Chronicling The Craft: Adjusting Your Writing Schedule (and Maintaining Your Sanity) In Response to Life Changes

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Chronicling The Craft is a series where I share my experience with working on my YA fantasy novel THE KEEPER’S CURSE, which is now in its third draft. These articles alternate between a) progress updates and fun “TKC-related” content, and b) revising / editing tips. Today’s post is the tips-oriented post to celebrate 40% completion of Draft #3.

One of the biggest challenges with Draft #3 hasn’t been craft- or story-related. Rather, it’s process-related. Certain life changes made my previous writing schedule unsustainable, so I needed to rethink how to approach the editing process and devote adequate time and effort to my story. And when you’re used to having a particular schedule, altering it for creativity’s sake can be an overwhelming and eye-opening experience.

So, today’s Chronicle focuses on the “writer’s life” side of things. I’ll offer tips on adjusting your writing routine in response to life changes. I’ll also explain why writers should practice acceptance and patience when altering their routines, and why it’s essential for us to take care of ourselves as we do so. Our sanity and well-being are just as important as our craft, right?

Why I Chose to Modify My Writing Routine – and Why Acceptance and Choice Are Crucial When Adjusting to Life Changes

Like many unpublished writers, I have a full-time job that forces me to pursue novel-writing in my spare time. I also own a condo, and I have friends and a family (parents and a younger brother) in the area. These all come with their own joys, commitments, and responsibilities that, in the past, made it difficult for me to fit in novel-writing time during the week. So, I saved that time for weekends, vacations, and other days off from work. And for the first 3 years I worked on TKC, this schedule worked out well.

Fast-forward to March 2016. I had finished Draft #2 of my manuscript and started planning for Draft #3. In the meantime, my parents were preparing to move 90 minutes away, to a town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Family has always been important to us, but when it comes to visiting, we knew it would be more sensible for me to travel to them. (My condo isn’t big enough to accommodate overnight guests.) So, I decided to alternate weekends between staying at home and spending time on the Cape with my folks.

The one drawback to this change? It would disrupt my weekend writing routine for the foreseeable future. 

I’m glad I realized this when I did, though – and even better, that I accepted the coming change. Doing so motivated me to plan a new routine that would incorporate more writing time into my weeknights to compensate for the “away” weekends. I also knew the new routine would require certain sacrifices and juggling of responsibilities, and I was willing to give anything a try (within reason).

Ultimately, all writers go through major life or schedule changes that will impact their writing routines. We may or may not have control over those changes, but we need to be receptive to them and – most importantly – choose how to respond to them. In cases like moving house, having a baby, or a long-term illness, we may have to put our craft on hold temporarily and focus on the emerging issue. But in other cases, we can choose to adapt in order to protect and preserve our writing time.

Six Tips on Modifying and Transitioning to a New Writing Routine

What should you consider when you need to adjust your writing routine? Here are six tips based on my experience:

Tip #1: Create a Schedule

Planning your writing time in advance can help tremendously when you’re anticipating a long-term change to your routine. How detailed or precise you make that schedule is up to you. You can assign days of the week or “time slots” for certain tasks and responsibilities (5:30 to 6:30 pm for dinner, 6:30 to 7:30 pm for writing, etc.). Or, you can be flexible and say, “Hey, I won’t do A or B before I get in 90 minutes of writing first.”

For example, my new schedule involves an hour or 90 minutes of editing on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays after work, and longer stretches on the Saturdays and Sundays when I’m home. Also, because of my work schedule and traffic delays, it’s tough to stick to specific time slots without fretting that “I won’t be able to start on time.” So, once I get home, I focus on dinner first, then editing, and finally whatever I else I have time for (social media, reading, etc.).

Tip #2: Prepare Yourself Between Sessions

When modifying your writing routine, preparing yourself between sessions can help the creative parts of your brain function at times they’re not used to. Use a journal, notepad, cell phone, recording device, etc. to keep notes of possible changes while you’re physically away from the story. That way, your mind stays in the story longer, and you can recall those new ideas quickly when you sit down to incorporate them. I’ve used this technique since Draft #2 of my WIP, and it has noticeably helped my productivity as a writer / editor.

Tip #3: Set Limits – and Stick to Them

If you’re going to write or edit for X amount of time, do exactly that – and then stop for the night. Doing so will help you manage the non-writing aspects of your life (mealtimes, sleep, etc.) as effectively as the writing, and with minimal disruption. Other possible limits you may want to consider include how much time you spend on social media on writing nights, or what time you shut off your computer or go to bed.

Tip #4: Give Up Something and Replace It With Writing

One of the sacrifices I made for my new routine was cooking on the weeknights when I write. Opting for something quick and healthy (sandwiches, salads, leftovers from weekends) on those days allows me to use the time I would have spent preparing or cleaning up from a larger meal on the WIP instead.

Making sacrifices is often necessary when modifying your writing schedule. Choose something you can give up on those days – working out, watching TV, household chores, you get the idea – and use that time to your craft’s advantage. This doesn’t mean giving up your other hobbies or responsibilities entirely, but making room for them on days when you have more time to pursue them.

Tip #5: Allow Yourself Time-Off From Writing

You read that correctly. Give yourself permission to take a night or two off from writing each week, especially if you’re an unpublished writer who works a full-time job. Many other writers recommend writing every day, but that’s not always possible. Besides, you owe yourself those nights to rest and catch up on the sacrifices you made in Tip #4.

I typically take Wednesday and Friday nights off from the WIP. That’s when I run errands, do laundry, cook a full dinner, exercise, work on my mandala coloring book, get together with friends, or meditate. It’s never all of these activities, just a selection based on priorities and time. I also use one or both nights as “disconnect” time. No email, social media, or blog – I don’t even turn on the laptop. It’s incredibly freeing to give yourself that break now and then.

Finally, I’m flexible with my off-nights. If I need to take a Tuesday off instead of a Wednesday, I’ll make that switch. That way, I’m not short-changing the WIP or myself of the time we both need. (Wait – did I just refer to my WIP with a personal pronoun?)

Tip #6: Take Care of Yourself

Some writers view writing as more important than eating, sleeping, and other basic needs. Please, for the sake of your sanity, do NOT adopt that mentality. Your health and wellness are the two most important “possessions” you have. Otherwise, you’ll run yourself into the ground and render yourself unable to think, much less write. Trust me; I know this from experience.

So, when altering your writing routine, make sure to balance creativity with self-care. Remember to eat regular meals, keep yourself hydrated during writing sessions, and get enough sleep. This guest post I wrote for The Sprint Shack last year offers more advice on this subject. The point is, taking care of your basic needs will help you stay productive, happy, and healthy. That’s the kind of writer we all want to be, right?

Most Importantly, Be Patient With Your New Routine – and With Yourself

Adapting to changes in your writing routine takes time. It requires commitment, planning, consistent practice of new habits, and – above all – patience. Some changes will integrate easily into your new routine. Others will act like bumps in the road and throw you off-balance. That’s how it goes with other changes in our lives, too.

However you choose to alter your writing routine, try not to be too hard on yourself. Accept that some changes will need more conscious effort on your part, and be open to solutions that can help you address your weaknesses. Celebrating milestones with your process or the WIP can help keep your spirits high, too. It all goes a long way to creating the right mentality for successfully reshaping your routine without letting your craft or sanity suffer (as little as possible, at least).

How has my transition from Old to New gone so far? Well, it seesaws between “smooth” and “rough.” I still struggle with Tips #3 and #6. Some nights I don’t stick to my time limits, and so I go to bed later than I should – and therefore don’t get enough sleep. And constantly feeling overtired doesn’t make me an effective writer.

But on other nights, the new routine has worked out really well. I’m happy with not only how quickly Draft #3 is progressing compared to the previous two drafts, but also how this draft is shaping up. No doubt the groundwork I laid with Tips #1, #2, #4, and #5 (as well as practicing patience) have build a solid enough foundation for this to happen. Now I just need to work on my weaknesses, and this experiment with adjusting my writing routine might be a success. Perhaps the same can happen for you.

Additional Links on Writing Schedules, Routines, and Productivity

Want to check out more articles on the topics discussed in this post? Here are a few:

Have real-life circumstances ever forced you to alter your writing routine? What other tips would you give to writers who are considering changes to their writing schedules?

Did you catch the first half of the 40% progress report? Click here to read Tuesday’s post, where I also shared more songs from TKC’s novel playlist.

50 thoughts on “Chronicling The Craft: Adjusting Your Writing Schedule (and Maintaining Your Sanity) In Response to Life Changes

  1. This was a very encouraging post. I find scheduling writing time to be challenging. I always hope to write every day, but my biggest problem is demanding that time from others. I think your suggestion of specific days is a good one and setting up the timer for when you should stop and actually do it. I often get so excited during the time I do write I don’t want to stop. I’m going to take your suggestions to heart and try them. Thanks for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you found it so helpful, Alina. 🙂 Even if you don’t have any major events that force you to change your writing routine, it never hurts to make small changes that you might still benefit from. The changes you mentioned (specific days, timing yoruself) are good starting points. Let me know how this goes for you!

