People assume a writing schedule should include one or the other – either a quantifiable measure (such as time spent or words written) or a qualitative goal (introduction complete, reading completed for literature review). You are either going to enter “write 30 minutes” or “finish introduction” in your planner. The problem with using a single metric to create a writing schedule is that there is no single way to write.
It may sound crazy to claim that writing involves more than just writing. But, you should understand writing as a multi-step, iterative process that involves way more than just putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Once you do, you’ll be able to craft a writing schedule that encompasses all of the work related to writing. That includes researching, drafting, thinking, revising, and editing (note that I do not lump revising and editing into the same category, but that’s a blog post for another day).
Given how different these tasks are, it should be no surprise the activities we group under “writing” cannot be easily quantified. But even if they could, quantifiable tasks with no end in sight merely create busy work. Sitting your behind in a chair for 30 minutes is fine. If you don’t have an objective beyond that, however, you won’t be able to reach any larger goal than writing for 30 minutes. Qualitative goals, on the other hand, are abstract and hard to measure. This abstraction creates overwhelm, and overwhelm leads to resistance. When you say to yourself, “I must get this article done” you rarely, if ever, sit down and write the article in a linear fashion from start to finish. Most writers will not even complete a full section of a manuscript in one sitting.
If both types of goals have such shortcomings, how do you create a writing schedule for completing an article? Or a book? You do it by breaking the process down into small, discrete, measurable parts. Imagine if rather than saying “I must get this article done,” you instead say, “ I am going to devote three thirty-minute writing sessions to working on this introduction.” This combination of goals also enables you to better track your progress. You can assess how your quantitative measures are moving you towards your more abstract goals. For instance, say you want to write more. Quantify that goal as two additional thirty-minute writing sessions each week, and you’ll demystify the work necessary to achieve that vague goal. In a nutshell, measurable tasks combined with realistic goals will make your schedule go smoothly.
Writing schedules are so hard to make and stick to because we don’t consider all the work that goes into writing. As a result, we set very unrealistic goals. If you feel like you’re constantly behind schedule, you’ll do one of two things. First, you’ll blame yourself and think you’re incapable of planning your writing (and begin to make excuses to reinforce that belief). Second, you’ll start to think the schedule is a sham because it doesn’t work for you, despite your best efforts. Either way, you’ll begin to resist your schedule and delay your own work, whether you realize it or not.
How are you currently making your writing schedule? What types of goals are you setting for yourself? Are you steadily meeting those goals, or do you feel frustrated?