The Secret to Staying Loyal to Your Writing Schedule

Currently, I’m only one chapter away from finishing the first draft of my novel, and you might be wondering: “What’s your secret to staying loyal to your writing schedule?”

Well, I’ve talked about how to keep up the habit of writing before, 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, once it’s been established.

My “secret” consists of three golden rules. Here they are:

Don’t Think, Just Do

As soon as you begin to stay loyal to your writing schedule, it will be inevitable that your thoughts will get in the way. Your mind will say something like: “It’s too cold to write today,” or “I’m too tired to write today,” or “It’s too gloomy,” or “It’s too sunny,” or “I’m too depressed,” or “I’m too happy,” or “Obama busted his lip and I gotta find out how many stitches he got!” or “I have to know what songs Glee is going to cover this week first,” or “I’m not in the mood,” or “I don’t have any ideas today,” etc, etc, ETC.  You can count on your thoughts to drum up a whole ton of excuses for you not to keep up with the new writing schedule you worked so hard to establish. So, ignore those thoughts, because unless you’re bleeding internally, your thoughts are always wrong about having more important things to do than writing. Instead of thinking, then, you just have to do. Don’t think. Just do. As soon as the time in the day comes for you to write, go to that computer and begin to type. No, no, no. Don’t think. Just do. Pa-pa-pa-pa. No. Don’t think. Do. “But Ollin–” Nooo.  “But I–” No. “But–” NO! “B–” NOOOOO!  Just write, write before you come up with an excuse not to. No, stop thinking–Do it! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! GO! NOW!

Give Yourself An “In-The-Zone” Cushion

There’s a reason I don’t use writing prompts. Why? Because writing prompts assume that when a writer sits down at his laptop and stares at a blank computer screen for an hour, nothing is happening. A writing prompt tells you: “Hey, why waste your time? Here, I’ll give you a random line and that should push you in the right direction a whole lot quicker than you just staring at that computer screen.” A writing prompt is the “microwave” for a writer’s ideas. Sure, your ideas will be ready and warm a whole lot quicker if you use a microwave, but they’ll still have that slight metallic taste of something that has been zapped with electrons for two seconds. First of all, writing prompts are wrong: sitting and staring at your screen for an hour is not a waste of time. It is a crucial part of the writing process. You may not notice it, but your mind is still working, even if you are not writing anything. Your unconscious is solving the problem as we speak. At first, it may take your mind about an hour to “get in-the-zone” but after following your writing schedule for a couple of months, you will be able to sit down and start writing almost immediately. The time it takes you to “get in-the-zone” will shrink as the months goes on. So, whenever you set aside time to write, make sure to allot a cushion for yourself, some time set aside to “get in-the-zone.” Remind yourself that sitting at a blank screen and doing nothing is a crucial part of the whole process. Yes, it’s boring, but trust me, the magic is happening just underneath, you just can’t see it yet. You can compare your mind’s need to get in-the-zone to a car that needs to warm up before its engine can run. Or, to follow our previous metaphor, you can picture your mind as an oven. Yes, it will take MORE time for your ideas to cook in an oven, and it might take more preparation and patience on your part, but once that timer goes off, boy–your ideas will come out with that rich, home-cooked taste. Yum, yum, yum. Delicious.

Make It Sacred

I don’t really mean make your writing schedule a religious ritual… Hold on. Wait. Actually, I do mean that. You have to make writing a sacred part of your day. If you are a person who prays regularly, then see writing as a prayer. If you go to church regularly, see writing as important as going to mass. If you are not religious, but spiritual, see writing as your daily meditation routine, or your daily walk through nature. If you are not religious or spiritual, see writing as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, changing the oil in your car, having dinner. See writing as something you just have to do. There is no option not to do it. Writing is a blessed ritual that keeps you balanced, keeps you sane, keeps you feeling useful, keeps you happy, keeps you creative, keeps you thriving. So why on earth would you ever stop writing, for any reason, if it does so much good for you? Don’t you see now that your writing schedule is sacred? Maybe I shouldn’t have titled this rule “Make it Sacred” but instead should have called it “Recognize That Your Writing Schedule Is Sacred.” Let your friends and family know that keeping up with your writing schedule is sacred to you, and ask them not to interrupt you during this sacred time. If you can’t get them to stop interrupting you, then go to the library or a coffee shop, turn off your phone, disconnect from the internet, and focus on your sacred ritual in that way.

much love,

Ollin

What’s your secret to staying true to your writing schedule?

