A friend of mine frequently takes the mickey out of me for my OCD-levels of scheduling and planning when it comes to my writing work. It all started when I was working at a marketing company, and the MD was constantly telling me to use a calendar to schedule the work of the multiple clients I had. Looking back now, it was probably because he could tell I was a lazy bastard, but it definitely rubbed off on me, and now I’m obsessed with planning my writing schedule.
It goes much further than simply keeping a calendar though, because calendars can be ignored, deleted or set on fire (my preferred method of calendar disposal). Here are five ways that you can plan your writing schedule:
#1 – Outline Your Novels and/or Writing Plan
Not every writer has an outline, and those that do don’t stick to them. And that’s OK. An outline is a roadmap that keeps you from going to the dark side and never coming back. Without some kind of outline or project-based writing plan, you run the risk of losing yourself and/or your story, and it’s a chronic waste of time.
Personally, I have a bullet-point sheet of key scenes, followed by dialogue quotes, a book blurb and snippets of things that I plan on fitting in to the story at some point. This keeps me focused and energised, and stops me from hitting a wall and going “Now what?” before watching eighteen hours of YouTube videos instead of writing.
#2 – Use a Calendar (e.g. Google Calendar)
Google Calendar is my religion. It keeps me on track, energised and focused, and stops me from waking up in the morning and questioning myself. I know myself well enough to know how many words I can write in a day and how prone to procrastination I can be if I don’t have any client work to complete by a deadline.
Whether you’re a freelance writer, an author, screenwriter or comic book artist, a Google calendar (other calendars are available and I’m sure they’re lovely) will give you something to aim for and gives you a sense of achievement every time you achieve a date-based goal or finish a job before schedule. It also gives you a sense of urgency, something that not all writers have, especially ones who rely on self-imposed deadlines only.
#3 – Set Yourself Goals
This is starting to sound like a Frank TJ Mackey seminar (“Respect the pen and tame the paper!” or something), but setting yourself goals is an important part of being a writer. The cliché of being the aimless writer who is working on their masterpiece for years isn’t cool. You sound like the knobhead from Sliding Doors who is using the words “I’m a writer” to score with women who are out of his league but is really just a lazy slob who can’t be bothered to get a job.
Set yourself goals. Realistic goals. 1,000 words a day is a goal, and that’s 30,000 words a month (Good Daley Hunting: Maths Genius). You’re going to feel amazing when you hit that goal, and you can use that good feeling to launch yourself towards your next target like Tony Stark taking a missile into another dimension.
#4 – Limit the Risk of Procrastination
I am the human equivalent of Doug the Dog from Pixar’s Up. I can write a couple of thousand words, nip to Google to check a fact and then return to what I was doing an hour later. Sixty minutes have passed watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, reading articles or Tweeting. Some of that distraction time may have been well spent, but sometimes you need to stay focused and crack on with the writing.
You can do this by locking the internet using tools like Productivity Owl and SelfControl, or by taking your research with you to a writing space away from home (coffee shops, libraries, etc.) and write without the web distractions. (Note to self: Don’t sneak onto the Free Wi-Fi)
Don’t beat yourself up over writing breaks and some harmless Facebook time, just don’t let it dictate your day.
#5 – Break up Your Writing Tasks
Sometimes writing the same piece over a sustained period of time can be soul-destroying. Break up your writing tasks with research, reading and by writing something completely different in between breaks. It will keep your energy levels up and prevent your writing from feeling like a chore.
For example, if you’re writing the first draft of your novel, and aiming for 4,000 words a day, why not stop and do 30 minutes of reading when you get to 2,000. Obviously you shouldn’t force yourself to do this if you’re in the moment and writing great material, but if you’re focusing on the word count and the time rather than the story, taking a breather and writing a quick blog post or watching a YouTube video interview with your favourite writer might spring you into action later.