With the coming lifting of COVID restrictions in our province, plus Canada Day family gatherings, the house cleaning that comes beforehand, month-end tasks, month-start tasks, and a whole lot of new health challenges and appointments that need to be scheduled, my daily routine of writing first thing in the morning, and leaving the afternoon for administration and secondary writing has not just flown out the window, but has been shoved out by an almighty hip-check.
I’ve been particularly lax about cleaning the house over the last 18 months because…well, who would see it? And yes, there are the other residents of the house, and even me, being impacted by the subtle negatives of our environment, but one thing I’ve learned over the last few weeks is that the lock-down itself has had psychological impacts that, among other things, give you little motivation to do anything. House cleaning has never been a high priority for me. While we were in lock down, it dropped off my priority list altogether.
I am a classic, massive introvert, and didn’t think I was feeling the effects of being required to stay home all that much, but just in the last week or so, I can feel a difference in my energy level, my outlook, and my plans for the future. I’m actually looking forward to getting out of the house. (Although, to be fair, the new exercise regimen might also be contributing to the lightening of spirit.)
All these things are impinging on my writing time.
There is a lot of evidence, and a great many gurus out there who urge us to write on schedule. They argue that maintaining the same writing routine and schedule, day-in and day-out; that being absolutely boring in the regularity of our lives, is a good thing for ambitious writers.
And I absolutely agree. When I am following a steady, boring routine of writing and etc., then my productivity is amazing.
But sometimes your deadly dull, boring-but-essential routine gets blown to bits, like mine has.
And sometimes you have a life that won’t let you have a dull, boring, repetitious routine. I’m thinking of shift workers, emergency workers, and those with day jobs with unpredictable hours, including everyone working in retail and the food industries.
When you hit such disruptive times, or if your life currently is always impossible to predict more than a week out, then you need a slight shift of mindset.
How to write inside a never-the-same/disrupted life
- Your calendar is your best friend.
A calendar is absolutely essential to keeping your writing business going when you’re not sure what you’ll be doing in a month’s time, or when events are going crazy around you.
Once a week, sit down and block out the week ahead. If you’re not sure what even the week ahead will bring, then do your planning twice weekly — say, every Sunday and Wednesday. If you’re really in turbulent times, maybe daily planning is necessary.
- Block out your writing commitments.
If your production quota and your previous experience says that you need to get five thousand words written a day, and you know you can comfortably write 1,000 words an hour (NOT your best, top-gear speed, but 10% or more below that sprint pace), then add five 1,000 word 1 hr blocks onto your calendar, for each day.
- Block out all your upcoming commitments and events
This includes everything you do at home, too, not just appointments with other people. Don’t forget to add in travel time, set-up-and-breakdown time, etc.
Here’s mine for a couple of random days next week:
Notice that I break up my writing sessions into 1,000/hour-1 hr blocks, which I mentioned in step 2.
This makes it very easy to move parts of my writing around to accommodate other events. This is a way to make sure you’re getting “enough” writing done across a few days or the week itself.
Your commitments and appointments will often clash with your writing schedule (or you wouldn’t need to micro-manage your calendar), and we’ll deal with that in the next section.
4. Juggle the commitments and writing appointments.
This is particularly easy to do in some calendar apps — just grab the block and drag it to where it will fit into your day. Outlook does this well. Google Calender is a bit more fussy, but you can still shift stuff around, instead of having to delete/add new appointments all the time.
Spreadsheets, alas, are awful for building calendars. They aren’t drag-and-drop friendly.
If you’re using a paper-based calender for this, clearly, pencil and an eraser are the way to go, until you’re ready to commit to the re-arranged schedule.
In the example image above (which is my actual working calendar) you’ll see that there are single, 1 hour blocks of writing squeezed in between other commitments. This will happen for you, too. Just put the writing where it will fit, if you really can’t keep it when you’d rather do it (my preference is always early morning).
Keep moving things around until everything fits. If there is too much stuff and not enough room, that is the time when you start jettisoning commitments, or moving them forward in the calendar, canceling social events, and etc.
Don’t give up your health commitments unless you really have to. Exercising, eating, sleeping well, are essential to a long term writing career.
If you always have too much to do and not enough time to do it, then you need to reconsider your on-going commitments and maybe shave one or two of them out of your life.
As a last resort, reduce your daily wordcount expectations, so that your calender works over the long term
5. Now you commit to your schedule for the next week, and follow it faithfully.
Set up reminders, print out each day’s agenda, if you like paper, or have your phone and computer remind you when it’s time to move onto the next thing.
Get bloody-minded about stopping short when your block of time ends, and getting on with the next commitment. Even if you’re in the middle of a task, make yourself halt right where you are, and move on.
It can feel choppy if you’re not used to it, but if you’ve built your calendar well, then it is the only way you can get all the work done, and get your writing done, too.
The downside to breaking up your writing into 1 hour chunks like this is that you’re constantly starting to write, having to pick up the story threads and get going again. It comes easier with practice and once you learn the trick of writing in bits and pieces, you will build your confidence that you can get a lot of writing done this way.
That is why you MUST commit to your calendar as scheduled for the next xx days or week. What you schedule is what you do. Or everything falls apart. Don’t give into the temptation to keep shifting things about to suit your mood, or so you can keep going on the current task for just a bit longer.
And this is how you can get an enormous amount of writing done, even if you can’t find big blocks of free time in your day, even if every day is unpredictable.