One of the keys to professional writing is to crank out a lot of good work. And to do that, you’ll need to put in a good deal of time.
The best way to guarantee that you’ll have the time available to accomplish a lot of good work is to develop and follow a daily schedule.
There are several elements involved in creating and adhering to a daily schedule. Let’s look at each of them in turn:
Identify Your Best and Worst Times of Day
In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, there was an ancient idea revived and developed by Wilhelm Fliess that proposed a person’s physical and emotional states fluctuated around 23 and 28 day cycles, respectively, starting on the day you were born. Later, a psychologist named Hermann Swoboda and an engineer named Alfred Teltscher expanded on this idea to include a 33 day cycle of intellectual or mental capabilities.
These “biorhythms” were thought by many to be so important and powerful that anyone should be able to predict days when a person would be particularly strong, happy, or smart, and other days when a person would feel weak, down hearted, or befuddled – simply by counting the number of days since birth and calculating where that person would be on the cycle of their relevant biorhythm.
There may be some truth to this notion, but that’s not the main point here. What’s undisputed is that you almost certainly do have periods of time when you can perform at a higher level, and other times where the best you can do is not quite as good as that.
This is the main point: you can and should take advantage of your natural ups and downs by tracking them – noting on your calendar, for example, the times when you feel your best and the other times when you feel your worst. Once you see the pattern, you can begin trying to use your periods of higher performance to do your best writing.
Whether biorhythms work on not for you, the cyclical nature of high and low performance often breaks down to something as simple as:
- Being a “morning person” or an “evening person,”
- Feeling better writing in bed before you go to sleep, or in the afternoon after taking a nap,
- Waking up early and getting in some solid hours of creativity or staying up late in order to record whatever wonderful thoughts you have been accumulating during the day.
Identify Your Most Productive Patterns
Another aspect of this timing technique involves recognizing and exploiting the length of time at a stretch you prefer to work. I have found that I do better working three, four, even five hours at one sitting – the longer I go, the better my writing becomes. Other writers I know like to dash off a few paragraphs as soon as they come to mind, then do something more routine until another flash of inspiration hits them.
There’s no right or wrong here, no absolute better or worse. All I’m suggesting is that you discover the times of day, and days of the week when you are at your best, and do at least some of your writing during those periods.
Break Down A Project Into Separate, Simple Tasks
Once you know the best times to work on your writing, take the next step and figure out what you ought to be working on.
One of the best ways to do this is to have a plan for what you’re going to write, whether it’s a novel, a play, a poem, or anything else. At a minimum, it’ll have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It might have five acts. You might envision 20 or 30 scenes, seven key images, or ten important moments.
No matter how you have conceived the project at hand, if you know each of the parts you want to include in it, you can have the next part in mind as you sit down to work, and even before.
Knowing what comes next is helpful not only because it eliminates the “blank page” problem that so many writers dislike, it allows your subconscious mind to be working on the project during the interval between your last writing session and your next one.
Develop A Productive Working Routine
One way that has helped me be a productive writer over the years is to reserve certain times for writing, and nothing else. During my self-scheduled writing hours, I don’t allow myself to straighten my desk, sharpen pencils, answer the telephone, read, doodle, or anything else. I’m there to write. If I feel stuck or can’t muster the energy to work, my only alternative is to sit idly until I can start working on my project.
I have found that sitting idly during these intended writing times is so unpleasant and boring that I quickly start my writing engine and begin putting words on paper.
Another trick that many writers use is to stop writing in the middle of a passage that’s coming easily and feeling great. The idea is that later, when you come back to the project, you’ll find it relatively easy to pick up where you left off and start producing good material right away. The corresponding fear is that if you finish that great passage and then stop writing, when you come back to the project later on you’ll face a difficult time getting started again.
Either of these ideas may or may not be true for you, but there’s no doubt that if you regularly sit down to write during your “high performance” periods, you’ll produce better work than if you work at random times or – worse – when your performance level is on the downswing.
Follow Your Schedule
Any or all of this may seem great, but I can assure you that it’s helpful only to the extent you actually put it into practice.
If you don’t have enough self-discipline to follow your self-imposed schedule, understand that becoming a professional writer requires more of it.
Having said all this, I want you to remember that creativity should never be a chore, never a drag on your time or energy, never a task to get through so you can do something else that’s more fun. Creativity should be your most enjoyable activity.
That’s why it’s important that your working schedule – no matter how carefully laid out and how many great techniques and ideas it incorporates – should be more of a “guideline” than an implacable routine.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.