How to Start a Writing Schedule You’ll Actually Stick To
Learning how to start a writing schedule isn’t the hard part. Anyone can pull out a calendar and plan a few writing sessions.
The real trick is knowing how to start a writing schedule that helps you reach your goals. I’m talking about a schedule that was made to be kept.
I mean, let’s be real. Sticking to your writing routine will be tough sometimes, no matter what you do. But there are choices you can make to ensure your schedule is easier to commit than it otherwise could be.
You’re about to learn:
- The undeniable benefits of having a consistant writing schedule
- How to start a writing schedule that aligns with your goals
- How to schedule your sessions for maximum productivity
- Tricks for staying motivated and committed
- What to do when real life obliterates your routine (because it’ll at least try)
Let’s get to it.
Why Do I Need a Writing Schedule?
So what’s the point of this? Why would you need to know how to start a writing schedule in the first place? Why can’t you just write when inspiration strikes or there’s a gap in your schedule?
You absolutely can! If all you want out of writing is the occasional creative frolic, there’s no need to start a schedule.
For one thing, blocking out dedicated writing time forces you to truly commit to your goals. It makes you treat your creative endeavors as seriously as you would your job or dental cleanings.
This structure also helps you finish what you start. At some point in your novel writing process, you’ll wrestle with writer’s block, burnout, or temporary boredom. If you have no schedule and are merely chasing the muse, you’ll probably bail. (Been there.)
A writing schedule also keeps you writing regularly without any long gaps or lulls. This helps you refine your style and improve your skills much faster.
Finally, establishing a regular routine prepares you for your future life as a published author. The schedule you create today will eventually help you meet deadlines and maintain a consistent publishing pattern, which keeps readers happy.
So how do you start a writing schedule and begin reaping all these nice benefits? So glad you asked.
How to Start a Writing Schedule
If your goal is to one day be a full-time author, use your writing schedule as the first step towards treating this like a job. That means if you say you’re going to show up, you need to show up.
But just as with your day job, you need room to be human. Be a good boss to yourself. Offer sick days and personal days. Give yourself a little grace when you show up to a writing session feeling slow, uncreative, or grumpy.
And set yourself up for success with all the techniques you’re about to learn, starting with this one:
Identify Why You’re Doing This
Knowing how to start a writing schedule is one thing. Sticking to one is quite another.
This will get tough. There will be days when you feel uninspired. Or you're tired or worried about falling short on other obligations. Or the new season of Ted Lasso just dropped and it’s gently beckoning you to settle in with a blanket and a biscuit.
When those days arrive, you need to be able to remind yourself why it’s so important to prioritize your writing time.
So why is it? Is it because:
- You have an important message to communicate to the world?
- You’re carrying on your grandmother’s legacy with a semi-biographical novel based on her life?
- Writing makes you feel whole?
- For you, freedom and fulfillment would mean getting to the point where your only job is to write novels?
If you find yourself stating a surface-layer goal like, “I want to finish my fantasy trilogy in five years,” keep prodding. Why is this goal important enough to prioritize over the eight billion other things you could be doing with this one precious life?
When you have your answer, write it on a post-it and display it proudly in your writing space.
Solidify Your Goals
Okay, now let’s talk about what you hope to accomplish with this new writing schedule of yours.
I’m not going to go too deep on how to choose your objective, though I highly recommend you check out Doug’s article on setting writing goals.
What I’ll say for now is that your specific intention probably falls into one of two categories:
- You want to finish a specific project by a specific date
- You just want to write more and improve your craft
Both of these are fantastic goals. But they require different considerations for how to start a writing schedule.
If your objective is to make more time for writing, all you have to do is decide what “more” means. An hour a day? Fifteen minutes a day? Four hours a week?
On the other hand, if you want to set a project-based goal, you need to do some calculations.
Let’s say you want to finish an 80,000-word draft of your novel in three months. You’re able to write five days a week. There are 13 weeks in three months. You multiply 13 weeks by five days a week and find out you have a total of 65 writing days to reach 80,000 words. Divide 80,000 words by 65 days and that comes out to about 1,231 words a day.
This is the moment of truth. Look at your schedule and consider your typical writing pace. Will you be able to write 1,231 words a day with the time you have available?
If not, consider either adding days or extending your timeline.
Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself you’ll simply have to “hustle.” Set your writing schedule up for success, not struggle. That’s how you maintain motivation.
Actually Schedule It
Okay, now we really get to dig into how to start a writing schedule. You know what your goals are, what your timeline is, and—if you’re creating a goal-oriented schedule—how much you want to accomplish in each writing session.
The time has come to put it on the calendar. Here are a few tips for optimizing your scheduling strategy:
If it’s possible, base your writing routine on when you’re at your best. When are you most alert and creative? Unless you have other non-negotiable obligations at that time (a day job, for example), claim that ideal time for your craft.
Write every day if you can. This isn’t an option for everybody, but writing daily—even if it means shorter sessions—is the best way to maintain your creative momentum.
Consider when you’re most likely to get focused, uninterrupted time. Is it before the rest of your family wakes up? After they go to sleep? On your lunch break?
Block out the time on your calendar. This is how you tell yourself that this time is not available. This is your time to write.
