This time of year I usually find myself limping through the weeks like it’s a three-month-long hell week from college. When life gets busy like this, my writing tends to suffer the most; daily writing goals go unmet and my typical schedule flies out the window for the holidays and anniversaries and sudden emergencies this season brings. But if that kind of busyness is your everyday, 365-days-a-year reality, if you wake up most days wanting to write only to arrive at the end of them not having written one word, I want to help you make time for writing in your busy schedule.
Before I committed to publishing a novel, I would write whenever inspiration struck, whenever I felt like it and had a little time to spend. I accomplished very little doing this, usually only a mere hundred words a writing session and maybe five hundred total over the course of ten days. I grew frustrated at my lack of progress and wondered why I never got any real writing done.
Only when I learned about the rigid regimens of successful writers and implemented their principles in my work did I start seeing better results. I learned to arrange my daily writing work according to life’s demands and began viewing writing as a integral part of my day rather than a hobby to pencil into my schedule if time allowed. These principles, of course, take a lot of discipline and planning, so take them or leave them, but the two most helpful lessons I’ve learned from other writers about making room to write are a) scheduling the time and b) creating a consistent daily word goal.
This seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? While it’s true that great writing doesn’t just appear on the page because you’ve allotted a sliver of your time for it, hitting the keyboard around the same time every day does train your brain to engage its writing mode more efficiently whenever it is time to write. When you schedule your writing, rather than waiting until your muse manifests, writing becomes a routine part of the day, and writing that first word or phrase or paragraph of the session just gets easier. When writing is easy, it’s also fun, yes, but when you spend less time biting your nails and staring at the ceiling and more time putting down words, it means you can fit more writing even into the busiest of schedules.
Look at your planner or calendar (physical or otherwise) and find a good chunk of time, at least an hour, you can devote to writing. It is helpful if it occurs around the same time each day, but if that’s impossible, at least make sure there’s some space every day reserved for your writing. Do you have to wake up earlier than usual to fit it in before your kids get up? Do you have to squeeze it in at your lunch break or after work, maybe late in the night after your roommates go to bed? If a friend calls and wants to chat, tell her you have an appointment; if a messy house is beckoning, close the door and set your timer for an hour. Remember, writing is important to you, and you want to treat it as such, so find what works, write it in your schedule, and guard that time.
Daily Word Goals
This one has a bit of flexibility because some days it just isn’t going to happen, but having a consistent word goal helps you accurately measure your progress and understand clearly how much work you have to do in order to meet your larger goals. A word count also shows how much effort writing takes and why it is so important to guard your work time.
Different writers recommend different daily word goals for the drafting stages of writing (and page goals for editing), anywhere from three hundred words to two thousand. I’ve found the best way to build a daily word goal is to establish a larger goal first — Do you want to write a novel in a month for NaNoWriMo or complete a short story by the end of the year? Do you have weekly or monthly targets you want to meet? — then break it down by its time frame (and if your larger goal has no time frame, then five hundred words a day is a good place to start). Let’s say you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month and want to write fifty thousand words in the month of November. That means you would have to write a little over sixteen hundred words a day to hit that target. With that in mind, and with a regular schedule in place to accommodate that amount of writing, you now know exactly what you need to do in order to tackle your goals.
It is also beneficial to establish a word minimum for those days when your writing time gets squeezed from your schedule or when you’re completely drained and can’t for the life of you chug out two thousand words. Your back-up word goal should be used sparingly and with great consideration, as you don’t want to fall into the habit of letting yourself off the hook. But knowing that you at least accomplished your minimum, even in the midst of a terribly busy day or an emotional breakdown, will keep your writing muscles working and your confidence afloat.
Bonus: Write It Out
I truly believe that writing things on paper with a pen is magic. Something about setting your goals in ink — the big ones and the small ones — puts them in action and spurs you to get things done, like a lingering rain cloud peppering you with reminders of those things you wanted to accomplish so badly you took the time to write them down long-form.
If you’re having trouble sticking to your schedule or daily word goals, try writing them down alongside sweet reminders of why you love writing or what you hope to achieve with your work in a year or two or five. If you struggle with motivation regularly, this might be a good way to start your writing sessions so that your intentions for your writing, as well as your affection for the craft, are on your mind from the beginning. That’s usually enough to get me to the writer’s chair, and I hope it is for you as well.
NOW TELL ME // What keeps you from writing on a regular basis? How do you deal with distractions or busyness? Tell me below!
photo by: Pawel Czerwiński