It’s a common question, especially when other people are trying to figure out how to plan for a project: Rebecca, what’s your writing schedule look like? How do you do it?
It’s a complicated answer, one of those that starts with “It depends.” It doesn’t even just depend on who you are as an author and how you work best. For me it also depends on the project, the time of year, what else is going on in my life, and things I probably haven’t even identified yet. So piece of advice #1 is: you have to be willing to adapt.
I’ve had projects where I write at least x number of words every single day until the book is done. Every. Single. Day. It’s not something I’d really recommend, because that’s a quick trip to burnout, but if the project itself is on fire, I don’t stop myself. Some days I wake up seriously wanting to write, and if there’s time in my schedule for it, I’m not going to stop myself.
There are too many days when I wake up not feeling like I want to write.
My current schedule has me at my laptop three days a week, with “writing” as my main task for two hours at a time. Let’s break that down.
Why two hours? Concentration. It takes a while to get into the zone (if today happens to be a “zone” day), so the time slot can’t be too short, but I definitely feel myself fading before two hours is up. If I specifically say “two hours,” then I can quit without feeling like giving up. If I’m still writing at speed when the timer dings, I can finish off the thought and feel good about it.
This doesn’t mean that I spend the entire two hours typing words. If you have a longer writing session like that, you can break it up using the Pomodoro Technique, or you can treat it more like stray thoughts during meditation: notice you’ve gone off somewhere and bring yourself back to the task at hand. No judgment.
I don’t usually turn off the internet or anything like that during these sessions. There are times when I’ll write and highlight something to look up later, and other times I’ll go ahead and google the tidbit I need. (This is frequently where the wandering happens, but again, I’ll remind myself I’m supposed to be writing and bring myself back to Word.) It’s an option, though, if you still find yourself too distracted, and there are all sorts of apps and things you can use to help.
Three days a week is a good balance for me because it still allows me to take weekends off while also forcing me to sit here in front of the screen. (Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, as one of my grad school professors likes to say.) Having Tuesdays and Thursday mornings as “not-writing” times also gives me the flexibility to do the things you need to do if you’re writing that aren’t actually typing words.
Reading. Resting. Engaging in a hobby so my thoughts can keep on ticking over behind the scenes. Maybe re-reading something I’ve written. Or just daydreaming.
Having some structured work mornings, some unstructured work mornings, and some non-work weekend mornings is a good approach for me right now. I’m currently on top of my writing projects, so I don’t need to force myself to write more or work faster.
The breaks are necessary to allow me to keep up my energy and enthusiasm, and the strict three days ensure I keep up my momentum. I’ve even taken a whole week off in the middle of my current project, and here’s the important thing about breaks if “resting” gives you anxiety: name the expiration date. “I’m taking today off, but I’ll be back at it tomorrow.” Or “I’m taking this week off, but Monday morning I’ll be at my desk again.”
If you schedule your breaks like you schedule your writing, you can take the same approach: when your attention wanders and you start doing something that isn’t currently your priority, bring yourself back. No, you don’t need to be thinking about your article right now. If you get a massive brainwave, write down a note so you don’t forget it, and let it go for now. You need time to rest and recuperate and take a step back so those connections can be made.
So right now the short answer to “How do you do it?” is “Two hours at a time, one word after another.”
How do you write?