Writing: Getting the most from your writing time

Feb 15, 2016 | Better Writing

This post is for you if you meet two conditions. You are not a professional writer. You want to write something important, probably a book.

If that’s you, you need to carve out time to write and you need to squeeze every bit of productivity out of that time. Here’s my take on how to do that.

Schedule your writing time in advance

Do not leave your writing to chance. Schedule it in one of two ways.

You can schedule to write at the same time every day or every week. That removes the challenge of working out the schedule.

You can put your writing time on your schedule every week, moving it around so it fits in amongst your other obligations. This gives you flexibility, but adds the scheduling chore to your already heavy workload.

My experience is that writing at the same time every day or week makes it more likely you will actually do the work. It’s just easier. It also helps if you can write in the same place and at the same time whenever you write.

Plan for the biggest block of time you can reasonably get

An hour a day is great. But four solid, uninterrupted hours on Saturday will probably produce more than seven hours spread over the week.

Plan to write and nothing else

Writing time is for writing. Follow the Raymond Chandler Rule and do nothing else. Just so we’re clear, research is not writing. Neither is checking your email. Do those things in time that is not sacred.

Cut off distractions

Shut the door. Power off your phone. Trust me, if there’s a real emergency people will find you and break down the door.

Turn off your browser. Raymond Chandler didn’t know about the internet, but if he had he would have warned against its temptations.

Close the blinds if looking out the window distracts you. If you play music, make sure it’s selected works that don’t grab your attention. Wear earplugs if you need to.

Develop a pre-writing ritual

Rituals help us do the right thing. My pre-writing ritual is to read the last few pages of my last writing on the project. You can pick anything. A friend does fifty pushups before writing. Another friend sips a latte while thinking about what she will write first.

Do the work

Write, damn it. That’s what you’re there for.

Track your progress

You track your progress so you can’t fool yourself. Track how much time you spend writing. Track how many finished words you produce. You can use Jerry Seinfeld’s “Chain Method” and put big red X’s on your calendar. Or track the number of words you write. It doesn’t matter as long as you record your effort and review your records.

Prepare for your next work session

Before you wrap up, follow the Firefighter Rule and prepare for the next session. Plan to do the research you need before your next writing time. Know exactly what you will do to start your next session

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