For a while, things didn’t look good for my weekly page goal. I was writing more than 14 pages a week (the goal from two years ago), but I still kept falling short of 21 pages in the same amount of time. Every day of writing I skipped became an insurmountable obstacle for writing enough for week’s end. That was the first part of 2016. Now I’m back in a good position, and here’s how I (temporarily) made it.
From Monday through Thursday, I have a summer class at 8:30. When that class gets out at 9:45, or usually earlier, I go to the gym and walk for thirty minutes. For each walk I do, the last five or ten minutes or so are on either a stepmaster or a treadmill with an incline. That’s the first half of my daily workout. After it’s done, I walk over to the library. Upstairs, there are private rooms you can check out if you give them an I.D.. It’s 10:30-10:45 by the time I go into my room. I write until 12:15. Then, I go back to the gym and walk for more minutes than the first half of my exercise (I’m up to fifty minutes, soon to be sixty).
There are at least three noticeable aspects to this schedule that make it a success. First off: I have something in the morning that I have to attend. And not much is expected of me there besides writing down whatever’s on the powerpoint. But wait: can’t I just skip class that morning if I’m tired? I often have that problem with school— which is why I’ve worked out a deal with a classmate. Each class, both of us are expected to tell each other a joke. I may not want to go to class, but I do want to keep a promise and a goal, and I especially want to perform as to make others laugh. I’ve taken something I’m expected to do and combined it with something I love doing.
After class comes the first part of exercise. I shouldn’t need to tell you about the benefits of exercise, especially the benefits for someone as fat as I am. You might not know, however, that exercise boosts creativity. The Telegraph report on this science does mention that the benefits drop once you rest. It also mentions that authors Henry James and Thomas Mann walked to help with creativity. It’s best summed up in this saying: Working out the body helps the mind, and working out the mind helps the body.
You may think that locking myself in a room for an hour and a half to write may go against my previous thoughts on forcing creativity. Well, here’s my secret, one that might make me seem insufferable to other writers: I don’t force myself to write. All I’m doing with my time is setting up the ideal writing conditions and allowing myself to write with few restrictions. I’m not pretending that deadlines don’t factor into this— I’m writing this post because I’m on a deadline. But if I wanted to drop the project, I could. And I imagine there will be days that I spend the hour and a half surfing the web (or, more accurately, submerging myself in the web.) When I do the setup and make a ritual out of it, however, I end up bringing about the right conditions for writing. I just had that happen today, where I didn’t want to work on any current projects, so I walk around my room for ten minutes until I decided to flesh out some future story ideas.
You sharp readers may have noticed that this schedule only covers Monday through Thursday. And that my writing day is essentially over at lunchtime. Well that’s the key to such a rigid schedule: the time to unwind afterwards. I’ll have other stuff going on in the afternoons and weekends: work, homework, and housework. But I’m free from writing, and now I have an energy boost from already having finished a good day of writing. And guess what? If I want to write during my time off, I sit down and do that. I’m careful with applying pressure on myself during the hour-and-a-half sessions, but at any other time I write whatever I want and stop whenever I want. I often finish most of my weekly goal by Thursday anyway, so I just have to get down a page or two before Saturday ends. Other than work, I spend my time unwinding and mentally preparing myself for the next day.
Those three ingredients— an obligation in the morning, exercise, and plenty of time to unwind— will help you write on an effective schedule. If you still want to write only when the muse calls, then enjoy yourself. But if you’re having trouble keeping a writing goal, then follow my lead.