One of the most common recommendations for writers that I’ve seen over the years is this: create a schedule that lets you write regularly and stick to it.
For a long time, I thought that suggestion was for the unmotivated. You know, the people that tell themselves, or others, that they have a great idea for a book but no time to write. I always viewed such statements as little more than excuses. Sure, they may have an idea for a story but their lack of writing isn’t a lack of time but a lack of motivation. Whether their lack of motivation was caused by a fear of rejection from agents or publishers or their story not being as flushed out as they let on, the lack of progress was just the person wasn’t motivated to write.
Or so I once thought.
When I started writing The Ascension Legacy series, I was working on one project with a lot of downtime. That downtime at the office created opportunity for me to write. I did other things that just write but gradually I began to write more and more until that was my first instinct. Shortly after that, I started to travel more for work that left me “stranded” in hotels night after night. Again, I used those opportunities to write. In fact, by the time I ended my travels I had written almost all of the 6 book series.
I was lucky following my return to working from home. Just like when I started writing, my project at the time had a lot of downtime that allowed me to finish writing the last book of The Ascension Legacy series during the day while still allowing me ample time to spend with my family at night and on the weekends. That downtime continued for the next few months and I was able to eventually able to write 3 more books bringing my total count to 9.
And then things changed.
My work schedule took a big shift before COVID hit. My company had seen a shift in the IAM market. Customers were gravitating towards new technologies that left several in the company less billable. The decline in contracts using technology they knew left them vulnerable and many were eventually let go. I hated to see some of my knowledgeable co-workers leave but when you work for a contracting company and the contracts don’t leverage solutions you know its bound to happen.
So, what did that mean for my writing?
Simply put, the quietness of the day where I found time to regularly write was gone. Instead of being on a single, slow-moving project with tons of downtime, I was suddenly thrust into a position of working multiple projects simultaneously that left little time during the day to write. I knew the day would come when work would take my time away, after all that was what I was being paid for during those hours.
I just assumed that I would shift my writing time from during the day to during the night though. I had my iPad with its Bluetooth keyboard. I could write from the couch while I spent time with my wife. I could write while we watched our shows or laid in bed before falling asleep. I was still motivated to write. I still had stories to tell. Nothing had changed but the time of day when I would accomplish my writing.
Boy was I wrong.
Nearly 3 years since I finished my last full book. I’ve started about 6 new books in the time since then but haven’t finished any. I don’t think a single book has even reached the halfway point.
So, what’s my problem? Is it too many proverbial “irons in the fire”? Is it a lack of focus? What about a lack of motivation? Could it be like so many others have claimed, a lack of time?
The answer is none of the above. I have the time. I have the motivation. What I lack is the routine. For months, I spent my nights playing online shooters like Apex Legends and Fortnight with one of my sons. This left little to no time for writing in the late nights after my wife went to bed. On weekends, my wife and I would spend time with family and friends or just with each other. In trying to be a loving husband and socially engaged, I couldn’t write and spend time with others simultaneously. And then of course, my Monday through Friday daytime hours were dedicated to my real job that pays the bills.
Writing is something that I enjoy and I didn’t want to “force” myself to write out of fear that I would come to resent the mandatory writing or that I would feel too much pressure to produce during those times that would possibly lead to writer’s block. Instead, I wanted my writing to happen naturally. I wanted it to feel inspired and to come in the spur of the moment. I like writing more “off the cuff.”
But that hasn’t happened. As I sit here reflecting on what I’ve written versus what I want to write, I can’t help but realize the truth of that earlier recommendation to schedule your writing and that those “excuses” of others aren’t from a lack of motivation but a lack of priority. If I really want to write these other stories then I need to make them a priority. I need to make the time I need to write them at the expense of something else. I need to exchange my game controllers for my keyboard at night. Perhaps only play games every other night and write on the other nights. Whatever schedule I settle on, I need to stick to it.
I’m motivated to write but I’m motivated to do a lot of things. What I haven’t done is prioritize any of it. I act more like a free spirit just working on whatever comes to mind when the moment hits. It is too “off the cuff.” Instead, I need to dictate what I will work on in advance and adhere to that decision. That schedule will allow me to focus on one thing at a time and eventually I’ll find myself completing more things and freeing up my time to do other things, like write more stories…
But now I can see how people with kids, people with active social lives, people with spouses, and people with multiple interests can want to write but think they don’t have the time. And while I still contend that the time is there, it’s the realization of how to manage their time that truly holds them back.
I can now the wisdom of the suggestion to schedule time for writing. Not only does it make sense but it also forces you focus during those windows. There’s nothing that says you can’t write during other times or think about what to write during the next session but it gives you dedicated windows of time that you can plan for and find ways to maximize by removing other distractions that might be present if you try to write on a whim or while trying to multitask like I have.