The 4 Essential Elements of A Writing Schedule That Works For You

“Ollin, I wish I could write a novel like you, but, alas, I have to make a living.”

“Ollin, I wish I could write regularly, but oh dear me, there is just no time left at the end of the week for me to engage in my passion.”

“Ollin, doing what you love is great in theory, but you don’t understand: I have to take care of my babies, AND my babies babies, AND my babies babies babies.”

“Ollin, my work/dog/cat/boyfriend/girlfriend takes up most of my time. I have to make time for them, and afterwards, there is no time left for me. It’s just reality I guess.”

“Ollin, I have school. I have to write essays about people who write essays about essays. I HAVE NO TIME FOR MY PASSION!”

“Ollin, I accidentally stole my best friend’s DeLorean and traveled back into time, to the year 1955, and accidentally prevented the-younger-version-of-my-father from getting hit by a car. Instead, I was hit by said car and wound up in the-younger-version-of-my-mother’s house, where I am starting to develop an unhealthy Oedipal complex. My presence is threatening to destroy the space-time continuum, AND I don’t have the 1.21 Gigawatts it takes to travel back to 1985–HOW THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO KEEP UP A WRITING SCHEDULE!”

I understand. I completely understand. Now that you have stated all of your concerns… you may forget them and begin developing your writing schedule.

“Ollin, DID YOU NOT JUST HEAR ALL THAT I SAID!? I got a life, I got issues, I got problems, I got–“

Yes, I heard you. As I said, I understand. All writers have issues, issues that are as bad or maybe even worse than yours. Trust me. What you are stating is a given. It’s like if I said, “Okay, let’s start to run today!” and you said, “Oh, but you don’t understand:  I have to eat.” Uh, I know you have to eat. I didn’t ask you to give up eating. I’m just saying that you should take up running.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying that the statements listed above are excuses. They are not. I’m not going to undermine, or dismiss, or trivialize all the hard challenges that you have to face on a day-to-day basis, that would be unfair and mean. But what I am saying is that all of that is besides the point.

These types of statements are not helping you, they are only preventing you from starting a serious writing schedule. Why? Because they are statements. Statements, as you know, end in a period. A period means that the story ends there. At that period. Like:  “I have to make a living, so I can’t write (PERIOD).” “I don’t have any time left in the day (PERIOD).” “I don’t have 1.21 Gigawatts to get me back to 1985 (PERIOD).”

What would happen if, instead, you changed ALL of your statements into a question. One, big fat, magical question that solves all of your moaning and groaning about how you can’t find the time to write, a question like:

“HOW can I find the time to write?”

This is good. A question is good. It’s open. With a question, your brain can start to work to find an answer. It can start to be creative, and suddenly, you can pull a Doc Brown and realize you don’t need plutonium to get that time machine running. No, all you need is get to the clock tower and harness the power of a LIGHTING BOLT! Which, yes, may be a lot harder, but it’s still doable. Okay, let me translate this for people who don’t get my random pop-culture references:

The best writing schedule is one that fits YOUR unique life situation and adapts to YOUR needs!

Whatever those needs may be. Therefore, the four ESSENTIAL elements of a writing schedule that works for you are the following:

