The Tricky Balance of a Writing Schedule

I do NOT like to do the same thing every day.  The one job where I worked in an office for forty hours a week made me nearly insane, and even in that job, I had the luxury of reading in the Stanford University Library and changing up my  research patterns to build variety. But being in the same place, every day, at a desk . . . even now, the thought makes me a little shivery.  And I loved my work in that job . . . just not the routine of it.

Yet, even though I crave variety in my day, I NEED routine.  I need a pattern for my work so that I actually get it done.  I may want to fancy myself the “free” artist who does what she wants when she wants it and routine be damned, but if I actually let myself become that woman, then, well, my work be damned, too.

I think this happens to a lot of writers. We don’t want to “confine” our art or schedule our “muse,” so we don’t make time for our work at all.  We think that when we have inspiration, suddenly we won’t have dishes to do or children to put to bed or farm chores to finish.  But the thing is, we’re wrong.  Just like everything else in life, we have to make time for our writing. 

So for me, the key to satisfying my need for a routine by which I write and my desire for freedom within my day has been to balance those two things. Here are the things I do to try and keep that balance:

1. I keep my mornings free if at all possible. Because I work from home, it is easy for me (and everyone else on the planet) to see all my time as available, but really, it’s not. I write in the mornings, so I don’t schedule meetings, client conferences, or get togethers with friends before noon.

2. I schedule a start and end time for writing specifically. I can putter away hours on the internet with the best of them, so I give myself the space to do that first thing in the day. But come 10am, I put fingers to keyboard and write.  When I’m done with my specific writing goals for the day, I quit. If Noon comes before I’m done, I evaluate my day and see if I can continue. If farm chores or meetings call, I add what I didn’t do to tomorrow’s goals and let it go. I’ve learned to not let my whole day be wasted because I feel guilty not writing. A set start and end time help with that.

3. I set specific writing goals for every day. Typically, one of those goals is to write 1,000 fresh words on my work in progress.  This way, I am getting pages down, even if I’m revising something else.  Then, I might have a certain number of chapters on another project to finish, or a couple of freelance assignments to do. I make a specific list of the goals for a given day and try my best to achieve them in those two hours each morning.

4. I use my mornings as MY WRITING time. I don’t let editing or teaching or any of my other part-time jobs come into those hours.  Until my goals are completed, those things wait, even if it means that I work late into the evening (as I did yesterday) to get the other work done. This is the only way I can work because once I let those other voices into my head, once my mind tilts toward someone else’s project, I am lost to my own until I get that blessed reset that sleep provides.

Your routine will probably look very different. But if you are at all like me, I think you’ll find that honoring the space in your day – even if it’s not every day –  as writing space will help you immensely with both your production and your spirit. No more guilt about not writing and no more excuses about not getting the time.  We make the time, and we honor it as part of our lives.  That’s the balance.

What is your writing schedule? How does it help you stay on track?


By the way, I’ve started a new blog for God’s Whisper.  I’ll just be posting farm-related things there – pictures, information about upcoming farm workshops, my musings about this farm life.  I hope you’ll stop by. 

  • Alise

    As part of my Balance year, I need to be more structured with my writing time. I often let that bleed into social media time or editing time, but it needs to have a more concrete start and stop point. I also need to figure out where blogging fits into that. I wish I was a fast writer, but I’m not, and too often blogging gets in the way of other writing that needs to happen. I have some writing goals this year, but I think to meet them, I need to re-evaluate where blogging fits into that. Not that I’d ever give it up (!!!), but I may need to cut back. I’m impressed with those who can keep up with daily blogging and write beyond that, but I’m not very good at that.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  • Christine Niles

    This is so what I needed to kick this year off. I’ve been struggling for the past three months to find a routine that works, and you nailed it for me with #4. As soon as my head is in someone else’s project, I’m lost to my own.

    I think you just saved my career.

  • Becca

    I completely agree with you, Andi, and one of my goals this year is to set aside a block of time strictly for writing…not reading about writing or thinking about writing, but just WRITING.

    I had to smile at your description of your office job. I felt just that way when I was working in an office. The repetition and constant paper shuffling finally made me physically ill. Still, I thrive on routine, just not repetition!

  • Joan

    My best writing time is in the morning, but there are days when I can’t do it, so I do my best to work it in as best I can. Showing up is soooo important and I’m finding it best that I write down my writing times on my calendar with all the other things I have to do. That means I absolutely have to be there!

  • Pilar

    I am basically starting out bad this year. My kids have been sick and I haven’t been getting any sleep. I’m out of it and haven’t been sticking to any routine because I’m sleep deprived. I like having a routine. I like the routine of my secretarial job. There is comfort in familiarity for me.

  • HopefulLeigh

    I’ve had such a hard time figuring this out the last several months. My time is not my own. Even though I started nannying so I’d have more time to write, every day is different and now the baby’s down to one nap a day (that never happens at the same time.) But I do like your idea of setting a time limit. So even though one day my writing time will start at 10 and the next day at noon, I can tell myself I have an hour just to write and then take care of whatever else after that. This is good to think through. Thanks, Andi!

