How I’ve Designed My Writing Schedule to Fit My Life


Photo by Gades Photography on Unsplash

One of the things we often talk about in the writing groups I attend is what a typical writing day looks like for each of us. Everyone seems eager to learn about other people’s habits and their strategies for getting the most writing done. If there is one common motivating factor I have uncovered through my discussions with other beginning writers, it is that we all feel like we could be writing more.

I have tried out a plethora of suggestions for writing times (i.e., writing early in the morning before work, writing on your lunch break, writing thirty minutes every day, etc.). What I’ve come to learn during all of these trial periods is that no one else’s schedule actually works for me. Of course, I have learned useful tips from others, but it is impossible for me to follow someone else’s writing strategy precisely, and I am sure they would have the same difficulty in following mine. What’s more is that a schedule that once worked for me in the past may not work for me at the present moment and vice versa.

So why is it so hard for me to stick to the same writing schedule?

My Sleep Habits Change

I have unearthed several of my own reasons that I find it difficult to keep the same writing schedule throughout the years. One of the main reasons is due to my age, and by default, my sleep schedule: I am not the night owl that I used to be. While I’m not lucky enough to be at retirement age quite yet, at nearly thirty I am also not young enough to pull the all-nighters that I once could when I was in my early twenties. It is hard to believe I could regularly write for hours past midnight or stay up all night finishing a college paper. These days, by nine or ten o’clock p.m., my brain is done for the day.

I’ve found that at this time in my life, writing earlier in the day is the way to go. My mind is fresher and I am able to focus even better than I could when I would over-caffeinate myself to stay up throughout the night in my younger days. However, this morning schedule would not have worked in that earlier time in my life, either. Trying to wake up to write before an 8:00 a.m. class would have been a fate worse than death back then.

Work is a Four Letter Word

My writing schedule also revolves around my work schedule. Work is a huge factor in limiting my writing time. One of the things I noticed after tracking my writing each day for a few weeks is that most of my writing ends up being done on the weekends. There is so much going on during a work day (week days, in my case), that I don’t usually have the time or energy to write after work. And that is okay!

There is a lot of information out there in writing communities stressing the importance of writing each day, but for me personally, that is not my most productive schedule. I’d rather write a couple hours straight for one day when I am relaxed and rested than try to squeeze in one painful, sleep-deprived hour late in the evening after work for Monday through Friday.

That being said, on those week nights where I do have some free time (the laundry pile has miraculously disappeared, there are no appointments, and so on), I make an effort to put in some time writing rather than watching a third hour of Blue Planet II (as wonderful as the show might be…).

Social Obligations

Yes, even writers are expected to participate in social situations. My writing schedule will vary depending on my family’s and friends’ circumstances as well. For example, if I know I have a wedding to attend, then I can be pretty certain trying to write between meal courses is fairly out of the question, and I’ll need to try to get in a good writing session before that date. Same thing for vacations or birthdays. I have learned to accept those days as work-free days and plan my writing around them to make up for lost time.

So what is my “typical” writing schedule at the moment? It varies. I try to fit in at least two evenings of writing weeknights after work. Usually, that time will be after dinner, around 7:30 PM onward. On the weekend, I like to start writing earlier in the day when the house is quiet and my mind is clear. I might pull out my laptop while I am drinking that first cup of coffee and eating a little breakfast around 9:00 or 10:00 AM. I often return to writing during those weekend evenings as well for a few hours, sometimes to edit what I started earlier in the day or to continue with a first draft.

Especially over the last year and a half, I have begun carving out dedicated times to write. I make sure to let people know that I am trying to finish a piece of writing or working on something specific so that they know I am not free at that time. Headphones help me focus and drown out background noise, or sometimes, even closing the bedroom door gives me the solitude I need to concentrate. I’ve learned that no matter where or when I am writing, I have to give my writing one hundred percent of my focus for those precious hours; otherwise, I will never finish anything.

As I mentioned earlier, I know my own shifting schedule wouldn’t work for everyone. I would love to know your own writing habits and suggestions, so please leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you!

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Writing Exercise: Book of Lists

Photo on Foter.com

Today’s blog post is my response to a writing prompt from the site Reedsy. In the past, I have entered their weekly contest and while I’ve never won that $50 cash prize, I have produced a few short stories based on the prompts. This afternoon, I decided to give one a try not as a contest entry but as a blog post. My passage is based on a real-life incident in which a friend and I found a young woman’s diary which had been left behind in a park.

Definitely not my usual writing style/subject matter, but it was still a fun experiment.

Prompt: Tell a story through a shopping list.

I hadn’t noticed the notebook at first. It had slipped into a crack in the park bench and was nearly invisible between two slats of wood that formed the bench’s seat. Only when I inadvertently sat down on the notebook’s spine, ready to eat lunch on my break from the office, did it catch my attention.

Sliding the notebook out from the bench, I saw that it was small, more compact than the ones we had used for taking notes in school, maybe seven by ten inches. It was solid black with a cheap, faux leather cover and a length of ribbon poking out – a bookmark.

I glanced around for the owner, but the park was nearly empty, save a mother and father walking their golden retriever near the fountain at the park’s entrance. They were trying to keep up with their energetic toddler who was splashing water from the fountain onto a flock of unsuspecting pigeons. The weather was colder than the forecasters had predicted, and the park was much more vacant than usual.

I took a sip from my coffee cup and flipped through the book. It seemed to be a diary of some kind. A date was neatly printed in pencil in the corner of every page, and below each date was a bulleted list of items and goals. I could see that nearly three-quarters of the notebook were filled, containing what must have been seventy pages of lists.

Scanning through the book, I tried to find the author’s name or phone number scrawled somewhere within its contents so that I could return it. The first page was dated for September 17 and contained a short shopping list but no identifying information.

  • 8 ounces of heavy cream
  • Pound of sugar (granulated)
  • Milk
  • Cake pan
  • Gift for Justin (baseball tickets? vinyl? ???!)

On the next page was another list, a to-do list, dated for September 20.

To Do:

  • 9:00 AM – Gym
  • 11:00 AM – Drop off Justin at airport
  • 12:00 PM – Pick up prescription on way home from airport
  • 6:00 PM – Dinner with Janie
  • 7:30 PM – MOVIE!!! Finally!

The pages went on as such. I gathered from the handwriting and information in the lists that the writer was female, and Justin was apparently her significant other. As I continued reading through the pages, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t really snooping, but only trying to find some sort of contact information.

October 10

To Do:

  • Stop thinking about Justin
  • Don’t call Justin
  • Don’t text Justin
  • Go to the gym tonight
  • Eat a salad! Jesus!
  • Call Janie

The mention of a salad reminded me I hadn’t yet eaten my lunch. I dug around in my purse and found the wrapped BLT I’d thrown in there that morning before I left the house. I continued reading as I ate, trying to piece together what Justin might have done to bring about a breakup. The girl had baked him a cake for God’s sake.

October 24

Three good things that have happened:

  • Lost 5 pounds
  • Submitted the anthropology paper
  • Still working on figuring out a third good thing…

One not-so-good thing that has happened:

  • Janie saw Justin with a new girl at the bar, already

Already! I thought. I compared the dates – Two weeks and the guy had moved on to dating some other woman at a bar. The thought of the scorned writer dieting feverishly in an attempt to deal with the breakup made me feel a pang of sympathy. At thirty-three, I had too many memories of my own that were filled with calorie counting and cardio exercises.

This entry was the last in the book, and the rest of the pages were blank. I continued eating my sandwich, the notebook still open in my lap. With no way to return the book, I wondered what I should do with it. After a moment, I had an idea.