      “I often get so excited during the time I do write I don’t want to stop.”

      I know the feeling all too well. 😉

      When you said “demanding that time from others,” did you mean that other people aren’t always respectful of your writing time?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. I’m always reluctant to take that time for myself because I feel like I’m robbing others of that time. I know that it’s important to take care of myself, but I still find it hard.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean. It’s how I felt when I still lived with my parents, and how I had to sneak in writing at night or first thing in the morning. Otherwise, they’d keep me busy with chores or helping them with yardwork for most of the day, because they saw it as a more practical use of my time.

        It can be hard to put your foot down to protect your writing. But at the same time, it’s a necessary lesson. If the situation arose again, maybe you could ask your family / friends / the person in question if you could have an hour or two of uninterrupted writing, and then you can help or spend time with them? Or offer the vice versa, and say you’d be happy to do this or that first, then have time and space to write afterward? (That doesn’t sound quite right, but I couldn’t think of how else to word it.) If you show a desire to balance your relationships with your writing time, other people *should* be more likely to respect your wishes.

        What do you think? Have you tried something like that before?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think what you’re suggesting is good. I think what I need to do is ask for that one hour first versus hoping it will happen. Now that I think about it, the few times I have done that in the past I’ve gotten a positive response. I just need to do that more often and I think it helps to say it in the way you suggest. Can I have an hour and then I’ll do XYZ. Thanks Sara! This was really helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such practical and useful advice, Sara – and I’m really glad that you have managed to sufficiently alter your own writing schedule to take account of your own changes:)). It’s certainly been a busy year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It certainly has been a busy year. And between Writer’s Digest Conference and my friend’s wedding, August through early September will be nutty. So I’m not expecting to get much editing done during that time, and I’m OK with that. I just need to pace myself so that I don’t forget anything for either event.

      Thanks as always for commenting, Sarah!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice, Sara:-) I’m not a writer, but I do consider my blog to be my “other” job, and as such it’s extremely important that I continue to keep it up. I had a major life change 2 years ago when I went back to work full time after being a stay at home mom for 15 years. Boy was that depressing! My blog really suffered for a while, as well as my house and family. I think I’ve finally struck a balance, but it continues to be a daily struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. That must have been a huge change, especially after you had been a stay-at-home mom for so long. My mom either stayed at home or worked part-time for several years after I was born. And though she never blogged, she had a hard time adjusting to working full-time when she finally went back to it. So I sort of know how you feel, from watching her experience.

      Of course, now she envies my dad, since he’s retired and she’s still a couple years away from her own. And I don’t blame her one bit. 😉

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tammy!

      Like

  4. This was a really helpful post! I experienced something like you did, but it was a change in job situations that left me doing a lot of training and working more hours than I had been before which took away from my writing. I really missed it and had a hard time adjusting to the different schedule, but half-way through the change, I read somewhere that if you only have 15 minutes to write, then write for that amount to time! You don’t need huge swaths of time to write, just focused time.
    I think that being realistic with our writing expectations, patient (with yourself and others!) and slow to get frustrated is wonderful advice. Treasuring our writing time is the key and never quitting no matter what! Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Candace! I’m glad you found this post so helpful, and I enjoyed reading about your own experience. Every writer is going to approach their situation in a different way, because everyone’s circumstances will be different. So, good for you, for finding a way to keep writing in your life despite the increased work schedule. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A good practical post and good advice. I struggle with changing my routine, but I have been trying to fit more writing in recently. I felt like the small amount of time I was getting wasn’t enough, so I looked at what I do in a day, and questioned some of the stuff. Like, do I really end to watch TV every night? The answer was no, so I decided to cut back and just watch he stuff I really want to. Some nights I’m too tired to do anything but watch TV, but mostly, I’m finding that I’m able to do more writing around the other stuff that I need to do. 🙂

    It’s good that you’ve managed to find a way of adapting to circumstance. I think that’s quite a valuable skill actually.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Phoenix! 🙂

      It’s good that you recognize what you can reasonably cut out of your schedule so you can make more time for writing. And if it’s worked so far (which it sounds like it has), then you’ve made the right changes.

