The Writer’s Bible: schedules that work

This is my evening writing spot:
on bed, classic 80’s movie playing for background
noise and cat. Can you name the movie?

Discipline is what makes a writer. It means staying in when the weather is nice, waking up early when the kids are asleep, skipping a ski day at college to get in eight hours of writing. But you’re there…you are willing to do all these things.

In the last 20 years I’ve learned that crafting a schedule that works is harder than actually writing, because it continually changes. Writing schedules during college are different (school, study, sleep, social),  and this is dramatically different from a full-time job with no kids, which doesn’t translate to any job (or no job) with children.

College schedule

Write in between study breaks.
After class, hit the library, take 10 minutes and re-read your outline, or your last chapter. Set the timer for 15 minutes minimum. That’s it. Then stop, do your homework. Why this order? Because you have put your dream first. It’ motivating. It’s inspiring, and this inspiration will encourage you to study more intensively, ignore the hot guy who’s eyeing you and get back to writing.

Career Writing

I couldn’t focus on writing before work until I’d had several books published. I was too tired to do it after work, usually because I had more take-home office materials that left me more time. The best time for me to write? When the rest of the world is on the Internet (not kidding. Just ask Jupiter Research).
3 PM in the afternoon.
Studies show this is when the brain needs a break. Assuming you have the right location (and vocation), set the timer and go. Short break is 15-20 or 30 max. Apply the same methodology. You will find the same sense of motivation as with college, but this environment lends itself to the benefits of creativity. I found that problem solving was made easier…my mind switched from dull to sharp. I was happier, because I worked on my dream. I was getting one step closer with each sentence and each paragraph. In a week, you can have a chapter.
Friday night.
Hit the gym and then go home and get after your dream. Even if you do this two Friday nights, while your peers are spending money and preparing for a night of carbo-loading, you are geared up for a serious progress over the next two days.
Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday is a “free day,” so it’s yours to plan. I will relate a my own experiences. When I exercise first, shower and then sit down to write, I’m so relaxed that after about 30 minutes, my body wants to sleep, not write. Because of this, I will write first, take a break to exercise, then go back.
Sunday.
During my many years in the career world, I traveled for 70% of the time. I didn’t bother write until I got on the plane. I prepared to write by reading my present work or other materials, so the minute I was cleared to open my laptop, and got after it. I found that writing on a plane can deliver a book in just a few months.

Writing with a Family

Marriage didn’t change my writing in the least. In fact, it improved my output. Rog is as determined and disciplined in his own life as I am–who else would work a full time job, play a college sport and get his graduate degree in 13 months. Compared to him, I’m a complete slacker.
Never, EVER, prioritize yourself over your children.
From day one–to now–I never opened my laptop when my kids were home. This only changed when my oldest daughter hit 1st grade (this year), and I’d sit by her with my computer as she did her homework. When she’s done, I’m done.
Morning.
I love nothing more than waking when the house is quiet. Going back to patterns I set in college, I get in at least 15 minutes–sometimes only 5!–but it’s starts me off right.
Naps.
Boy, is this the best time ever. It’s a no-brainer with one kid but harder with 2 kids.
Rotation. I found that Rog and I got testy when we didn’t have our “me-time.” Because of our personalities, this ‘me-time’ usually involved either physical activity (him hockey, me lots of things), we’d rotate. Not kidding you. This is what it looked like for the first 5 years–not it’s only slightly modified.

  • Saturday outing. At least 2 Saturdays a month (usually rotating) Dad would, and still does, take the girls for an outing by himself. The park. The zoo. The library. Whatever. Two hours was more than enough for me to crank out a nice set of pages. I’ll be honest. Sometimes I just napped. Don’t tell.
  • Sunday morning. Same thing as above, but this was on the opposite weekends. It was also nice because Rog could then mix in his own personal activities and be satisfied as well.
  • Evenings. I can’t get quality/quiet time until the kids are down. This has varied with age. Since they stay up later with each passing year, it’s gotten more challenging, because I wind down. I don’t push it now, but if they get to bed 9 latest-which is quite late, I will still get 2 solid ours in.

When you add all the hours up, it’s @2.5 hrs in the am, and 4-8 each weekend. Even without any strange evening slots, I’ve got 6.5-10 hours a week. That’s nearly 40 hours a month. A ton!

Time to create a novel.

Boy, isn’t this the most over-asked question. Authors are reluctant to say–why, I’m not sure, but I guess it’s because there is no “right” answer. If you say 3 months, it comes across as an egotistical lie (unless you’re Stephen King who says he writes 20 pages a day). If you say 6 months, then you suck. Reality is you write the framework, front to end. Then you go and add ‘layers.’ One might be narrative. Another description. Another character depth, and so on. This means another 7-11 times, but it’s here and there. Nothing like the first.

Here’s my answer. I go by hours. It takes me, on average, 20 hours to write 50 pages. That means in 1-3 months, I can have a book completed. The subsequent re-writes vary dramatically, but it’s another 2-3 months. So a completed, agent-ready book is 5-6 months, and it also includes a proof-reading period so the basics are caught–only a few days.

There it is. It’s achievable. It’s straightforward. It’s bloody time consuming, but you can do it.