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39 comments on “The Secret to Staying Loyal to Your Writing Schedule

  1. T.S. Bazelli says:

    I completely lost momentum in November, and I’m trying to get it back again now. I always get anxious about the blank screen (especially now), but I like the idea of putting trust in the unconscious mind!

    • Ollin says:

      It sucks at first, but you just have to get used to it. As my writing mentor used to say “You know more than you think you know, you know.” Trust that you have the answers to your work, you just got to wait to dig them up.

  2. What is your opinion of these “crash” writing sessions, where for example you write a first draft in three days, a week or even a month? Do you think writing too often or too much will cause the quality of writing to be poor (and thus unproductive), or is it just important to get the words onto paper and edit them later?

    • Ollin says:

      Good question. I try not to judge methods unless I have tried them, and no I have not participated in NaNoWriMo, or other similar “crash” writing sessions, so I can’t say it does or doesn’t work. But from what I hear, I don’t think the intention is to actually write and finish a very fine-tuned novel, but it is more to inspire people to write and to give writers a sort of sense of a community, a thing to look forward to, kind of a Writer Olympics. Taken in this spirit, I think it is a great idea.

      You know it’s kinda like a contest they have in Long Beach California where people get together and make makeshift planes and the contest is to see who can make one of them fly the longest. So, that’s the kind of spirit I’m talking about, it’s just a good old time.

      But if someone were to tell me that they entered that Long Beach competition and actually wanted to try to build a real airplane that would take passengers across the globe, I would seriously question their sanity. So, yeah, I hope {and don’t think} that people actually enter those crash sessions thinking they will come out with a polished novel.

      I think it is a more of a way for them to have fun and to push them to start writing.

      {This is a long answer to your question, but they were good questions, so, beg your pardon as I continue.}

      To answer your second question: Yes, writing too often is not good. Mostly it’s not good for YOU. If you read this site you will find that I consider the overall well-being of the author to be as important, or even more so, than his work. If you write too much, yes, you will find yourself not wanting to write, or worse, dreading writing. You want to keep it an enjoyable experience for you. If you test it out for yourself you will see that overwriting makes it hard to keep up your writing schedule. So give yourself reasonable breaks.

      To answer your 2nd and a half question, I do believe that your very first go at it {what I call a rough draft, what others might call your outline} should be written without much editing. Just get it all out.

      In my experience you generally have no choice but to get it all out at first, because you will be so excited about the story, YOU want to see what happens next. If, however, you don’t feel that way as you write, then you might want to wait until you have a better idea for your story. Then proceed from there.

      Okay, I’m done. Hope that helped.🙂

  3. Straight and simple advice. Love it. What more can one ask?

    Oh btw, nice “snowy effect” on the page Ollin😉 That’s the spirit of Christmas!

    -BrownEyed

  4. Ollin,

    Another great post! Your 3 points are soooooo spot on. I’ve never liked writing prompts either because you’re absolutely right about how your brain IS working on your story, IS prepping for what will eventually work itself out through your fingertips even when you sit staring at a blank screen. And I have to say, until I kept to a writing schedule, I never got much writing done. I was always waiting for the “inspiration” to strike. But guess what? Writing is work, plain and simple. And if you are a writer, you’ll do it–even when it sucks and is difficult and you could come up with a million other things you would rather be doing–you’ll sit, stare at a blank screen, and write.

    Thanks, again. Love this post!