      I think it’s really important to be flexible when life / your schedule changes for the long term. Especially if you don’t want to give up a certain hobby / passion / etc., like writing. And when you’re driven enough to keep it in your life, you’re more willing to do what you think you need to do to keep it. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a great post! I’ve had to modify my schedule a bit since my new job requires me to go to bed several hours earlier than I normally would on some nights.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sound advice, Sara. Life changes constantly, and I try to take a monthly assessment of what I spend time on and what I need to spend time on. It’s 12:12 a.m. local time and I should be sleeping – yet, I want to read more blogs, play on Twitter and write a post for tomorrow.

    I will choose bed instead, in honor of this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *lol* Sleep is important, Eli! Make sure you get enough of it. 😉

      On a more serious note, a monthly assessment sounds like a great way of evaluating how well someone manages their time. Do you find that it helps you get back on track when you find any imbalances / areas that come up short?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey look, I finally have words to say!

    So my writing routine actually does change quite often, typically 2-3 times a year due to my status as a student the last few years. It used to be fairly standard, though, and for about a year I held onto the routine of waking up at around 5 a.m. and writing for an hour or so before eating breakfast and getting ready for the day (sometimes I’d get 1.5 hours if I didn’t have to be at work/class until later). This came in really handy, too, especially when factoring that about half the time I was able to use that writing time not for my YA projects, but for short stories I was writing for my workshop classes (totally counts as writing and not homework, I don’t care what anyone else says XD). It was a really great way for me to tap into my creativity while my mind was still fresh, before the work of the day started to weigh me down mentally.

    After I graduated last fall, I had to change my routine because I’d convinced my sister to start going to the gym with me while I lived at home, and the only time she could go would be at 5 a.m. So I basically swapped my workout and my writing times: workout in the mornings, then write in the late afternoon, and there actually wasn’t too much of a problem there (but then, I had way less responsibilities, what with the lack of school and job those 6 months).

    I’m going to have to re-evaluate my routine again come August, considering I’ll have a week-long orientation followed by courses actually starting. I’ll be a full-time grad student as well as a graduate assistant, so work and school are coming back with a vengeance. I know for a fact that putting my writing first won’t work, because that’s the time I work out (and where I’m at, I need to work out in the early morning, because it’s just too damn hot at any other time of the day), and to be honest, that’s the only point of contention I had with your post, when you mentioned sacrifices (which I agreed with) because you mentioned also sacrificing the occasional workout. To me, balancing the mental well-being of acting out creatively with the physical well-being of being active is at the top of my priorities, and I can’t see myself consciously giving up my physical exercise for writing, nor could I see myself trying to help someone find time in their day by suggesting they skip a workout.

    To be fair, I know you’re not advocating for not working out at all, just being strategic on which days you do/don’t work out (like Monday/Wednesday/Friday go to the gym from 2-3 p.m., but on Sunday/Saturday/Tuesday/Thursday you focus on writing from 2-3 p.m.) so don’t think I’m completely ignoring your overall point 😄

    My sacrifice when it came to really rearranging my schedule came when I began writing at 5 a.m., and it actually made me really look at my daily routine critically. I was used to going to bed around 9 30 or 10 at night, and waking up at 6 or 6 30; but when I really started looking at ways to add writing into my life along with school, I realized that from about 8 30 onward at night, I was essentially useless and my productivity collapsed. Which meant that it was easy for my to begin going to bed around 8 30, and thus waking up earlier, while still getting enough sleep (how do people do all-nighters?!). So I sacrificed, essentially, time spent with friends and the occasional t.v. show. but the benefits were worth it (plus, I saw my friends/roommate throughout the say, anyway; it didn’t kill me nor them to not see them when I’d rather be sleeping, anyway).

    Anyway, to wrap up what suddenly became an absurdly long comment (sorry!), I know it’s going to be a challenge working writing time into my new routine as a graduate student, particularly since I don’t have that morning slot (running and pilates has stolen it away). Trial and error, I think, are the best way to go about fitting things in: start with the things that are unmovable (work/class hours), and then simply look at what gaps there are. I’m currently using an excel sheet, actually, to create a weekly schedule, and I have my classes (both taking and teaching) and when I work out, and I hope to add slots that are specifically for homework (such as large gaps I have between classes; one of them’s four hours long!), and then perhaps work writing in at night and on the weekends. Of course, I don’t have my full work schedule, yet, so I still haven’t been able to even get an idea of where writing could go, but hey, at least I have a plan, right? Plus, I completely agree with you when you say not to be too hard on yourself for missing a writing session; when I get a new work/school routine, I actually favor *not* scheduling writing sessions into my routine for about two weeks or so, because I want to get accustomed to the major changes; once I’ve eased myself into those changes, then I can get a better feel for when I have the time for writing without shirking my other responsibilities.

