This post has been something I’ve been kicking around the noggin for a while. But then talking about how you don’t have time to write is super annoying and self indulgent. It’s like “Oh whoa is me. I’ve baked all of these cookies and I just don’t have time to eat them!” You can’t see me right now, but I’m flipping my hands around in an over-exaggerated pouting manner. I may be making a face too … But the truth of the matter is that for those of use who have a day job and other commitments, establishing a “writing time” is incredibly important. Maybe it’s the scheduler in me, but for me, I’m the most productive when I stick a writing schedule.
Barring the occasional disruptive event, here’s how it used to go:
Get up and eat breakfast. Go to the gym. Get to work and catch up on emails/start my day. Knock out my writing in the morning. Be a productive member of my job from then on.
Now I know not everyone has the luxury of being able to write while they’re at their day job. No time, too distracting, etc. We’ll get to that in a minute, but let me first explain why my method was beneficial to me …
I’ve become the most productive in the morning in general. That’s because I’ve thrown myself out of bed, chugged some coffee and hit the gym. All of those things help to energize and refresh my battery. After that, the world is mine so to speak. But what’s become the most helpful thing when it comes to writing is that during all of these morning rituals, that’s when I take care of the prewriting in my head. I know come 9:30ish it’s game time so what am I gonna bring to the table?
I’m an outliner who leans more towards plotting. Some scenes I have bullet points that I need to hit and others, I know dialogue beats and what the air is gonna smell like. It all depends what I’m writing. So for me, the prewriting portion is just as if not more important than the actual writing side. This is when I think about what I wrote yesterday, check the outline for my goals for what’s coming up, and start working on the next bit. I’ll jot some notes on my phone so I don’t forget but I’m definitely more productive when it comes to actually writing if I’ve done this process all morning. This is even how I treated all of my essays in college. I couldn’t write anything without first spending time thinking about where I wanted to go with it. Even parts of this post have existed floating around in the ether of my subconscious before I sat down at the keyboard.
When it comes to a new novel, I give myself a goal of 1,000 words a day. It’s just something that’ll get my butt in the chair and keep me honest. In the beginning, it’s a target number. If I hit 700 and I like it, eh, it’s a good day. But after a while, it becomes the rule. Only 950 today? Better write 1050 tomorrow! And once that gets in place, I up the count but by then I’m usually excited enough about the story that I’m off to the races.
All of this is to set the stage. That was my life.
Now? I’m working two jobs at the same time while trying to get my home (and mind) ready for the arrival of our twins in August. First time parent. Lots to do. So there’s basically nothing but distractions in my life right now! We can debate forever about the “time to write” and everyone is going to have the process that works best for them. My favorite analogy about writing is the Jane Goodall method. The more time you stay out of the trees, the more work you have to do to get back into the critters’ good graces. So what do you do when life gets in the way and your routine breaks?
Prewriting. Prewriting. Prewriting.
You’re still working on your story. You’re still planning beats, working on dialogue, snippets of description. You’re doing the hardest part now. All you have to do later is weave it all together so it sounds coherent. Who’s rough draft is perfect anyway? The best part is you’re doing this while you’re walking around, going grocery shopping, or stuck waiting for a coworker’s report. Hey, you’re multitasking. Who knew? Also driving (I get a lot of work done by myself in the car). Any time you’re stuck in the car either too or from work, turn off the radio and work on your story. I’ll talk out loud to work out issues. If anyone stops next to you it’ll look no less crazy than you singing to yourself. Hell, they’ll probably think you’re on the phone. And speaking of the phone, we live in the 21st century. Smart phones have voice to text capabilities so write yourself dozens of notes. Even if you don’t use any of it later, you’re basically getting all of the bad words out first and making way for the good ones.
I’m still working on my new schedule and I know come August, that’s going to change again, but never stop. Sharks need to keep swimming and you need to keep writing. At least that’s how I tend to look at it. I use the gym as another example. People like to say that writing is like working a muscle and they’re right, but I’m looking at the consistency here. When I first started going to the gym – or even after an extended absence – those first few days back suck. They suck a lot. The first week is hard and the second one is even harder. You’re sore. You’re tired. It’s exhausting. And then somewhere around week three something magical happens. Suddenly it’s not so bad. You kind of like going to the gym. You see improvements and you feel good about it. That’s how I look at writing.
When I sit down to write may vary these days, but the basics never change. I must work on it in my head before I do and I must write every day. If I (and you) can accomplish those two things, the rest of it’s going to fall into place.