Monday, March 20, 2017

Writing Schedules

A popular post from March 2009

by Annette Lyon

Sometimes I listen to a great podcast called Writing Excuses, produced with writers Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells. It's a very helpful podcast with lots of good information, and I recommend listening to it. Some of what they discuss refers specifically to fantasy and science fiction, but most of it is applicable to any genre.

One of the episodes, however, had me snickering and giggling: the one about a writer's schedule.

All three of the guys who are part of the podcast are full-time writers. I suppose they've forgotten what being a part-time writer was like, because they said things like (paraphrasing here):

"If I'm going to get any writing done, I need at least a four-hour block."

I burst out laughing.

Most of my writing career has been spent as a stay-at-home mom with several small children. Finding a four-hour block for writing was something that existed only in the realm of fantasy. Heck, for years, a TWO-hour block was pretty much an impossibility.

I had to find a way to make time, to use small snippets here and there. I learned to think ahead so that when I did have 30 minutes to write, I could type fast and make the most of the short session I had. I got really good at finding pockets of time and using them efficiently.

I wrote several books and sold lots of articles this way.

I imagine the vast majority of writers are in the same boat. They don't have large swaths of time to warm up and get into the mood and wait for the muse to strike. Not if they want to produce anything, anyway.

And that's fine.

Rumor has it that John Grisham worked as a lawyer while writing his first book, a page or so at a time during his 30-minute lunch break. Other now-famous blockbuster writers did the same before they could quit their day jobs.

If writing is a priority, you can find the time, even when a four-block is totally unrealistic.

Some ways:

What can you cut out of your life? Something will have to go, because there are only 24 hours in a day. Maybe it's a hobby. Or TV time (can you skip a sitcom six nights a week? That's THREE hours of writing!). Or it might be something else.

What can you consolidate or do faster? For example, if you ran all your errands on one day instead of spreading them out all week, you might be able to find a little time on a day or two to hit the computer. Maybe you can take the bus to work and write during the commute.

Plan ahead. That means both with finding time and with planning your writing. One small example: if I plan dinner well ahead of schedule (even doing something in the crock pot) then I can save myself half an hour or more that can be spent writing.

Then, if during the day, I thought ahead to what scene I'll write during that half-hour period, I can get right to work and be productive.

When are you sitting around doing nothing? I've written entire scenes in the doctor's office, the dance class lobby, and more. Time otherwise lost to the ether was made productive.

"I want to write, but I just don't have the time," is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Writers don't have time dropped handily into their laps. They MAKE time. They carve it out. They hunt it down, tie it up, and suck out every drop.

One irony: now that my youngest child is in kindergarten and I actually have a regular two-hour block, I find that I'm less productive in small snatches. It's as if my brain has realized it doesn't have to focus and work so hard--it's got two whole hours! Let's relax!

Next year when she's in school all day, I'd better not end up saying I need a four-hour block to get anything done.

If I do, smack me back to reality.


Josi said...

My youngest is in school all day--and I have not increased my output much at all. I find so many other things I need to do and I do think there's a psychological component to having so much free time on my hands that my brain doesn't hunker down. Danged annoying.

Becky said...

You had me falling off my chair laughing! I've done most of my writing with two little boys running around screaming, or a Disney movie in the background if I'm trying to get more than 20 minutes at a time. The last month I've had a hard time focusing enough to get anything done--what I wouldn't give for an hour of solid writing time...

Heather Justesen said...

I love Writing Excuses, but I thought the same thing when I heard this podcast. Very few writers I know have large blocks of uninterrupted time to write. And I find when I do have large blocks I usually squander them because my brain keeps finding other things to do like . . . . check out your blog...or I don't know, cook a meal for a change, or do laundry.

I know I was effective in short spurts once...

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

Great post! I had to laugh. I have a child going to kindergarten next year. I can't wait.

I find nap time is my time to write and I am extremely lucky because my baby sleeps from about ten in the morning to between one and two in the afternoon. EVERY DAY!! WOO HOO! So I take that time to write. My house isn't always neat and tidy but dang, I'm not a Molly Mormon. I'm a writer.

Julie Wright said...

You are singing my song! Amen sister. And while I love Brandon, Howard, and Dan, hearing that they need four hours gives me something to tease them about. ;)

Kimberly said...

My oldest goes to kindergarten in the fall and my youngest likes to play by herself for long stretches.

The mere thought of the schedule change is dizzying.

I think I'll keep up my sporadic fifteen minute sessions though. I like the flexibility and the urgency is sometimes a sort of inspiration of its own.

Liesl said...

Hi, I'm a random reader, and I thought I'd share a few, well, thoughts.

Somebody wise said, "If you have 15 minutes to do a task, then it will take you 15 minutes to do that task. If you have 30 minutes to do a task, then it will take you 30 minutes to do that task." Obviously showing that when we have ALL THIS TIME, our brains shut off. Making time is the way to go. For me, I'd have to cut out computer time. It's hard, though. I love it too much.