How to Set Up Your Writing Schedule, Kill Stress and Get Things Done

Alarm clock ringing

How do you decide when you’re going to write?

Do you move through your day, hoping time will magically open up when you can sit and scribble a few hundred words on your current manuscript?

Do you get to the end of your day and feel frustrated, because you never opened the manuscript at all?

Do you start the day with really good intentions, only to see obstacle after obstacle defeat your determination to get some serious wordage down?

Do you start every Monday with the new hope that this week you will nail it—you will get the words written that you hope to achieve?

Have you ever wondered how writers you know online or in person manage to get all those books written, and take care of all the other aspects of their business to?

When you sit down to write, are you plagued with “I should…” thoughts about all the social networking, marketing, formatting, editing, all the endless things that support your business?

Figuring out a writing schedule may seem hopelessly anal to you, but it will streamline your writing efforts.

It will offload all the “I should” thoughts you get when you try to write.  If you know there is time to get all those things done, later, then you can focus on your writing.

A writing schedule will give you a good handle on how many words you can get written in a week, which in turn lets you build a production schedule, so you know exactly what books you can write for the year.

It takes most of the stress out of your day, when you know exactly when you are supposed to sit down and write.

Figure Out Your Current Weekly Schedule

The first thing you must do is figure out your current schedule.

If you don’t already have a fairly regulated weekly scheduled, then you may have to do this exercise on a weekly basis, or monthly basis, when your work schedule or other major obligations have been determined.

If you are a regular 9 to 5’er, you can set up a weekly schedule once, then tweak as you need to.

Whichever category you fit into, you will still need to determine how you spend your time right now.

If you have no idea, (which isn’t unusual) then you will need to keep a log for a week.  Track what you do throughout the day.  If you can break it into increments of thirty minutes, that will help with the planning.

Open up a spreadsheet, or build one on paper, for the seven days of the week.

On that spreadsheet, fill in what you know about your week, including sleep, eating, work, and other obligations.

Find The Pockets Of Time

Study the schedule you’ve built.  What spare pockets of time are there?

Can you rearrange things to maximize any spare time (or even find any at all)?

Can you drop things off your schedule?  This is where you will have to ask yourself if the item on the timetable is something you really have to do.  Some items can’t be moved.  Sleeping and eating are usually fairly rigid.  Work hours are also nonnegotiable.

For health reasons, I strongly suggest that you don’t short yourself on sleep just to free up time for writing.  It is a self-defeating strategy.  Sleep deprivation will kill your creativity faster than anything else you can do.  It also drains your morale and motivation.  Most people need about eight hours.  Try to think of eight hours of sleep as nonnegotiable, too.

Anything else is fair game.  Switch and move and shift and delete until you have maximized your spare time.  This might involve negotiations with the family, loved ones, friends and employers, and other people in your life.  Depending on how determined you are to maximize your writing time, all this work is worth it.

You will be surprised by what you can live without.  If you really want to get books written, then watching three hours of television a night will have to go.  (I’m down to forty-five minutes a night, the length of one episode of my current TV series.  I usually eat dinner while watching.)

If you are working a full-time job, reconsider any other spare time hobbies.  I am writing full-time, and I have enormous trouble fitting in hobbies.  I’m still working on how to manage it.  I’ll let you know if I ever figure out how.

Rearrange To Maximize Your Creativity

If you already know you are more creative in the morning than in the evening, or vice versa, then consider the schedule in this light.

Can you move the spare time around to match when you are at your most creative?

If you have no idea when your creativity is at its peak, don’t worry about this step for now.  As you work with your writing scheduled for a few weeks, you can shift time around to experiment and discover when you are at your most creative.

I have not found that one time of the day is more creative for me than any other.  I write and have written at any time the day.  However, there is research to indicate that circadian rhythms do increase or decrease your ability to focus and concentrate.  Also sleep or the lack of it, has a huge impact.

