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

Editor’s note: this post was first published in 2010. (New posts on the C2C will return on January 7th, 2013.)

“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 these 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 one 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 to 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!

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

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

1. Adaptability

Your writing schedule must be able to adapt to your life. For instance, when I was an English 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 until the time had come to go to work. 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.

2. 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. Just let those things get in the way. It’s okay. You can pick up where you left off whenever the time is right.

Let your writing schedule be flexible, so that it can work with you and your busy schedule.

3. It Must Come Organically

Books, blogs, and writing websites will often recommend to a busy writer that they wake up at 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–or stick to writing primarily on weekends when you don’t have to work at your day job.

4. 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 may have an overall goal of finishing a draft of my novel at the end of a year. 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.

Don’t Say: “I Don’t Have The Time To Write.” Instead Ask: “How Can I Find The Time To Write?”

Remember, if you ever find yourself screeching to a halt after you made one of those “I don’t have the time to write!” 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.


Because where you’re going… you don’t need roads.

much “Great Scott!”


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

  1. Little empty pockets of life. Love it. I can’t say how many times I’ve pulled a journal while waiting in the car for a friend to show up. Great advice.

  2. Dana Bennett says:

    I love that you bring up goals and how to set them first organically and then figure out what is already happening and say yeah! that’s my goal. Like this very much (even though I’m blessed with time right now – it can still slip away from you). -Dana

  3. CJ Johnson says:

    Thanks Ollin for the strategy shares! I’ve been struggling with carving out enough time to write on a daily basis 🙂

  4. Diane Turner says:

    Such a universal issue for writers. Thanks for the ideas. Splendid!

  5. Tammy says:

    Great tips Ollin! Happy New Year!

    • Ollin says:

      Happy New Year to you, too Tammy! Can’t wait to see what you write this year. 🙂 I might have some questions about where to shop for organic foods this year…

  6. These are all great tips!
    So much of these four aspects come from pure passion! You have to be so in love with writing itself that you’re willing to push past all the obstacles and just do it.
    So often when we phrase our thoughts in the negative, we lose our conviction that would’ve carried us through to success. By using positive phrasing, we force ourselves to look for solutions instead of excuses. A very timely reminder.
    Thanks for making me think!

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