  • Adaptability: Your writing schedule must be able to adapt to your work and social life. For instance, when I was a tutor, I would have a journal with me so that I could write during the 10 min bathroom break I would give my students. Also, if I arrived early to a student’s home, I would write while sitting in my parked car, and stay there until the time to work had arrived. Writing is also something you can do on those nights when you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Instead of being upset that you can’t go to sleep on time, just take out a pad and pencil and write until your writing lulls you to sleep. To summarize:  you want to sneak writing into those little, empty pockets of life. We all have those empty pockets, but until now, you probably haven’t been utilizing them. So, from now on, you will use those little, empty pockets to write.
  • Flexibility: This one is hard for some people (it was for me at first) because we are so used to structure in school and work, that we tend to believe that if we miss a day of writing that means we should be punished in some way. But, as you said, you are a busy busy guy or gal and so, naturally, life will get in the way. You may encounter, for instance, a long day at work, or a fight with your significant other, or an upsetting breakthrough in therapy, that might get in the way of keeping up with your writing schedule. Let those things get in the way. It’s okay. You can pick up where you left off whenever the time is right. But remember: don’t get caught up in those old statements of “I can’t because I got to____.” Instead, keep that question in your mind going: “HOW can I find the time to write?”
  • It Must Come Organically: Books, blogs and writing websites will often recommend to a busy writer that they wake up at like 4:30 to get their writing done, but I have to be honest with you: I will never be able to do that. Why? Because I’m practically half-dead in the morning, and completely dead in the early morning. I’ve learned that the morning is a terrible time for me to write. Very late into the night is bad for me, too. Late afternoon is the best time for me. But it took me a while to figure that out. So, make sure to test out different times of the day to write and see if you can find the time where you are most at ease. If your best writing time is in the afternoon, for example, then try to squeeze in 15 minutes of writing during your lunch break.
  • Divisibility: This one is probably the MOST important. You must be able to break down your schedule into goals, and then break down those goals into smaller goals, and then break down those goals even further. Not all of these goals have to be written down, but you need to have them in the back of your mind. For instance, I have an overall goal of finishing my draft at the end of December. Then, I have a goal to get a certain amount of chapters done in a month. Then, I break it down to about one chapter a week. (By the way, I figured this out organically FIRST: I started to realized that I could get one chapter done per a week, and this pattern eventually became my writing schedule. The schedule adapted to me, not the other way around.) Each day I will break down my goals further, but I no longer measure these goals by using time. For example, I won’t say, “By the end of this hour I will get this page done.” No, it’s more like, “Okay, right now all I have to do is get this page done.” Then: “All I have to do on this page is get this paragraph done.” Then: “All I have to do in this paragraph is to make this sentence really good.” Then, finally: “All I got to do to make this sentence really good is to find the right word.” Divisibility will help you avoid becoming intimidated by the bigger picture. Instead you will feel more confident because you will have immediate proof that you are making progress.

Remember, if you ever find yourself screeching to a halt after you made one of those “but I gotta make a living” statements, remember to ask yourself instead:

“HOW can I find the time to write?”

At times, you may not even get an answer to this question, and that’s okay. That probably means you DO have plenty on your plate already. But keep asking the question and I guarantee that eventually you will find time to spare. Before you know it, all those bits of time you find will add up and then grow and grow into a pretty hearty writing schedule.

Once you’re there, you can tuck in the wheels of your DeLorean, hover above the ground, and forget all about having to drive at 88 miles per hour. Why? Because where you’re going… you don’t need roads.

much “Great Scott!”

Ollin

How do YOU make your writing schedule work for you? How do you find the time to write? Please share, I’m sure your thoughts would be helpful to us all.

(See also: “How to Get Yourself Off Your Lazy Butt and Start Writing Already,” “10 Ways to Stay On The Writer’s Fast Track Once You’re On It,” “How to Start Your Best Writing Day Ever,” “How to Finish Your Best Writing Day Ever.”)

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26 comments on “The 4 Essential Elements of A Writing Schedule That Works For You

  1. Totally second this post. Especially the third point: “It must come organically”. How true.

    I realised quite sometime back that I am not a morning-person either. I can start working/writing by 8:30 or 9, never 5. Neither I do late nights😉

    Great insights–I’m sure many will take use of all the pointers!

    -BrownEyed

    • Ollin says:

      Looks like we got the same writing schedule.😉 Yeah, I hope it does help my readers who are struggling to start a writing schedule of their own.

  2. LOL dude. Your intro rocks. To write, one must stop circumflatulation. The schedule will create itself.

    Writing is like any other job. You have to work to make it work.

  3. Well put, Ollin. I especially resonate with the concept of Divisibility. And even though I did not do much creative writing in the last decade or so, I did write in my journal at least once a week. Just keep the ink flowing because if it’s a true passion, you won’t be able to avoid writing.

