The first thing I like to do when I wake up in the morning is write. Before breakfast, before speaking, before showering, I strive to write a set amount of words before I join the rest of the world. Sometimes I’m able to write 1,000 words. Sometimes, I only make it to 200. But it’s something, and when I finally realize my stomach is growling and I should probably shower, at least I can say that I have accomplished something today.
“How much time should I spend writing?” isn’t an easy question to answer. Maybe you’ve never written anything before, and you’re struggling when others are writing for seven to ten hours a day.
Here are a couple of questions to help you determine your writing schedule.
When are you the least distracted?
I can get distracted pretty easily. That’s why I like doing things before I officially start my day. Because I know that once I eat something, shower and socialize I’m going to start thinking about other things, like all of the work I have to do, how I’m going to pay off my debt, and what fun things I’m going to do that night or on the weekend. But when I wake up, the only things floating around in my mind are the remnants of my dreams. I may not be at my most awake, but I’m less likely to push away ideas and words that I normally wouldn’t write. Everything can come naturally, and I can let the words flow without thinking of anything else.
When are you most alert?
Are you a morning person or an evening person? Do you tend to get all your work done in the afternoon so that you can relax in the evening, or do you like to take it easy in the afternoon so that you can save your energy to work at night? Recognizing your natural patterns can make it easy for you to schedule some writing time when you’re at your peak.
How can I use my time more effectively?
There’s a big HD TV in the basement, next to my bedroom. It’s very tempting to sit on the comfy leather couches and flick through the channels until I find something that I am content to stare at for a while. Is that productive? No way.
Whether it’s a distracting piece of technology or something more pressing, ask yourself if there’s any time during the day that you are using unproductively. Make a To-Do list and follow it. Sometimes you just have to kick yourself in the butt and sit down at your desk and force yourself to write something before you get into the groove of things. Remember, writing isn’t always a leisurely pursuit–it can be a truly draining process. Plan small breaks while writing, and get up from the computer and walk around to give your legs a stretch and eyes a rest from the glare of the screen. A great app to lessen eyestrain while using the computer is fl.ux–it mellows your monitor’s light as the day turns into night.
Consider writing down all your ideas as they come to you in an easily accessible notebook or Google Document. You can do this while you work or are engaged in a different hobby. The more idea fodder the have the more productive you can be within your writing window. Also consider giving Ernest Hemingway’s famous advice a try–by leaving off at a point where you know you can continue later you can avoid running into writer’s block.
How much is too much?
As a writing goal, 1,000 words a day is pretty attainable, especially if you have typing skills. It takes me about an hour to write 1,000 words that I’m satisfied with, about forty-five minutes when I’m on a roll. If 1,000 words seems too daunting a task, you might want to start small and work up to a larger goal. Don’t be discouraged if you hear other writers are writing more than you per day. You can only work at your own pace–and you can’t compare yourself to other people, especially if they aren’t even writing the same type of thing you are.
Programs like Write or Die can track your word count and “force” you to keep writing to avoid punishment. After a while, you might not even notice your word count because you’re so focused on your story.
How many hours can I commit to writing?
Everyone has other commitments that require their time, and a lot of people are guilty of spreading themselves too thin. You have to be honest with yourself and ask how serious you are about writing. Maybe it’s not practical for you to commit to five or six hours a day when you have a full time job and kids. Maybe some days are impossible for you to find time at all. Schedule some times on the weekends if that works for you, or find a time on the weekdays when you can be by yourself with no distractions.
What is my ultimate goal?
Are you working on a novel? A piece of non-fiction? Keeping your goal in the back of your mind is a good reminder what you’re committing all these hours to. Don’t picture it as an insurmountable fortress that you must climb. Break it down into manageable stages that you can achieve every day. Want to write 50,000? If you write 1,000 words a day, that’s about a month and a half before you achieve your goal. If you break things down like this, you might be able to track when you finish a project, and you can mark it on the calendar and celebrate!
Photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski.