The Clockwork Muse: strategies for planning your writing

The Clockwork Muse

Eviatar Zerubavel believes that the key to gaining control over your writing is effective planning. His book The Clockwork Muse provides practical advice about scheduling in order to master the “temporal organization of our writing.”

He rejects the idea of writing only when inspired, squashing the Romantic myth of the bohemian writer who “forgoes structure in order to accommodate unscheduled outbursts of creative energy.” He believes that scheduling enhances the pleasure of writing – that having structure makes writing predictable and therefore less intimating, which keeps us from procrastinating.

The writing schedule

What I find so appealing about Zerubavel’s approach is his belief that by scheduling our writing we are better able to spend our time as parents, partners, friends and on work and the other demands on our time. Writing is only one priority in our life, and we need to decide how important it is relative to other activities.

Before we can create a realistic writing schedule we need to consider our own writing style and situation. For example:

  • How long do you want to write for each week?
  • What priority does writing take alongside the other activities in your life?
  • What length of time is the ideal writing session for you?
  • When is the best time for you to write?

Length of writing session

Answering these questions might take some time and self-exploration. He advises keeping a dairy of your effectiveness as a writer noting each day you write, how long your wrote for, at what time, and how effective that session was looking at for example, your level of energy and concentration at that time of day and over the writing session. This will help you understand your best time to write and length of session.

Weekly analysis

Zoe Fairbairns advised looking at a typical day whereas Zerubavel takes the week as a starting point, as most of our routine is weekly. This next step can be quite disheartening. Take a weekly schedule – seven days divided in hourly slots from when you get up to when you go to bed – and cross off all the time you are engaged in other activities. You might end up with something that looks like this:

Blocked out weekly schedule

“Crossing off your weekly schedule the times you cannot write will allow you to define more realistically the times you can.”

There will no doubt be some conflict between your ideal writing style, say writing for two hours first thing in the morning, with the reality of getting the children up, dressed, fed and off to school. However, by understanding our optimal writing style, we can schedule different writing activities according.

Zerubavel divides time into our “A-time, those somewhat sacred, prime slots” when you write at your best and “B-time stretches when you clearly do not have the proper conditions to write.” By utilising B-time effectively you can make significant progress. He gives the example of editing and doing background reading while commuting or waiting for appointments. He has a final category of C-time, which he suggests is when you schedule your routine tasks such as cleaning the kitchen and paying bills. This is good advice to never waste premium writing time on vacuuming.

Write as frequently as possible

From my research most writers want to write more, ideally every day. This ambition matches Zerubavel’s advice to write as frequently as possible and avoid being away from your manuscript for too long. There will be some trade-off between length of writing time and frequency. This might mean we grab an hour each day, rather than the optimum three hour session. I know many parents who found they became more efficient writers once their children were born, and Zerubavel believes we can train ourselves to “get a lot of work done even during such brief sessions, especially when you have no other choice.”

“Perseverance is so much more important than sheer speed in getting writers to actually complete their projects.”


Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.