Advice on writing productivity often focuses on scheduling time to write. But having an unpredictable day doesn’t mean you should give up writing. Embrace the chaos and learn to write spontaneously.
A writers’ boot camp
Scheduling time to write has proven results and by allocating time to practice your craft you will certainly reap rewards.
Dorothea Brande’s bestseller Becoming a Writer is packed full of worthy advice for writers and outlines a scheduled approach. She recommends a two-step process in order to write effortlessly:
- Morning Pages – getting up 30 minutes earlier than usual to write.
- Writing on Schedule – allocating a 15-minute slot at a specific time of the day to write.
She extends the second step by instructing budding writers to vary the 15-minute slot each day. The point is to have identified a time in advance, scheduled your writing activity, and commit to it.
Failure to comply is not an option
“If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing.” Dorothea Brande
These two steps are an initiation process into the writerly sanctum. They are not just writing exercises, but the rules, and Dorothea Brande takes a stern view of those who fail to master them.
“Right here I should like to sound the solemnest word of warning that you will in this book: If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy.”
Writing first thing in the morning is a fine idea – for some. Creeping round the house at 5.30am might wake the baby who, after all, has been screaming half the night, and with only a few hours’ sleep you can’t remember where you left your laptop let alone how to switch it on.
I’m sorry, but Mrs Brande does not accept excuses. Your agreement to become a writer is a debt of honour. Work, ill health, family commitments are, as far as she is concerned, your unconscious finding loopholes. You must be strong, find your inner resolve and write.
“Is a chaotic diary reason enough to give up writing?”
But is that fair? Is a chaotic diary reason enough to give up writing?
Stop trying to control your schedule
Life is a damned sight busier now than in 1934 when Becoming a Writer was published. Our schedules are crammed full of things to do, and many of us find our days are unpredictable and beyond our control.
Don’t despair if the reality of your hectic schedule scuppers all chance of an ordered writing life. Accept what is beyond your control – such as the whims of your boss or your child’s eating habits – and make the most of it. You need to harness your desire to write, turn that into an actionable goal, and stick to it.
“Don’t despair if the reality of your hectic schedule scuppers all chance of an ordered writing life.”
So forget about advance organisation and focus on spontaneity instead.
From fixed to flexible
Schedulers have it easy with their allocated writing slots – you’re taking the more difficult route. You need to decide if you really want to write and commit to making progress, then harness your determination to make this work.
The good news is that there’s fifteen minutes of slack in your schedule each day, it might differ from day to day, but it’s there – you just need to find it.
Tips for overcoming a busy schedule
The first step is to work out your goal. If you’re working on a novel or screenplay that might mean aiming for 2,000 words or writing for 4 hours a week. In order to meet that goal you’ll need several sessions. The challenge is to find and make the most of them.
- Set a quota – work out the total time or amount you need to write each day or week.
- Commit to it – write it down and focus on achieving it day by day.
- Review your schedule daily – work out what can’t be moved and identify a couple of opportunities.
- Be spontaneous – if an opportunity to write presents itself you must grab it with both hands and exploit it.
- Be prepared – you might find yourself with five minutes in a toilet cubicle between meetings so make sure you have your notebook with you at all times.
- Learn from the pattern – make a note of what you did by tracking when and how it went, and after a week or two review it. You might find your schedule is less unpredictable than you thought and an opportunity presents itself at a similar time, or between certain activities.