My early writing schedules were torturous, terrible things. Hideous.
I was desperate to prove myself. So I devised a massive, arthritically structured plan. I wanted to do four kinds of writing (poetry, essays, short stories, novels), and I wanted to do them all RIGHT NOW. As well as researching markets and sending out submissions.
My days were frantic and bursting at the seams. I took zero time for real input, or the slow exploratory writing--the kind that so often yields the best insights, the best work.
All that's changed--thank goodness!
Now I'm a lot more interested in doing quality work, and a lot less interested in being the girl who writes everything.
After a lot of learning and experimenting, I came up with a basic, non-crazy writing template that has held up for years. It's a formula more than a concrete schedule: It's very forgiving, and the elements can stretch, collapse, or change places, based on your needs or your time constraints. You can shrink it into a thirty-minute micro-version of a writing day, or expand it to fill a full seven or eight hours.
If you're looking for a way to structure your writing days, give this a try!
Step 1: Start with a bit of courage, inspiration, and love.
I start by reading books about the writing life, books that address the attitudes and mindset and heart of the writer herself. This is my mental warm-up, my precursor to deeper thinking.
I am happily surrounded by many good books in this category. Right now, my top five are:
- A Year of Writing Dangerously / Barbara Abercrombie
- The Art of War for Writers / James Scott Bell
- A Writer's Book of Days / Judy Reeves
- A Writer's Paris / Eric Maisel
- Page after Page / Heather Sellers
Step 2: Warm up your pen with light, unattached writing.
This could be time to do a few writing exercises, or my current technique of choice: a bit of journaling. The point is to get words down, warm-up words. Pen moving over paper; a cursor tracking across that white field. Get some words down without judgement or stopping. Write for a few minutes.
Step 3: Stock your brain: read the dictionary or the encyclopedia.
This is an insanely useful practice. I love the serendipity of what you'll find in a single page. When I'm looking hard for story ideas, I'll gulp down three pages in the dictionary every day.
It's not really about learning new words. It's more about encountering new thoughts, or familiar ones in new contexts. This practice has sparked character ideas, new settings, and whole story concepts. You never know what you'll find, what will save your bacon in a moment of inspirational poverty.
Step 4: The meat of the day: Focus Area #1.
For me lately, this means typing in the previous day's drafting work. Some rough revising work on those pages, a bit of editing, and exploring new ideas that spring up.
If you're new and don't have a project yet, try diving deep into the world of writing exercises.
I once spent eight weeks working through all 365 prompts in A Writer's Book of Days. At the end of it, I had the bones of at least four novels, as well as the ideas simmering for dozens more. If you're new to writing, this might be the best thing for you!
Step 5: Focus Area #2.
This is usually when I do the day's drafting: fleshing out scenes, sentence by sentence.
Other times, I've used this time to work on specific craft and skill-building exercises, like the ones in James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure or Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook or The Fire in Fiction.
There are MILLIONS of books on craft out there. When I'm feeling weak on a certain writing skill (in other words, always), I'll grab two or three books that cover the same subject, and I'll map out a mini writing course for myself.
Step 6: Review the day, and plan tomorrow.
Because I'm a notetaking nerd, I usually add something to my work journal about how the day went. I'll mull over what I'm stuck on with my draft, vent frustration about what was unexpected, or celebrate the victories.
This is the perfect time to plan the next day. Before I leave my desk, I write out a detailed list of what I'll do tomorrow, category by category. When one day feeds into the next, they start to build momentum. Trust me, it makes it a lot easier to get started.
Step 7: Fall into someone else's good book.
After a day's work of word lifting, I love to flop down with someone else's finished prose. It's both a great way to unwind, and a way to keep musing on words, admiring the rhythms of sentences, getting lost in the imagery.
Plus, hey, we're readers, right? Why write if you don't love to read?
There it is! My tried and true all-purpose writing routine.
Obviously, this is just one girl's escapade in Scheduleland. Maybe this is the kind of thing that bores you to tears, but I'm a schedule junky. Really. I'm the nosiest person when it comes to how other people work, endlessly curious.
If that's you too, then check out the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (the blog that started it!) by Mason Currey. While you're at it, look through the archives of My Morning Routine, which posts once a week, detailing the morning ritual of current artists, entrepreneurs, writers, and other creative sorts.
All right. So: How do you work? Do you have a tried-and-true routine, or a habit that helps you start, or a proven closer? Share tips and habits in the comments!