For those reasons alone it might be best to scheduled most of your spare time in the mornings, if you can–at least until you have had a chance to experiment, and know what works for you.

Split The Time In Half

Now you have a weekly schedule which covers all your nonnegotiable obligations, and you have chunks of time that are currently marked as spare time.

What you do with that spare time is split it in half.  Half your spare time is used for administration and marketing and all the activities of running a writing business. You might be shaking your head right now, thinking that half the spare time is way too much.

Trust me it isn’t.  I have learned over the last few years of writing full-time that the business of writing is like your income — the outgoing rises to meet the incoming.  In other words there is always too much to do.

Brand-new beginning writers, who don’t even have a book published, still have platforms to build, research to do, miles and miles of training, practice, and networking with other authors.  There is a whole industry to learn.

More established writers with just a few books will have a ton of marketing to do.  Newer platforms still need to be increased and solidified.

If you have an extensive backlist like me, huge amounts of time are needed to maintain your backlist, because that is where most of your income comes from.  The marketing is more mature, and stable, but it still has to be done.  Also the administrative tasks become overwhelming.  For example, putting your books up on a new bookseller site is not much of a hassle when you only have three of them, but when you have over one hundred of them, it becomes a three-day project.

To start with, split your time in half and give half of it over to administration and other work (which includes everything that comes after you’ve typed “the end” on your first draft), and one half to plotting or writing new manuscript.  As you get to know yourself better, and learn how your business flows, you can tweak this.  However, I will be very surprised if you need more time for one than the other.

If you have determined when you are most creative during the day, you can select which fifty percent of your spare time you can use for writing.

If you have no idea, then schedule more of your writing time in the morning than in the evening, if you can.

Now go.

Follow your new schedule for a few weeks.  Give yourself some time to get used to it.  If you’ve never lived with a schedule before, you will need to adjust to doing things when you promised yourself you would.

The most important thing, of course, is writing when you say you are going to write.

Make sure you are keeping writing logs for each of your writing sessions.

You might want to add to your work logs notes about how the writing went per session.  If you wrote in the morning, how did it feel?  If you wrote in the evening, did your energy drag?  Or do you find the evenings are highly creative for you?

Were you writing at the coffee shop during your lunch break?  Did you had to the library for the evening?  Changes in location and time may have impact on your word count.

So, too, will your place in the current book dictate how fast you write.  Generally, I write far slower in the first half of the book.  The second half just zooms along.  Take note of these environmental factors to determine how much impact they have on your word count, if any.

Give it at least a couple of weeks, before you make any changes.

If you find that mornings or afternoons or evenings are better for you than other times of the day, you can perhaps try moving your scheduled writing time around so that your writing during those peak periods.

The tweaking and testing never stops.  Even I am still refining when I write and how much I write over a week.  I’m always looking for more time.

You may think you will reach a point where the schedule is as maximized as you can get it. Yet there are always little pockets and efficiencies that will free up time for you.

Even an extra fifteen minutes a day will give you a couple of pages more per day which can add up to whole books over year.

How prolific do you want to be?

I am admittedly a little bit obsessed about getting more books out.  You may not be.

However, as a big backlist is one of the fundamental factors of earning decent money as an indie author, being able to write quickly adds to the bottom line in a way no other strategy will.

You get to determine how much you squeeze your schedule.

Over time your priorities may change, too.  Life events, a maturing business, changes in the industry, changes in technology, world politics, the economy… There are thousands of things that will have an impact on your business.

As everything shifts you will come back to your scheduled time and time again.  Adjust it as you need to.

Once you have your writing scheduled figured out and stabilized, so that you are fairly certain about how many words you can get written in a week, then you can move on to building a production schedule for the year.  That’s when your writing business will take a leap forward.

For now, sort out your time and learn to live with it.  Once you do, you’ll come to appreciate a life with minimal stress, maximum productivity and a greater control and certainty over your writing business.


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