Share your schedule with loved ones and ask for their support. Sometimes the non-writers among us think of writing as a low-stakes hobby. If your writing time is precious to you, let them know. Ask them to give you the space you need to commit to your goals.
Once your schedule is in place, set up a system for tracking your progress.
This is how you gather the evidence that your schedule is working—it’s helping you move closer to your goals. When you can see that, you feel more motivated to keep going.
You might create a spreadsheet where you record your daily word count. You might put an “x” on the calendar for every date you write, Seinfeld-style. If you’re a Dabble user, the Goal Tracker automatically keeps your progress right in front of you as you write.
Do whatever works for you. Though, I would suggest using a tracking system that you’ll see every day without having to look for it.
I love Dabble’s Goal Tracker for tracking my word count progress. But I also put a sticker on my wall calendar for every day I write, because it’s a constant reminder of my commitment. If I skip a day, I’m going to have to live with that gaping, stickerless square staring at me for the rest of the month.
Adapt as Needed
Knowing how to adapt your routine is as important as knowing how to start a writing schedule. You may dive into your new system and discover that something’s off.
Maybe you thought it would be a great idea to write after everyone’s asleep, but now that you’re doing it, you can barely keep your eyes open. Or maybe you discovered that your plan to write for five hours every Sunday was a little too ambitious.
Whatever needs to change, change it! This is all about discovering what’s going to work best for you.
Just make sure the problem is the schedule and not the fact that you haven’t found your flow yet. You might want to give your new routine two or three weeks before you mix it up.
Build rewards into your system. How will you treat yourself for reaching key milestones?
Maybe it’s a fancy latte after you show up for all your writing sessions in the first week. Then a long nap to celebrate a month of meeting your daily word count goal every day. Maybe you treat yourself to one of these goodies when you complete the first draft of your novel.
Rewards don’t have to be big or expensive. They should be pleasant and feel at least a little special.
But the point here isn’t just to create an incentive to stick to your schedule. It’s also to highlight the progress you’re making. Rewards keep you motivated because they draw attention to the fact that what you’re doing is working.
And that ongoing motivation is the key to creating a writing schedule that actually sticks.
Now, we’ve got one more important thing to cover.
How to Manage Those Writing Schedule Shake-Ups
Remember when I said that leaving yourself space to be human is key to maintaining an effective writing schedule? This is the kind of stuff I was talking about.
Here’s how to navigate it without abandoning your routine.
There will probably come a time in your creative process when the words just… won’t.
They won’t come. They won’t play nicely together. You’ll struggle to come up with the next scene, despise everything you write, and consider bailing on the whole operation.
Keep going. Write anything. Write about how you’ll never write again. Let it be awful. Or let it be nothing! Type and delete the same terrible sentence until the writing session is over. Try some of the exercises in this article.
Do what you have to do but keep showing up. It’s going to feel like an utter waste. It’s not. At the very least, you’re solidifying the habit and showing yourself that you’re a writer, even when it’s hard.
Writer’s block usually comes from a fear of failure or a bout of creative stuckness. Burnout happens when you’ve been pushing too hard for too long and your writer’s heart is lying all floppy in your chest like a deflated balloon.
You’re exhausted. You’re sick of your own story, you’re bored with your own words, and you can’t tell if anything you’ve written is any good.
Take a break. Let the burnout itself tell you what you need, whether it’s a weeklong vacation or a writing session spent hiking instead. Put the break on your calendar so you know when to come back.
Stuff happens. Accidents, illness, weddings, funerals, parent-teacher conferences.
When an unavoidable event forces you to skip a writing session, don’t let it tank the whole routine. Just pick it back up on the next day.
Now, if it’s an ongoing disruption like physical illness, grief, or depression, allow yourself to relax your schedule. What’s the absolute best you can do on your worst day? That’s your new goal.
I just went through this. I’ve been sick three times in three months, and it royally wrecked my routine. It was hard to stay awake and my brain was… not a smart brain.
So I set my regular expectations aside and made a different commitment. I’d do at least ten minutes a day, and it could be ten minutes of any writing. Journaling, poetry, my work-in-progress, whatever I was able to manage.
Without giving myself that super low bar to clear, I would have written a lot less and felt a lot worse.
You might experience a writing schedule shake-up that’s not about subtracting writing hours but adding them.
Maybe you’re under contract and have a deadline. Or you took on a bold, short-term goal, like writing a novel in a month.
These productivity explosions can be great for increasing momentum and testing your limits. My only advice would be to lay out your plan as clearly as possible.
Where are you going to put all those extra writing hours? When will you start your big goal? When will your writing schedule return to normal? Put it all on the calendar.
Get Help Making It Stick
Now you know how to start a writing schedule and fully commit to it. But I’d like to make one last suggestion.
Lean on your community.
Let your fellow writers know what your goals are and ask them to hold you accountable. You can find a great community at Dabble’s Story Craft Café. (You don’t have to be a Dabbler to join!)
And you can join us for daily sprints or set up your own using Dabble’s free word sprint tool.
Interested in checking out Dabble for its awesome goal tracking tool and all the other great features? Start a 14-day free trial by clicking this link—no credit card required!
However you choose to tackle this new writing routine, go all in. Show yourself every day that this is what you want most out of your one brilliant life.
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