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The Writing Schedule: A 3-Part Series
I have these images in my head of what a writer’s life looks like. Waking up naturally after a reasonable amount of sleep. Reading for about an hour, with coffee and maybe a light snack in hand, in preparation for my day. Spending a couple of hours writing, and then having a late breakfast/early lunch. Running errands in the afternoon (if I have any). Writing for a few more hours until it’s time to make supper or to do whatever I have planned for the evening. Ending the day with an hour (or three) of reading.
That’s not how my life looks right now.
I mean, some days it does. The occasional weekend day or a couple of days out of the week when I take time off from my full-time job looks like that. I love those days. I get so much done, and I have such pleasant, relaxed nights - even when they’re busy - because I am happy with how I have spent the day. That’s the dream.
Right now, though, most of my days start way earlier than I’d like them to and keep me away from my writing until late evening. As of today, it is exactly 7 years, 2 months, and 29 days until I am eligible to retire, which means that, unless I become inexplicably wealthy before then, I’ve got at least that long before my dream life becomes my consistent reality.
Since I don’t want to wait until then to pursue the creative things I love, I need a writing schedule that works for the life I have now. A common reason that writers give for not actually doing so is that they don’t have time, but I’ve never talked to anyone who has told me that for whom it’s true.
I get where they’re coming from. “I don’t have time,” was once my mantra every time someone asked me about how my writing was going. That is until a friend gently challenged me to reassess (although it didn’t feel gentle to my barely-making-it brain at that moment).
When I (moodily and begrudgingly) took a look at how I was going about my days, it turned out that I had plenty of time. I was just choosing to spend it elsewhere:
Staying late at work to catch up on emails
Volunteering for projects out of obligation rather than actual interest
Trying to take on too many tasks myself in the projects I was passionate about instead of delegating or asking for help
Doomscrolling on social media
Watching a lot of TV
Although this realization was quite humbling, it was also liberating. I didn’t want to do any of those things more than I wanted to write. So it was relatively easy to decide to drop them when they were revealed to be the things that were keeping me from the life I wanted to have and didn’t want to wait for.
I recognize that it may not be this easy for you. It may not even feel possible. But I need to say something that may sound more rude than gentle to your brain anyway.
The first creative act of any artistic endeavor is making time. It won’t come looking for you. If you want it, you will have to choose it.
To be clear, this is not a mandate. I am not the boss of you. If you have a job (or three) and a social life and children, or some other huge, vital responsibility or passion that is taking up a lot of space in your everyday, you may decide that a freelance copywriting gig is not a big enough priority to add it to the to-do list right now. That’s OK. You are the sole expert on what’s important to you, and you have every right to make choices accordingly without having to explain yourself to anyone.
[Aside: Trying to explain yourself to everyone is exhausting and also time-consuming. I encourage you to drop justifying your choices to judgy people off your to-do list as quickly and gleefully as possible. Maybe use that time to write. Or just take a much-needed nap.]
If all that’s true and you still want to work on that great idea for a story that you just can’t shake, keep in mind that you don’t have to secure a 2-hour block to write something. Grab a little pocket of time before everyone wakes up or after they go to bed, or jot down a scene or verse while you’re eating your sandwich at lunch. Your writing schedule doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s in order to be valid.
Finally, remember that creating a writing schedule is not a one-and-done situation. You can change it any time you want. You can change it every week. You can spread it out over several months. You can pick one month a year when you drop everything else that isn’t absolutely essential and become a writing machine, churning out thousands of words a day to get a rough first draft, and then spend just 20-30 minutes per week during the other 11 months of the year editing it.
The ideal writing schedule is the one that actually works right now, not just in some mythical someday.