    Phew, sorry, a bit long-winded. Anyway, I feel you should know (even though it took me a while to comment) that I totally adored this post; we always need a reminder that it’s okay to feel frazzled when life happens and interrupts the rhythm we have in regards to writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holy crap! 😄 You are awesome, Rae.

      Oh gosh, yes – I would never advocate not working out at all! I would hope that readers would understand from all of the tips I offered that everything requires balance, and writers have to choose what activities / responsibilities they want to prioritize and when. Everyone’s life and schedule is different, so it’s hard to take all scenarios into account. I was merely being general – which you understood. 😉

      Personally, I don’t usually exercise after work because I exercise during my lunch breaks (walking). Some nights, though, my body feels the need for yoga, so I use one of my two off-nights from editing to make time for it. I also try (but am not always successful) to walk first thing in the morning on weekends when I’m home.

      Like

    • No! I hit “Send” before I wrote the rest of my comment! GAH.

      What I was going to say before was… I think you’re approaching your next routine change in a sensible way. Take some time to get used to the new schedule, then see where non-MFA writing can fit in. And based on how you’ve adjusted your writing schedule in the past to accommodate certain changes, I have no doubt you’ll adapt to things just as well this time around. 😉

      Like

  9. I feel like this post was written for me, haha. I can’t believe I’m moving twice in a year, but ah well… that’s life. I had a brief spurt of creativity, and I was SO stoked… and then I overdid it, sprained my wrist from typing, and fell out of it again. 😭 One of these days I will find the balance!!! But I’m glad the new schedule is working for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awwwww! I hope your wrist feels better soon! :S

      I hear ya about moving and how it interrupts one’s creative flow, too. When I moved into my condo 5 years ago, I stopped writing for… maybe 3 months? Not blogging, but working on stories and other pieces. It was just as well, though. Living in your first place can be a big adjustment.

      Thanks as always for commenting, Alex!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Such sound advice, Sara! Thank you for sharing your insight! You know that I’ve been struggling with this recently and it’s great to have someone else’s experience and wisdom to turn to. I’ve made notes and will try to use in the future to help me deal better with unfortunate diversions. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Faith! Yes, I remember you mentioning in that in the other Chronicle post, and also in your weekly update. It never hurts to make little changes here and there in our routine to see what works and what doesn’t. And I’m sure you’ll find a way to wrangle those future “unfortunate diversions” so you can still make time for your writing. *hugs*

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This is sound advice, I agree with Faithrivens. Lots of helpful tips when it comes to writing schedules. I have mine mostly figured out, writing during the evening. But weekends aren’t consistent, especially with it being summer. On sunny Saturdays I can’t help but want to be out and about running errands or hanging out with friends, but I can try to make up for the writing time other days.
    I wish you the best with your new writing schedule. It sounds like it’s going well, so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, E.! Yes, the new schedule has gone as well as it could, really. Otherwise, it would have taken me a lot longer to reach the halfway mark on Draft #3. I’m expecting things to slow down in August, though, because it’s going to be nutty between the NYC trip, my friend’s wedding, and other things. MEEP.

      It sounds like your schedule works pretty well for you, too. And that’s a good point about summer weekends. You get that certain itch to be outside when it’s so nice out. I feel that more often in the spring – because in the summer, I’d rather be in air conditioning! 😉 But that’s just me, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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  14. Jeez . . . the word routine is sort of like a monster under the bed for me. Basically I work, sleep, work, sleep, read, fall asleep, and eat sometimes, lol. In between the cracks, I write/edit. I really, really, need to set a routine up for myself though! Anyhow, your post made a routine sound a lot less stressful (like it should be). I need to sit down (for a change) and actually look at all the things I do/want to do in a week/month and make a plan. That would probably help me feel a little less crazy, you know?

    Thanks for the encouraging post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It never hurts to try. 😉 I know some people prefer not to have a schedule, or find a routine to be too restricting. But when life is crazy-busy, sometimes it helps to look at things and see what changes you can make so you can still have time for the things you love.

      If you do make a plan, I’d start off conservative. By that, I mean try not to jam-pack your days with things, because you don’t want to burn yourself out. Maybe that might help?

      Thanks as always for commenting, Rebekah! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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