Nothing will happen until you write. Said another way, if you don’t actually find a way to get the writing done, your writing career will be over before it starts.
That means writing regularly – whatever that turns out to be for you. While you’ll hear some experts say you have to write every day to be a ‘real’ writer – that simply isn't true. Actually, you need to write to a schedule that works for you over and over again.
On the other hand, if you write only when the mood or muse strikes your chances of ever writing well or earning a living from your writing are extremely small.
Finding some schedule for your writing is imperative. Here are two approaches.
Start with your ideal day
I didn't create this process. I got it from the book, Wishcraft: How To Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb. I’ve used it myself many times and find it works.
Ask yourself what your perfect writing day would look like.
The idea is to imagine what perfection might be like for you. When you first start this, your mind is likely to come up with all sorts of things, both negative and positive. Often the first thought is a negative one, like “I don’t have any time at all!” or “This won’t work!
Take a deep breath and dare to dream about what you really want. Go ahead and imagine an ideal writing day as if you were a full-time freelancer, even if you know that isn't true yet. Chances are within that dream are elements you can use to being to establish a writing routine today.
You might want to start by deciding how long your ideal writing day would be. I’m going to assume it’s somewhere between one and six hours. This is time actually devoted to writing, not all the rest of the stuff that goes into a writing career. Although there are exceptions, most writers find something like three to six hours a day, five days a week is about what they can handle consistently.
Once you've identified the amount of time you want to spend writing, the next step is to decide where in the day you’d like to find those hours fitting.
Most people discover one part of the day is best for them. Many, like me, want to do their writing the first thing in the morning. Others don’t want to write until after dinner. That sense that you prefer one time of day over another is valuable and should be honored.
Forum member and writer John Soares has an article about this called When Is the Best Time for You to Write?
Envision where you’d like to write. Again, this is your ideal, not necessarily what will be possible in the beginning. I've always wanted a separate room in my home to work in, and mostly I've got it. I also want something interesting to look at through windows. Today I have a wooded canyon. And I've wanted outdoor space to do some work in, and I have that in the form of a deck.
Fill out your ideal day, from the kind of coffee or tea you want on through the end of the day. At one point my dream of ending was shutting the door on the office. I have the door and sometimes shut it physically and sometimes just mentally.
Make an appointment with yourself to write
Once you've got your dream in place, and assuming you can write full time, go back to the time of day you think will work best and make an appointment with yourself to spend x hours at such-and-such a time for the next week. Put it in your calendar – and if you don’t have a calendar for appointments, get one – paper, on your computer, on your smart phone – somewhere.
At the end of that first week, look and see if you kept your appointments with yourself.
If you did, great, you’re on your way to a writing routine.
But don’t be surprised if you didn't You may, for example, have gotten off to a great start and written when you said you would for a day or two, and then found yourself skipping a day or even the rest of the week. That’s okay, you’re exploring right now.
If you didn’t keep your appointments with yourself ask why. Maybe there was a legitimate reason, like a family emergency. More likely, however, is that you found excuses not to write, maybe even unconsciously. More than one coaching client has told me they actually seemed to forget what they had promised to do. It happens.
Whatever your reason, it most likely means that you simply need to start again, or it might mean the schedule needs adjusting.
It’s okay to start again… and again
Most people find they need to both start again and adjust their schedule in the beginning. Developing the discipline to write regularly requires practice, and some self-acceptance. You can start again over and over until you get a writing schedule that works for you .
Know too that the pattern of writing you set for yourself today will, over time change – as it should.
Obviously, no one can do this for you. You can read blogs like this one or John Soares wonderful Productive Writers blog for hints, ideas and even instructions on how to become successful, but it is up to you to carve out both the time to write and the time to run your writing business.
You are the only one who can write, rewrite and market yourself to success.
When you can only write part time
If you've got a regular job one or two hours five days a week is a perfectly reasonable amount of time. In fact, I know one person who got a novel written in regular increments of 10 minutes a day. The key is the regularity. Consistency is much more important than the amount of time.
Or you might want to try an hour or four on each of your weekend days, or even on just one.
Most people getting started in freelance writing maintain full time jobs for awhile, maybe even a long while. That means writing part time.
The trick, of course, is to figure out how to write regularly, with discipline and persistence. As we say over and over again, nothing will happen if you don’t write and write often.
Here’s an approach to developing a writing schedule when you have a full time job or a family or both.
First, write down the way you’re actually spending your time – Toggl is a free, web based time tracker that can help. Or you can do it in Excel, on your smart phone or just on a piece of paper or a 3 x 5 card.
You need to be able to look at a fairly typical week and see exactly how much time you actually spend at work, on your commute, and/or shopping and running your kids from place to place, watching TV, playing games on the ‘net, etc.
Look for an hour or more you can write - The most obvious probably involves getting up an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later. I was able to make the former work for several years, never the latter.
There may be other times – lunch hour is another favorite, particularly for those who get a full hour for lunch.
Maybe you could stop at a library of coffee shop and write on the way to work or on the way home.
Or maybe, when you actually look at your schedule you’ll spot something you’re doing that could be dropped to create writing time. How about instead of the nightly news, either the early or late edition?
Some people even have jobs that actually let them get a fair amount of writing work done during the work day.
You get the idea – pick the time that seems best for you.
Make an appointment with yourself for that time, even if it is only 10 minutes – a real appointment. Tell your family and/or friends and co-workers you won’t be available during that period; don’t take phone calls or instant messages. Put the time in your calendar for a week and watch what happens.
Track for a week and see if you keep your agreement with yourself – if you do, fine, extend it another week and see if it’s really working.
If you don’t keep that agreement, don’t beat yourself up. Just notice that you didn't and ask yourself again if you really want to write now. If you do, look at your schedule again. Decide if you want to keep to that schedule or change it.
Make another appointment with yourself. Keep repeating this until you manage to carve out a regular time to write.
The regular time to write might be only an hour on the weekend, or an 30 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays evening. Or maybe only 30 minutes on a regular basis or even only 10 minutes. It really is amazing how much you, devoting a real 10 minutes daily, can get accomplished.
If you discover you simply can’t keep to any sort of regular writing schedule you’re either going to have to be content with writing on the fly, or give up the idea for the time being. Most, however, find they can work something out.
Know too, that at least some of your scheduled time will need to be devoted to the business side of your writing. And that your schedule will change over time.
You may find the article, How To Schedule Writing When You Can Only Write Part Time helpful.
Assignment 2 – Time to write
Make a week’s worth of appointments with yourself to write. Put it in your calendar. Post it in the forum as a way to let people know what’s going on with you and to be accountable. At the end of the week post your results.
Setting an appointment with yourself to write over a week’s time will tell you a lot. If you kept your agreement, celebrate and we’ll celebrate with you. If you didn't, rather than beat yourself up take an honest look at why you didn't and adjust. It’s all an experiment.
Getting support in the forum will help you discover when, at this time in your life, you can actually write and your experience will help others.
Forum link to: Time to Write