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Like many unpublished writers, I have a full-time job that forces me to pursue novel-writing in my spare time.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:
- “11 Tips for Creating a Writing Routine” by Kristen A. Kieffer (She’s Novel)
- “Why ‘Write Every Day’ Isn’t Always the Best Advice” by Katie Guest Rose Pryal (Writers In The Storm)
- “How Changing My Writing Scheduled Changed My Writing Life” by Rae Oestreich (The Wallflower)
- “How Your Personality Type Wrecks Havoc on Your Writing (and 10 Things You Can Do About It)” by Kelly Simmons (Writers In The Storm)
- “What Does It Mean to Be a Perfectionist AND a Writer?” by Colleen Story (Writers In The Storm)
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.