Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Developing a Writing Schedule

As writers, many of us struggle to find to time actually sit down and write. There are full-time jobs that gobble up at least 40 hours a week, and for those of us that are married, loving spouses that require more attention than an electronic tamagotchi pet. But we love you, we really do, and we didn't just compare you to an electronic toy that pleads for affection -- I promise!

So how do we make time for it all, and still manage to work on our writing projects? Because that's what it's like to be a writer for many of us, isn't it? We don't just work on one piece to completion, no that would be far too reasonable... Many of us dabble. We start projects, and switch up our creative endeavors to avoid boredom and resentment or to scratch a new creative itch that threatens to drive us insane if we don't acknowledge it. The muse comes as it will and does not take kindly to being asked to wait.

Of course, I'm no exception. I've been quite busy with my non-fiction writing lately, and I've added a fair decent number of articles to my online inventory. Some of my more notable articles dealing with writing are book reviews for writing advice books, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Since I already have these books in my collection, it was rather easy to put the reviews together. It does make it easier when you get some use out of a book. I imagine that a responsibly written 'bad review' is a bit harder to write. It also made me realize just how many of these types of books I've got on the shelf, which is one part sad and one part opportunity to write more reviews, most of which will not be recommendations for purchase. I also put together some quick articles based on our experience with the Disney Land and Sea vacation we took back in May to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. I plan on expanding my articles on this topic as well, since it is an area of broad interest and I wish we'd had some of the information I've got locked in my head before we'd made our travel arrangements. That has to be useful to a fair amount of people planning their vacations, so why not? If there's an audience... might as well sing. Here are two of my 'songs' err -- articles -- Review: Our Disney Cruise and What You Can Expect on a Disney Cruise.

The short stories I've got in the works are both on an 'as-I-get-time' status, though I do feel quite compelled to finish them. For those of you who have been with me for a while, the titles I've still got 'in-play' are "The Viability of a Seed" and "Chlorophyllium 9".

There's so much that I feel I need to do and only so much that I can tackle at any one time. Life is demanding more attention from me as well. We're half-way through painting the basement, which must be done before the workers can come back and finish the rest. Of course, taking a queue from Jim's ( The Truth About Lies ) recent comment to my blog, I'm putting a little extra effort to personalize the paint job in my office to help create the perfect writing atmosphere. It's going well so far, and I'll be sure to add pictures soon, but the process is time consuming.

Working 10 hour shifts and getting off at 6:30 PM has also put a bit of a strain on a recent goal to write something non-work related every day. I get off work, spend a few minutes trying to get my mind right, then it's time for dinner and I try to spend a little time with the kids before they go to bed and then the night just seems to melt away before I realize what's happened. So last night I decided that writing every single day may not be the best approach right now. I'll only beat myself up if I miss a day and that doesn't help the writing process in the slightest.

What I need is a workable writing schedule, a set block of time where I do nothing but write. Any other writing I may be able to churn out at other times during the week is bonus. I've decided that Friday is a good day for me to carve out time for my writing, and that will work for me. What type of writing schedule works for you?

If I'd have been asked that question when I first began writing, I would have scoffed at you. How can you schedule time to write? How can you expect to tame the wayward muse? The concept would have been insulting. Yet now, mellowed by time and experience, I know that a schedule is the only thing that can guarantee that I will sit down and write, and to not write seems a crime against the very core of who I am.

That begs the question: Who are you? As a writer, as a person, as someone with dreams, what will it take for you to accomplish the tasks you feel drawn toward? These are questions you will need to answer when it comes to balancing your creativity and your responsibilities. The great test has been laid before you, what tools will you use to ensure you pass? A writing schedule may not be the razor-bladed sword of a mighty hero, but a sword must be wielded to be a legend and a hero must do something heroic to be a hero made. So too must a writer write. Will you schedule your time on the battlefield to hone your abilities for the battle to come, or will you allow life to schedule your practice for you?


Jim Murdoch said...

So you don't have a dirty great big sword. A thousand tiny cuts can do just as much damage.

I've never been able to develop a schedule where I write at the same time every day or week. The poems and stories happen when they happen. You get the thing on the page however you can and then you're free to potter away here and there till you're satisfied it's done. There is no right or wrong way. You can only experiment. A habit takes time to form (there is some debate over how many days but let's say a month) and so at first a habit feels unnatural and it takes willpower to keep going but after that month you should be at the stage where not to do whatever it is you've been trying to impress upon yourself should feel unnatural.

One of the big problems people who work in short bursts face is preparation time. It might take 3 minutes to get your PC on and your document open but if you're only intending to work for 15 minutes you've already used up 20% of your time. If you write once a week for two hours what's 3 minutes in all that?

