Someone once asked the legendary comedian Bob Hope, “If you had your life to live over again, what would you do?” Hope replied, “If I had my life to live over again, I wouldn’t have the time.” Many of us writers feel the same way, or even worse. We feel as if we don’t even have time to live the life we’re living now.
Writers have to deal with day job demands, parenting chores, and countless other distractions. Even if we do manage to steal a few minutes or hours of writing time, it’s hard for us to pick up where we left off and get up to speed again. Sometimes finding out where we are and what we have to do uses up almost all of our writing time.
How do we deal with these problems?
In my latest book, Write Your Book Now! (a proven system to start and FINISH the book you’ve always wanted to write), I recommend planning and scheduling. Try to make non-writing chores work for you rather than against you.
My first suggestion is to plan your entire book project before you begin typing even the first page of text. Know what your book is about. In fact, write a short few paragraphs to yourself defining your book. Why? So that when you do have to deal with stop-and-go writing times, you won’t have to rethink what you’re writing about and who your reading audience is. It’s all there for you.
Chip away at the ideas you want to write until you plan your entire Table of Contents or map out your basic story line. Write a brief paragraph on each of your chapters. Tell yourself what you plan to include in each chapter.
Plan a writing schedule that considers all of the non-writing distractions – the day job, the kids, the household chores, the unforeseen circumstances. Design a schedule that is challenging yet not impossible. In this schedule allow for short vacations and periods where you might catch up should you fall behind. Leave your schedule flexible enough to deal with emergency events.
One benefit of this planning is that it makes it easier for you to deal with stop-and-go writing. When you sit down to write, you don’t have to rethink what went before and what comes next. There’s no need to get your mind up to speed on this project. It has all been thought out. It’s all contained in your outline and your chapter by chapter descriptions. Regardless of where you pick up your writing project, you know where you are and what you must do. Now you can utilize whatever brief writing time you have for writing, rather than going back and reorganizing up to this point. You’re already there and organized.
Another benefit is that well-planned writing allows you to write sections of your book out of sequence. This again, is a more effective and efficient use of your limited writing time. For example, if you have only a brief period available for writing, you can select a shorter chapter or an easier chapter. You might finish that (or at least a good portion of it) in the short time allowed to you. If you have a longer opportunity for writing, you could select a longer or more difficult portion of your book.
Your personalized schedule also allows you to measure your progress and control your own limited writing time. Writing a book is a delightful chore, but a demanding one, also. There will be times when it becomes fatiguing, even irritating. I remember one TV writing colleague who stormed out of the room as we were watching a taping of the show we had just written. He said as he left, “I’m beginning to hate this family.” There will come times when we almost hate the book we’re working on. However, if you have a workable schedule, you can allow time to step away from your project for awhile. Take a brief vacation. Relax for a bit and return to your project refreshed and ready to resume your writing with renewed passion. There may be times when doing nothing is a valuable use of your time.
There’s another hidden advantage to knowing just where you are in your writing schedule – you can know immediately what you’ve completed and how much you have to get done. When I read a book, I often check the bookmark. Am I one-quarter of the way through the book? Half way through the book? It seems to me that I read much more quickly when I can see the end of the book approaching. Isn’t it pretty much the same way with writing? You seem to work more quickly and with more dedication when you feel the end is in sight.
There’s a story told about performers and stage fright. The tale goes that one experienced performer admitted that he always got butterflies in his stomach before a performance. “The secret, though,” he said, “is to get the butterflies to fly in formation.”
That’s what we writers are trying to do with the realities that face us. We have to make a living. We must care for and provide for our children. We have pressing duties at home and in the community. We have many chores that take priority over our writing. The secret, though, is to take charge of these distractions. Organize the chaos we must deal with daily and weekly. We can do that – and finish the book we want to write in the process – by recognizing these impediments, accepting them, and dealing with them. Get them to “fly in formation.” Plan and schedule your writing and you’ll work more efficiently and eventually get your book completed.
Of course, then you begin to plan and schedule your next book – again, despite many necessary distractions.