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks for elaborating my points Jenny!🙂 You are right, writing is work, and we have to show up to it every day. Clock in and clock out.

      You’re welcome!

  5. Yay…I will no longer feel guilty about staring at the computer and doing nothing (unless I actually fall asleep).

    I stay loyal to the schedule by making per day word count and query goals. I also did NaNoWriMo this year, which was a great kick for me to finish a draft on the longer project I’ve been thinking about forever. I’m a procrastinator, so deadlines work best for me. Write or Die is awesome for that, too. http://writeordie.drwicked.com/

    Kudos for being so dedicated~

  6. jannatwrites says:

    I liked your 3 rules. I don’t have a ‘schedule’ per se, but I do write for a few hours most evenings.

    I have learned to write what most wants to be written, though. (So if I’m writing a novel that stalls and a short story is screaming for attention, I go for the short story. I’ve found that the ‘stall’ is often due to a problem in the story, and time away gives my mind time to sort it out before I get back into it.)

    • Ollin says:

      Yeah sometimes it’s good to take time away from the work, gives your mind time to figure out and solve the problem. Going to a short story is a great strategy. Thanks for sharing.🙂

  7. Ollin says:

    That was beautiful.🙂

  8. I love the “make it sacred” idea. Wonderful!

  9. tobeme says:

    Great tips. Writing for me is as much of a ritual as is brushing my teeth and shaving in the morning. It is key to keep it sacred and to allow your thoughts to flow and not get hung up with prompts, blank screens, etc.

  10. Such great advice, and very true. I am easily distracted and my mind wonders terribly, so when I do sit back down to write, I will definitely take your advice. I agree about how sitting there for an hour staring at the screen can actually help and I’ve heard that advice about just sitting there and writing from professional authors.

    • Ollin says:

      Really? That’s good that professional authors feel the same way. I guess I’m on to something.🙂

      • I’ve attended a few conferences and heard authors say how they have a set schedule, and they sit in front of that screen and write. One even said: “doesn’t matter if you delete all of it, the next day, just sit there and write for your scheduled time.”

  11. Pen says:

    Hey Ollin. Recently found your blog and I love how honest it is.🙂 Thought this post was extremely useful. The person who is constantly distracted by Glee and Obama and all the good things is me. This was a gentle reminder that err, I need to get over myself and get onto it.🙂

  12. Cities of the Mind says:

    Sounds like if writing falls through, you’ve got a back up career as a drill sergeant.

    • Pen says:

      Haha, well it will probably work because since I commented plugged out 694 words which is more than I’ve written in a month. PS I forgot to say good luck heading into the last chapter of your novel!

  13. Don’t think, just do. Once again, terrific thoughtful advice for most things in life. Congrats on your progress and keep up the great work!

  14. valbrussell says:

    Stress. My problem is stress. It is also my excuse and I use it regularly and when that fails, I use the other tried and true method of a writer’s procrastination, despair. It is probably my worst flaw with regard to keeping to a writing schedule. Of course, then the guilt settles in like a smothering fog and I get up from my laptop, only to sit back down again to try. It’s so hard to block out the thoughts when you feel so full of doubt about succeeding. It’s damn hard. You gave me a wonderful chuckle though with the internal bleeding remark! You are very funny you know and I hope you have sprinkled you novel with some of that wit. Okay, now I have to get off the net and onto the blank screen and ignore that microwave temptation.

    • Ollin says:

      Ah, then I recommend meditation and relaxation techniques. Look up John Kabit Zinn and Dr. Joan Borysenko. Maybe learn some exercises from them. As far as despair, what do you mean exactly? You mean in terms of your novel? The doubts?

  15. Val says:

    Despair due to doubt is what I’ve been wrestling to the ground every single day for a while now. I know it’s completely irrational, but it’s still there like a bad seed that keeps sprouting. I think you are right about meditation. I’ve not done it for ages but now may be the correct time to get back into it.

    • Ollin says:

      Yes, definitely. You might want to check out my guest post on monday too. I nice hike in nature might do you a great deal of good too.