  • Katie Axelson

    Thanks for sharing your schedule, Andi. If all my time was mine (long story), I’d do the same with the opposite plan for mornings/afternoons. If morning was my writing time, I’d be too tempted to sleep in. If I had to get up for a meeting or something, I’d actually do it and then could write in the afternoon. At least that’s how I’d start my schedule… who knows if it would actually work.

  • Claudia Cruttwell

    I agree and my designated writing time is also in the morning, when I refuse to answer the phone and when I work on a small netbook, away from the internet on my pc. However, I will also allow myself to write any time of day, whenever the opportunity arises. I have become much less precious about needing a certain time or space to write. If I’m going to be hanging around waiting anywhere for longer than half an hour, I’ll take my netbook with me and start typing whatever nonsense comes to mind.

  • Wiebke – V Blackstone

    I’m developing my routine at the moment as I’m moving from writing for fun to trying to make it a second career and treat it like a part time job. I’ve got certain things I have to do – go to work (full time role) and I’ve also committed myself to go swimming three times a week and slimming group one evening. Around that I’ve got to fit my family and writing. To help I’ve signed up to the 500 k for 2013 challenge – meaning I’m aiming to write 1370 words per day which will mainly happen at night (or my lunch break but that is sketchy)

  • Steve Thomas

    Back in the 1980s, I found that I could produce 200 words per day, finished copy. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I could do one 200-word piece in a day. I would spend time researching what I was going to write, time cogitating on how I was going to approach the subject, time writing the first draft, time rewriting the first draft, time copy-editing the second draft, time splicing the 200-word segments into a complete piece. I also spent time trying to get work. It worked best if I spent an hour a day on each activity, which meant I had eight segments in process at any given time, because if I spent more than an hour a day on any segment, my productivity really dropped.

    At that time, there weren’t any magazines that paid a living wage except Playboy’s $1 per word, and counting on sales to them was absurd. Other magazines paid 20c or less, and if all you can gross is $200 per week, you can’t live on that. Enter Webster Kuswa’s “Sell Copy”. Businesses need writers, and they don’t know where to find someone capable of turning out acceptable copy on deadline, so it wasn’t hard to make a sale – so I quoted a due date (I figured 7 business days, plus 1 day for each 200 words or fraction) at a fixed price (based on $100 per 100 words or fraction.) I didn’t tell them how I calculated the price and delivery date, but if they wanted quicker delivery, I’d charge more, sometimes as much as twice as much, or even more, because faster delivery meant I got lower productivity.

    The thing is, few businesses showed price resistance. If they tried to negotiate a lower price, I’d simply suggest that they hire a sister-in-law, but I couldn’t afford to have my name attached to second-rate work, and I need to charge these rates to earn more than I could get flipping burgers. I didn’t get insulted; no sin in trying to get the best possible deal. But I simply gave my best price right off, because if I budge, I end up getting nickle-and-dimed to death.

    Writing is no different than any other trade. One needs to work a full-time schedule in order to earn a full-time income. There are a lot of people who want to be an “author” and they write manuscripts “for the closet”. I got over that in the 1970s. It’s not necessarily fun, but if God wants you to be a writer, you need to figure out how to avoid starving to death. I typically maintained a schedule of 2 AM to 10:30, with a half-hour break for mealtime, and a couple of 15 minute breaks to brew coffee, which worked out well. If someone wanted me to do something, I’d explain I was up all night working, and just got to bed at 11, so please call back after 8 PM. When I tried to work days, people kept interrupting my work, and they got all offended when I told them that I needed to get my work out on time, so they needed to cough up $100/hour if they couldn’t wait until after hours to talk to me. It’s a lot easier to explain that I get all grouchy if I don’t get my sleep, so I need to wait until this evening to talk.

  • LarryTheDeuce

    Not sure I have a routine. I work a 45 hour workweek in my job, plus an hour of driving daily. So I work on about 5 pieces at once and then finish them all on Saturday mornings.

  • The Journey

    I really enjoy reading your post. It takes my boredom away.

  • Joanne Yeck

    I’ve been a professional writer for over thirty years and have never maintained a schedule. For me, that’s the beauty of free-lance writing. Years ago, when we decided to homeschool our daughter one of the reasons was that we would not be tied to a school’s schedule. Balance rises organically. As a non-fiction writer, sometimes weeks or even months are spent on research and organizing data. Then comes writing, followed by editing and fact checking. Ebb and flow is the nature of my process. Now that I’m also publishing, marketing and public speaking have also entered the mix. Because I love what I do, no imposed discipline is necessary. Procrastination is never a problem. I work throughout the day, seven days a week. “Chores” like laundry or filing or cooking provide much needed breaks from too much sitting!