You wake up on a Saturday excited for the weekend. No obligations, your time is your own. And the best part of it? You get to write today.
Then the phone rings. After the call, you make a fresh cup of coffee. A glance at the clock shows you have ninety minutes before the vet appointment at 2 pm. You lost a half-hour to the phone call and coffee-making. Maybe you can make up the time after the vet appointment. Oh no! You promised to make an apple crisp for the dinner party tonight.
How are you going to get anywhere on the book or story you’re writing?
Bestselling author Sarah Waters has a solution. “Treat writing like a job,” she advises. That’s what she does. When she’s writing the first draft of a book she writes a minimum of 1,000 words a day. If she writes five days a week, that’s 5,000 words a week, or about 20,000 words per month. An average-length memoir on the market is 60,000 to 80,000 words. In four months she could have the first draft of a new book. Completed first drafts are a valuable step on the path to a finished book.
Waters points out it’s important to stay at the desk for the full 1,000 words no matter how hard the writing is on a given day. “I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there.” She says, “Those thousand words might well be rubbish, they often are. But it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.”
Calendars are key to getting your writing time done. Write your writing time into your weekly calendar like the important appointment it is. Set the duration for it and stick to it.
You take appointments seriously, right? When an appointment is in the calendar you can make other plans around it. Do you skip out on a dental appointment because there’s something you’d rather do? Do you blow off a date with a friend because you’re not in the mood for a movie? I can guess the answer to both is no. If you can’t make an appointment or a date, chances are you call to rearrange it. And the revised date goes on the calendar.
Your writing time deserves the same respect. Don’t brush it off as unimportant.
How often should your writing times be?
For many professional writers, writing is their primary job. You may not have time to write 1,000 words every weekday. But consistency rules when you want success. And everyone wants to be successful at what they set out to do.
Try two or three 2-hour writing sessions every week. More than that is bonus time. Or set a minimum number of words for every writing session. It could be 500 words; it could be 1,000 words. Let anything more than either of those numbers be a bonus, not a requirement.
Here are 4 good rules to help you make progress on your first draft:
1. Choose a fair length of time for your weekly writing. Two hours twice a week is a recommended minimum. If you prefer to use a word-count minimum, stick to the number of words you set as your goal.
2. On Sunday nights or Monday mornings, put your week’s writing appointments in your calendar.
3. Be consistent. You don’t have to choose the same day every week, but choose the same minimum number of writing sessions. Show up for them.
4. You are writing what Anne Lamott famously calls this the “shitty first draft.” This draft is about getting it done so you have something to work with. Write the words down and let them go. It’s not time to revise. You’ll improve and refine on the next draft.
In another post I’ll share some good tips for writing that next draft.