  16. Kiara says:

    Great post, Ollin.

    My secret is to have deadlines. I like to set myself deadlines. I have deadlines for when I would like to finish a manuscript, when I would like to finish editing, how many chapters I feel I should edit in a day, or if I’d like to finish up to that chapter etc. But I’m never strict with them. I won’t bind myself to it because I know life has to allow some flexibility. I’m writing for pleasure (and when I feel ready, for publishing) so I’m not going to make the experience any less enjoyable by imposing deadlines I can’t possibly make. I know my limits. I know when struggling through a scene will work and when it’s a lost cause. I know when a deadline will offer motivation or if it will ask the impossible. It’s finding this balance that keeps me on track to where I want to be whilst writing. And most of the time, it works.

    If I fail to get something done by a deadline, I won’t stress myself out worrying, I’ll only be disappointed. And usually, it’s this disappointment that gets to me more than anything else. That feeling in itself is motivation to get it done, no matter how tired or uninspired I am for writing and editing that day. I get the work done, and usually, I feel better for it.

    Great tips, it’s interesting to hear other techniques for keeping on track.

    • Ollin says:

      That’s a great point to make. And yes, goals should be flexible, that’s very smart of you. Because as you say, life will no doubt get in the way. And we shouldn’t punish ourselves for not following through with something that may be impossible for us to follow through with under challenging circumstances. I hope you reward yourself for meeting your deadlines! Thank you for dropping by!🙂

  17. Congratulations on nearing the finish-line for your first draft! That’s such a thrill. And then…the bigger task of revising is at hand…but it’s a labor of love, so actually nice to know that you have more time to spend with your characters🙂.

    As for sticking to my writing schedule, I’ve personally found that I approach writing best when I know I have several consecutive hours to completely immerse myself in the zone. I don’t work well in short bursts, so if there are days when it would have to be narrowly wedged in, I usually just as soon avoid it and keep warmed up instead with the work blog I have to write 7 days a week, as well as the intermittent Monkey and—dare I say it—writing prompts! I love your microwave/oven analogy, though, and agree to an extent. On days when I know I don’t have that substantial time to sit with my story, I would rather crank out a prompt to know I generated something for its own sake or possible future use than to have created nothing at all. I also work out what’s stumping me with the story elsewhere than the computer—the shower, reading other books, any everyday task, really, and especially as I lay in bed for the night. My mind processes better that way than staring down the blank screen; I think it’s changing up the context…a fresh background lends fresh perspective, and getting out and about can offer new experiences that then trigger the inspiration. This all being said, my writing “schedule” has certainly been an erratic one🙂.

    • Ollin says:

      Great tips on offering inspiration to writers! Changing context definitely helps. But I guess I was more focused in this post on how not to get you to give up on your writing schedule. So if someone out there is sitting at a blank screen for an hour and decides: “that’s it! time to give up this writing schedule it’s not working!” What I want is for them to realize that this is part of the process and they needn’t give up and find that they wasted they’re time–because they haven’t wasted their time. I’m also working on the assumption that the person has a novel or idea they already are fleshing out and aren’t starting from scratch, so in that case I don’t think a writing prompt is necessary every day you go to keep up with your writing schedule. Let’s say you write for 5 hours, 5 days a week for instance, I thinks starting with a prompt every day may lead you in a direction that you don’t need to go. At least that’s my experience. Usually I know where to go, my mind just needs some time to process and warm up and it usually solves the issue on its own.

      But yes great points, just giving you my perspective. But if your method gets you to write on consistent basis without fail, then it sounds perfect! No need to change anything.

  18. Barb says:

    I don’t use writing prompts either – I’m way too busy with my ideas!😉 I don’t write fan fiction either for that reason… and I don’t have time to write down other people ideas, as it’s sometimes suggested to writers… but then, my writing schedule is well established, and I don’t need to write everyday to “get in the zone” anymore!😉
    Happy writing

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