    • Ollin says:

      Very true, you really can’t get us away from our work can you? But there are those who I do believe are very passionate as you and I, but sometimes it may be that they are surrounded by a very unsupportive atmosphere, and they just need a little nudge in the right direction. Thanks!

  4. cordeliacallsitquits says:

    “What you are stating is a given. It’s like if I said, ‘Okay, let’s start to run today!’ and you said, ‘Oh, but you don’t understand: I have to eat.’ Uh, I know you have to eat. I didn’t ask you to give up eating. I’m just saying that you should take up running.”

    Love that analogy. I think (scratch that: know) I make the same excuses about being too busy, having the “real world” sap all my energy, etc. But the truth is that you will make the time for the things that are important to you. I don’t have to watch tons of bad sitcom reruns every evening; I choose (poorly, usually) to make time for that. I could do the same for my writing. If you want something badly enough, you will find a space for it.

    Excellent reminder!

    • Ollin says:

      Exactly. You got it. How’s the novel going, btw? The contest ends at the end of November, right?

      • cordeliacallsitquits says:

        It’s going. Thankfully, I had the foresight to use my remaining vacation days for the year to take off the last week of the month in anticipation of a word count deficit. It will be NaNoWriMo lockdown! 🙂

  5. Addy says:

    Really informative post! For me actually “weekend writing” works the best! I just jot down notes during the week about any certain instances or situtations that I would like my character to encounter based on my own personal experience.. If I were the character in question what would I do.. And during the weeekends I just write, write and write to my hearts content and till the ink in my pen dries out🙂 ..

    Keep at it Ollin! Truly you and BrownEyed (those who are “Freshly Pressed” experts😉 ) are an inspiration for me, if not all the other bloggers.. Hope you liked the short story on my blog.

    Thanks and Best wishes,
    Addy

    • Ollin says:

      Ah, well thank you. I’m flattered. I did enjoy the story, I left you a little comment the other day. Let me know if you decide to share some more stories, I’d love to look ’em over. Best wishes to you too.

  6. Grace Chung says:

    Thanks Ollin! A very encouraging post.

  7. T.S. Bazelli says:

    Where I have trouble is the flexibility. I always feel guilty about missing a few days! I really should just factor in that extra time. Life always gets in the way. It’s not a bad thing either.

  8. Amazing advice! I can relate to your 4:30 am half brain dead state…Kudos to those who are able to achieve that but, one advice that I have is to keep a little notebook in you book bag, purse or in your car and just jot down idea’s as you go! 🙂 Write about it later…life goes on and your writing should be apart of it (not an obstacle with excuses!)

    Thanks for posting this! Where are you from friend?

    The CatMan

  9. Ollin says:

    perfect additions! As always, you are wonderful at summarizing and bringing my points home. Thank you.🙂

  10. I love the divisibility thought. Once again, your advice works for everything in life. I often tell my kids “the hardest part of anything is getting started”. If you can think of just the first step, first word, first thought, you’re already on your way.

    For the people thinking of life being so busy it gets in the way, how about thinking because you have such a full life, you have more experience from which to write.

  11. […] but it was in a more general sense, and since we recently discussed the specifics of how to set up a writing schedule that works for you, I’d thought I’d also share the specifics of how to keep up that writing schedule, […]

  12. *Claps* Thanks, I’ll try to remember that next time I worry about finding time to write. (which I’m having today, so hmm, how can I find time to write?)

  13. maryalterman says:

    I write in the morning after driving my son to school and while sitting in a coffee shop enjoying two to three cups of coffee, often rewarding myself with horrible, evil, fattening favorite things like a chocolate covered donut or a cherry lemon scone.

    My new rule for writing is that I must write what turns me on and makes me happy. I am no longer willing to force myself to write or work on something that I think I’m supposed to work on. Mark Twain worked that way in his autobiography.

    My commitment is to love in my life and in my writing.

    • Ollin says:

      That is a wonderful rule mary! It is important that we infuse the work we do with love, or else we won’t be able to finish it and go through all the ups and downs of it.

      Thank you for sharing!

  14. […] The 4 Essential Elements of A Writing Schedule That Works For You {And it worked. For you.} […]

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