Let the words flow: Set a writing schedule and stick to it

This is a guest post by Patti Larsen

I’ve heard it said you can’t schedule productivity. Especially when it comes to creative endeavors. That by doing so, you cut off the flow of energy, box yourself in, stifle the muse…

Please. Allow me a moment to shake my head. And tell you that is the biggest pile of (impolite word) I’ve ever heard. Waiting until you are inspired to write is an excuse not to write.

Oh dear. Mad at me yet? Fair enough. Still, you want to be productive, don’t you? Finish that book you’ve been slaving over and maybe even the sequel(s)? But you’re finding it oh-so-hard with life in the way, kids, hub, cleaning, work, pets, friends, family… the list of reasons why you can’t is so much longer than the seed of need that keeps you at it. Not to mention when you do get a chance, you just don’t feel like it… right?

Time for a healthy dose of selfishness. Seriously. Writing is a lonely occupation, one that requires time and energy devoted to you and the voices in your head. No excuses. And don’t get me started on giving your ego control over your creative process. Because we all know how supportive and encouraging that nasty voice in your head can be.

And, as much as I know you want me to tell you there is a magic formula… there really is.

I just don’t think you’re going to like it.

Before I share, let me tell you a little about me and my process so you understand where I’m coming from. I write a lot. A lot. For example, I’m writing a series this month for release this fall. Yes, three books. No I’m not a mutant. Yes, I’m insane. But I was before I started writing, so no excuses. It can be done. Yes, you can. You just need to know how.

Think about it in logical terms if you really want to go that way. I write YA, so my target word count is between 40,000 and 60,000 words per book (sometimes more depending on the series). The novels I’m working on right now are about 50,000 each. So not huge, but I’ll top out the month at a little over 150,000 words. Not shabby. But how?

I write full time. I know not all of you can. But that’s okay. This breakdown will still shine some light on how easy it really is to get those words out yourself.

This is my job. So I write and /or edit eight hours a day—writing about 2,000 words an hour at my best. No, you don’t have to be that fast (but if you keep at it, you will be). Back to the math. Let’s be less than generous because I too like Facebook, Twitter and my new addiction, Google+. So let’s call it 1,000 an hour, shall we? That’s 8,000 words per day. Now, depending on what I’m doing, I write six (sometimes seven) days a week. No, again, you don’t have to. So let’s call it five. A normal work week. That’s 40,000 words a week. A week.

Do you see how this adds up?

So let’s say you can write 1,000 words a week. That’s all the time you have. After a year, you have a YA novel written. And that’s with one hour a week writing time. One hour.

Is your ego screaming at you yet? Of course it is. Because it’s terrified I’m right.

So, let’s get to the secret formula to achieving those words: drum roll please…

Set serious goals. And achieve them. Didn’t I say you might not like it? But it really is that simple.

Every January I buy a day-to-day calendar. I then sit down and decide what I can commit to in terms of time and energy for the next six months. I keep it in front of me when I write. It’s my boss. Tells me how many chapters I’m tackling. Or what I’m editing, submitting, blog posting… you get the picture. And yes, of course things come up, stuff happens and I have to change things around a little bit. Vacations. Family events. House cleaning (I need a maid). All I do is simply adjust the plan and carry on.

Your plan doesn’t need to be as ambitious as mine, unless that’s something you can commit to. Choose a reasonable goal and go after it. Pick times of the week you can set aside and schedule them in. Don’t book yourself four hours on a Sunday afternoon if you know that’s not going to happen. Don’t. You’re just setting yourself up for failure. Why do that? Even if you can only do a half hour on a Friday night after the kids go to bed, schedule it in. And commit to it. Sit down at 8:30 like you said you would and spend that half hour. And if it turns in to three hours, great. If it’s only twenty minutes because an emergency comes up, no worries. But make sure you have it scheduled.

You see the trend here? You can say you’re going to write, talk about it, sigh over it, but unless you give yourself a concrete plan, you’ll continue to talk about it, sigh over it… and never finish your book. I know you can do it. So go out and get a day minder. Make your plan. Commit to it, and don’t beat yourself up if all you can do is a half hour a week. That’s more than most ‘writers’ manage.

So, Patti, Miss Smarty-Pants, what happens when you get to your scheduled time and just don’t feel like writing? You know that’s your ego, right? Trying to control you? Are you going to let that happen or write some serious word count?

There’s a way to shut your ego down. Set a timer. Ten minutes. Tell yourself if you’re still not in the mood after that, you’ll stop. You really can’t force creativity. I’m not telling you to. But the thing is, once you’re writing and your ego is quiet and the words are flowing… that ten minutes turns into an hour, two hours even and suddenly you have three chapters written and feel fantastic about yourself.

You’ll find once you choose to commit you’ll make more time. You won’t be able to help yourself. The ideas will start moving again, your enjoyment will rise and before you know it, you’ll be writing a series in a month.

Okay, maybe not. But you can do it. I’m nothing special, really. Really. I’ve just chosen to write and not let anything stop me.

Set that timer. Make that plan. And get your book done.

About this post’s author:

Patti Larsen is an author of dark adult and YA paranormal novels and short stories. She writes a lot of scary stuff for someone who is afraid of the dark. And she wonders why she has to sleep with the lights on. Her short story Henry and YA novel Fresco (Etopia Press) are due for release this summer with the rest of the Diamond City Trilogy to follow this fall. Her dark YA thriller series, The Hunted, makes its debut in September of this year. Her Middle Grade novel, The Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House (Acorn Press) comes out Spring 2012. She lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband and three enormous cats.

You can find her all over the web (or, at least it feels that way to her):


7 Comments

  1. Thanks for hosting me! Happy to be here, Emlyn. :)

  2. Nicely done post. It is important to have a schedule when writing because its like any other art that requires discipline and focus to complete.

  3. Just what I needed . A kick in the butt to jump start my writing after returning from vacation and getting the house going again. I know I need to schedule it. So now I will.
    THANKS!

  4. My pleasure, goingtogermany! :) And thank you, Baker–it IS important. We make time for our ‘job’–and need to treat writing the same way.

  5. This is great advice.
    Heard it before, but it takes a while to actually get going. So this is just another reminder to get down to it again.

  6. Thank you for this post. For me it was just the right thing at just the right time and now I’m about to implement your advice. I already bought my calendar. Also wanted to let you know I cited it in my blog in a post titled “Sit. Stay. Write.” Had to spread the word.