Some great advice I’ve always gotten is that it’s good to have a schedule for writing – perhaps you wake up early in the morning to pursue your dream, and before your loved ones are hitting their snooze button, you’ve met your word count for the day. Like the early morning jogger, you wake up and seize the day – only writing is sedentary in nature, but it’s the same spirit, right?
The only problem I ever had with that advice was that my schedule after high school was never consistent. Sure – once I was in university I could write at a given time for one semester, but then I would have a major unexpected change in my school or work schedule – job loss, change in professor, family health issues – that’s to say nothing once I entered a very competitive job market. Even now as a “grown up” I have a schedule that flip-flops – working 4 days on, 4 days off sounds great to a lot of people – but they make for long days and a lot of unknowns for my friends and family members (they have, however, learned not to schedule anything on me on my first twelve hours off).
Writing, even if kept at a hobby level but you’d like to go pro one day, should have some sort of commitment – but for a lot of people who don’t work normal schedules or who are full-time caretakers (moms come to mind, but there are lots of others), we can still produce good quality work. For example, at my job, there is a lot of downtime – but it’s unguaranteed downtime and I can have plans, but if I’m still on call, my plans fall by the way side.
In my mind, balance is key for writing. Don’t get me wrong – when I really don’t want to work on a scene, all my laundry manages to get done and I manage to find random people to phone up and chat with. I tend to make weekly goals and try to exceed them – but I’m a competitive person, so that’s all the motivation I need. When you’re starting out, set yourself a modest but still challenging goal – I like to go by word count or a scene and not by the hour, but everyone’s different, most writers I know prefer to commit to time. Usually, I’m working on two things at once – writing something and editing another thing, so if I feel like I’m burning out on one, I can switch to the other one. It might be as simple as, “Write 2k a day, edit pages 70-150 of Manuscript X”. I set myself other goals as well – go to the gym, get an oil change, have half the laundry done, etc., but I don’t live by the agenda. If things get done, great. If they don’t – it goes on tomorrow’s list.
There’s no way I want to get all my household chores done in one day; the same goes with my writing. I could love what I’m working on, but what was fun when I started will seem like this giant chore looming over my head if I attempt to do at all at once (unless I have a manuscript swap due the next day – then I can magically increase my word count per hour and the dishes don’t get done).
I work on a laptop. I like the freedom of being able to set up anywhere – my normal place is at my kitchen table or office at work, but I can go to a patio or to my favorite café or a library. Of course, laptops can be stolen, dropped, and get damaged – so sometimes, I like to leave the computer at home and take a duotang with paper, and do it freehand – this is beneficial if I’m going to the beach or doing a lot of running around, and I don’t want to worry about my laptop or bring it with me as I’m running around. If you’re flexible to work here and there while with other people who are chatting and having a great old time, that’s great, but I find that if I’m really getting into things, I have to focus. If you are intent to work, make it so you can work – let people know you’re busy. There’s certain coffee shops I won’t go to if I know I need to get work done because I know I might run into a friend or four, but there’s no shame in walking over, saying hi, and telling them what you’re there for – provided you know you won’t spend your hour chatting with them.
Make your work space comfortable. I like to make tea (hot or iced) and surround myself with healthy food, so if I get the munchies I’m reaching for something I won’t regret later. Get yourself the reference material ready if you know you’re going to need it (it doesn’t need to be right out, but I find I just need to have it available in another room or my laptop bag so I won’t go running off and get distracted).
If you go online – make it a point to stay online to work, to do research or check business-related emails. It’s easy to get distracted and I have said, “Okay… I swear, just one more crack at this game and I’ll get done…” too many times. Make a commitment to work, and try your best to accomplish a reasonable goal that’s within your control – someone accepting your work isn’t something in your control, but you working towards completing a novel or short story is.
In short, you don’t have to keep to a rigorous schedule – it definitely helps if you can get into the habit, but keep in mind that life gets in the way some times. Writing is not a race, and even if things are so crazy and you only manage to crawl towards your goals and manage to keep that precious balance in check, you’ll still be ahead of the person who’s waiting for that perfect time to start.