I've always had a hard time with schedules. Setting them. Remembering them. Sticking to them. I don’t know why I’m this way. Maybe it’s my fear of monotony, or my yearning to live as extemporaneous a life as possible. Either way, my aversion for schedules does me no good in the writing department. It’s been one of the main challenges of my writing career. Or more accurately, it’s been why my writing isn't a career.
I used to think not having a routine schedule was actually a good thing for a writer like me, which is to say a manic writer. Merriam-Webster defines \ˈma-nik\ as a state of being very excited, energetic, or emotional. But I identify much more with Google’s take:
As a manic writer, I go through periods in which I write for 10, 12, sometimes 14 hours straight, for several days on end, usually only when something inspires me or I make myself do it. I’ve always thought, why force myself to write at the same time, day in and day out, when I can complete the same amount of work by writing only when I’m in the mood? For me, being a writer is synonymous with furious typing, forgetting to breathe, losing track of time; and skipping meals, water, and human contact for a few feverish days until the job is done. In this lightheaded frenzy, I am high on ideas and words, and I can’t stop until I get it all out on the screen. That’s writing. Of course, it’s all good until the crash, that moment when I finish a draft and sit it aside, telling myself I’ll return to it in a few days to edit. Inevitably, a few days turns into a week. One week turns into two. A month. I find I don't want to look at that draft. And knowing I’ve got a manuscript awaiting revision makes me loath to start writing something new. The mere thought of writing starts to fill me with hair-pulling anxiety. Writers like me are why the mad writer trope exists.
It gets worse. In addition to being a manic writer, I’m also a serial editor. No matter what I’m writing, be it a short story or an essay, I’m constantly rereading the words I’ve just written, obsessing over them, questioning them, and of course, changing them. It’s a hamster wheel that keeps me in perpetual draft mode, hardly ever leading to a product I feel is truly finished. I can’t stop myself from exchanging this word for that one, moving this sentence here, that paragraph there. All before I’ve gotten to page two. I’ve worked on short stories for months, even years, in this self-destructive manner. I’m always in my own way.
I’ve known for some time that I need to change these behaviors, but I’ve fought it with procrastination and accidentally-on-purpose forgetfulness. Attending Writefest a month ago changed all that. A week-long festival of workshops, panel discussions, and presentations for new and emerging writers, Writefest forced me to reevaluate the way I was approaching my craft. Most everything the successful writers at the conference suggested we aspiring authors do was something I wasn’t doing. At least not with the regularity they advocated. I didn’t have a solid writing routine. I didn’t write according to a schedule. I wasn’t writing every day and I rarely set goals for myself. My most valuable takeaway from Writefest? Writing. I was doing it wrong.
Then again, I already knew that.
I spent the two weeks after Writfest digesting what I’d learned in the workshops and presentations, my mind awhirl with ideas for new writing projects and with inspiration for improving not only my writing techniques, but also my process. I was exhausted and exhilarated both. After a little rest and recharge, I developed a new weekly routine and writing schedule.
My plan involved starting my weekdays sooner. Waking up earlier Monday through Friday would get me in the right frame of mind to treat writing more like a job and less like a hobby. I’d get more done sooner, which would equate to more time in the day to write.
Also, my weekdays would get a lot less spontaneous. From now on, I would act like I had a clock to punch. I would get to my desk at 10:00 am, sometimes earlier if I planned to take a mid-morning class at the gym. I’d break around 1:00 pm and barring no necessary engagements, return to my desk until 5:00 or 6:00 pm. I knew things would come up now and again, but I’d try my best to write interrupted. You couldn’t have told me when I quit my job seven years ago that I’d want to return to a scheduled work day. But that, I told myself, is what writing needed to look like for me if I was ever going make it fruitful.
It’s been a week since I implemented these changes and my only regret is that I waited this long. One of my favorite parts is waking up at 6:00 am because it buys me a good two hours to savor my coffee, eat breakfast, and read before I get out of bed and start my day at 7:30 am. When I used to wake up between 7:00-7:30 am, I lingered in bed until well after 8:00 am and didn’t really get going until 9:00 or 10:00 am. By the time I was done with chores, exercising, and anything else I had to do, it was almost lunchtime. I rarely sat down to write before 2:00 or 3:00 pm. And the later it got, the easier it was to convince myself I could put it off another day. Those times I did force myself to write, I worked well into the night, falling into bed exhausted and grumpy because the day had completely gotten away from me. Simply put, I’d allowed the day to run me rather than the other way around.
In addition to waking up earlier and starting a writing schedule, I’ve also challenged myself to write without editing. I started a new short story last Monday and told myself I would produce a complete first draft in five days. My goal was to work only during the designated times and no matter what, avoid editing until I reached the end. By Wednesday evening, I'd completed a satisfying twenty-one page draft, two days shy of my deadline. All without once going back to the beginning. I’m even looking forward starting the editing process today. Not in two weeks. Or a month. Today.
I'm proud of myself for being consistent last week, even though I had to work around a few things already on my calendar before I started the new schedule. To help, I created a Word template so I could log my writing time. This timesheet makes me accountable to myself and also encourages me to keep to the schedule. Seeing all those blanks filled in fills me with a sense of accomplishment. It’s like getting gold stars!
Since I made these changes, I’ve been going to bed each night anticipating the next day’s writing sessions. It’s been a week of mornings that can’t come fast enough. Writing without editing, a routine, and of all things, a schedule. Have I finally found a better way to write? If that’s the case, then so far, so very good.