to make my slot become a habit, but I promise, once you show up day in and day out, your muse will start showing up too.
As Steven Pressfield says in his The War of Art: “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” Find your time. Find your chair. Find that the words start adding up.
Lee Kelly is the author of CITY OF SAVAGES, which released from Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Saga Press, this February. Follow her on twitter (@leeykelly) or via her website (www.NewWriteCity.com)!