This post is part of the Write With Me series. For more like this, check out the writing your novel page.
*or as often as works for you.
I think one of the most impactful tips I ever heard while attending a writing conference was that, in order to really do it—in order to really hone your craft—you have to treat your writing like it’s a second (or third? or fourth?) job.
Not only that, but the addendum was that this job comes with some of the worst benefits imaginable. As writers, we get no paid time off, and we sure don’t get health insurance or a raise until we’ve been at it for years… maybe.
Initially, something about this challenge appealed to me. I took hard to forcing myself to write every day, and found myself confused as to why others wouldn’t do the same. They wanted to write, too, didn’t they? Then why not just do it?
My major oversight in adopting this attitude was that everyone has different schedules, habits, and abilities. It wasn’t until I found myself in an unhealthy situation of my own that I started to recognize that the forced writing routine wasn’t necessarily sustainable.
At my schedule’s most compromised, for example, I was working 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. three nights a week, and heading right into 10 a.m. meetings on some of the following days. I was even cobbling together opportunities to teach Spanish on the side when class times were available. It was a racket.
Still, I wanted to write. I had to treat it like another job, didn’t I? So I kept pushing and pushing and pushing, making myself write at times when I would have rather stared mindlessly at the TV or squeezed in a nap before my next teaching gig. In doing so, I may have developed a (funky) rhythm that let me improve somewhat as a writer, but it came at immense cost to my health.
If I was ever going to make it as a writer, I knew I’d have to make it as a person first. While seeking out new employment that better suited the needs of my health, I pared back my writing time. It was no longer tenable to be at it for hours a day given other responsibilities and my general well-being.
Once I did find a new job (my criteria was that it had to be a consistent schedule and while the sun was up), the writing time naturally started to settle in around it. I took to writing just during lunch breaks at first (a half hour at a time), and then pushed myself to get more writing done once I got home from work.
Ultimately, I discovered what worked best for me was getting up an hour earlier in the morning to fit in a guaranteed-to-be-mostly-undisturbed hour of writing, and then going at it again during what eventually became a full hour for lunch. This schedule has been great to me, but I never would have found it if I hadn’t stopped to care for me as a person before I cared for me as a writer.
Right now you might read this and think, “Well, that’s great. Glad this journey worked for you, but—”
And that’s totally reasonable.
Like I wrote earlier, everyone has different schedules, habits, and abilities, and we should always be looking out for our health first and foremost. Maybe you’re not in a position to commit to writing every day. Maybe you’re not in a position to commit to writing three days a week.
The best advice I can give in that scenario is to give yourself something—just one block of time that you know will be for you and your writing every week, for example. Maybe it’s Tuesday nights from 7-7:30, or Saturday mornings from 4-5. Just take that time and make use of it as best you can. If your experience is anything like mine (and it may not be), you’ll surprise yourself as that half hour once a week slowly becomes an hour, which turns into two hours on two separate days, which grows into… whatever works for you!
So, if you’re feeling frustrated with your writing schedule or your schedule in general, remember you’ve got to take care of yourself first. Once you’ve got stability there, you can start tackling a consistent writing schedule, one session at a time.