Thanks for the mention and glad to see you're making your workspace your own. I don't do so much creative writing at the moment and so my office gets neglected but it's not going anywhere. I can walk in their right now and since the PC is on standby I can be writing in a minute and if I'm in a real rush there's a pad and paper sitting on the desk too. Knowing that is important. It means I have no excuses. All I have to do is wait for the brain fog to clear. Give me 10-hour shifts any day.

Unknown said...

Well, for example, even though I have determined to set a block of time on Friday to dedicate to writing, it does not prevent me from doing any of those things you suggested. I merely extinguished the idea that I had to be writing something every single day.

It was really starting to wear on me when I felt too mentally tired to switch gears and get something down. That guilt doesn't help me to write more, it makes me feel like giving up.

I must confess, Jim, I committed a cardinal sin the other day. A beautiful piece of non-rhyming poetry flashed to mind and I didn't bother to write it down. I don't know why... I was at my computer and I could have done it in seconds, but I just let it go.

That just won't do at all.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, Brady, Brady, Brady… Say three Our Falkners and two Hail Melvilles After I wrote my comment to you last night I pottered around in my office for a few minutes and then clambered back into bed. Literally as I was pulling the cover back over myself and snuggling into my wife I found my head filling with poetry. Now, I could've just said, "Sod it," and gone to sleep hoping against hope that I'd remember some of it when I got up but I didn't. I got up, went back to my office, picked up that pad and scribbled down what I expect to be quite a reasonable poem. Once my head was empty I went back to bed and sleep. I have the pad beside me just now and after lunch I'll set about formatting the piece. Now this doesn't mean I haven't done exactly what you have – we all get disillusioned at times – but good ideas need to be captured. When I got the idea for my last novel I was walking though a park on the way to work and I had neither pen nor paper with me and so I had to keep that entire first paragraph in my head for about a half-hour and the first thing I did when I was there was get it down on paper. Imagine if I'd let that go. Of course I'd never know and that's the point, you never know. I have notebooks full of scraps I've never done anything with but you never know.

Unknown said...

Another poem crept into my head yesterday, Jim. I didn't know what to do with the cheeky bastard so I tossed it into a loaded Helium poetry category. It's currently sitting at rank 5 out of 57. Here's a link if you're interested.

I'm not typically one to attempt to write non-rhyming poems. In my youth it was hard for me to quantify the quality if I couldn't gauge how well the rhyme and point came across.

I guess that means that I'm doing better at capturing the muse, even if I have no idea if I've done well or made a mockery of myself. I guess time will tell.

Jim Murdoch said...

It's an okay piece, Brady. I was writing poems like that when I was fifteen. By that I'm not saying that it's juvenile simply that at that age I hadn't yet found my own voice. There's nothing wrong with the piece but a hundred people could've written it and probably have, the "waiting on death" poem.

This is the end of a narrative. We're missing so much and that doesn't mean we need the old man's life story but we do need more. And by that I don't mean quantity - don't turn it into a piece of chopped-up flash fiction - but do give us some clues. There's being vague and there's being invisible.

A character with no memories is a tough act to carry off. You've left yourself nothing to work with and precious little time. If he even had a single memory it would've helped, like Krapp's fixation on the moment in the punt (none of his other memories are as important as that one) or Kane's dying memory of 'Rosebud'.

Unknown said...

A mockery it is then! :)

Oh well, maybe with time.

Jim Murdoch said...

No, 'mockery' is too harsh. It was a by-the-numbers piece, vanilla - do you see what I'm getting at? - like a template that just needs that certain something added. I don't believe that that someone would be completely devoid of memory. Even Beckett at his bleakest endows his characters with memories; often it's all they have.

Clint the Cool Guy said...

Hi Brady,

Yeah, I'm with you. It's always hard to find the time. Especially if you write at work. Then you get home, spend some time with the kids, and feel like your brain is drained :) Maybe someday our writing will strike it rich and we won't have that problem anymore! In the meantime, like you I just plug away whenever I find time.

Sometimes I have to make myself write though. But once I do, I'm happy that I did.

I don't know about you, but if I don't write for a while (2 to 4 days or so), I start feeling GUILTY. Really guilty. Like all my dreams are about to fail or blow away or something. That's what really keeps me going.

Do you or anyone else here ever feel like that?


Hey, big congratulations by the way on "The Boy in the Window" being published! That's wonderful news. I am very happy for you. Something like that can sort of make it all feel worth it, huh?

Best Regards,

Unknown said...

Thanks Clint! I know exactly what you mean by feeling guilty for not writing when I know I should. Isn't it odd how it works that way when most other hobbies don't?