When I start a new piece of writing (be it a manuscript or a magazine article) I give myself some goals. I know by experience that I have to do this or I won’t write a single line. If I don’t have a plan I can easily be distracted and worst of all I’ll get no writing done.
I call this my ‘No Excuses Writing Plan’ and until I started this plan my writing was – well, not getting written. Truth be told we all know it’s not writing ‘til it’s written.
Bringing in the washing is not writing nor is googling writing blogs, writing tips, holiday destinations or finding a new word for ‘pretty’ on numerous web dictionaries. You have no excuse if you planned to write but you end up baking a batch of cup cakes. You definitely have no excuse if you were going to finish writing chapter five and end up turning Oprah on. (And, no, you can’t call it research into Oprah’s book club because you know you have Buckley’s of getting on her show.)
My excuses used to be endless; the floor needs a wash; I need to arrange my bookshelf in alphabetical order; the beds need making; I need to read one more bestselling book; I want to update my Facebook page; I haven’t twittered today; my children are bored and need me to amuse them; my husband’s giving me the will-you-please-stop-writing face; my dog’s giving me the I-want-to-go-for-a-walk face; a friend rings and wants to talk about the latest Pandora charms (for an hour); my mum pops in for a cuppa and won’t leave; the garden needs weeding and while I’m at it I’ll have to dig the bindis out of the lawn; the new issue of Woman’s Day just hit the news stands and I have to catch up on the latest Brangalina gossip; the sun is shining and it’s too nice a day to stay inside writing (alternative – write outside); I need to go to the library to get more research books; my son’s birthday’s coming up and I need to scan photos for his slideshow; my toe nails are looking yucky and I need to find some nail polish to tidy them up; my wardrobe’s in need a clean out; the garage needs a sweep and the worst of all – the toilet needs scrubbing.
Now I can easily ignore all these nasty distraction (okay usually I can ignore them) with my ‘No Excuses Writing Plan’. My plan is pretty simple. You can create your own to suit your lifestyle as a writer.
Here is what I try to do before beginning a writing project. Though I don’t plot thoroughly I do plot and outline. This outline which includes estimated dates of completion keeps me on track. For example; if I’m writing a novel I have an exercise book and the first page will have my title, genre, rough page count, how many chapters and how many pages per chapter. From this information I can then calculate how long each stage of writing will take.
I work on about 300 words per page of handwritten text (I longhand first and then type it up later). So when I roughly know how long it will take to write the manuscript I delegate so many hours a week to the task. You can do this in an exercise book as I do or in a diary or calendar or you may want to create a spreadsheet.
If I want to write a 90,000 word novel and I want to include 20 chapters it would be 4,500 words per chapter. At an average writing rate of 20 minutes per 300 word pages (this is after research etc.) it would take me five hours to write each chapter. It usually doesn’t take me this long when I’m in a writing frenzy but there are times I’m not and the writing is harder so this is my best way of averaging it out and having a realistic goal.
I’m not a full-time writer so I couldn’t fit in 5 hours of writing a day but I can fit it one. I can also allocate more time to my days off (as I work casual) which I try to do at least three solid writing hours. So I estimate 8 hours a week (unless I’m on a deadline and would need to put in more hours). This would see me complete the novel in just over 12 weeks. I write all this on the second page of the exercise book and the times I will be writing eg. 1 hour Monday 5pm-6pm, four hours Tuesday 11pm – 3pm and so on. Then I tell my family and friends that these are my writing hours (just like a real job) and do not disturb me. I have no more excuses do I?
Sometimes unforeseens will crop up but I genuinely try to stick to the plan. If the unforeseen is another writing project (eg. a magazine article or a writing contest) that’s okay because it’s still writing and I’d never knock back those opportunities because I’m too stringent on my plan.
Don’t stress if your goals aren’t met at each target of your plan. You need to be slightly flexible because you’re a writer and you are creating. The muse doesn’t always cooperate either. When you stuff up just write up a revised plan and renew your commitment to the project. This way eventually the manuscript will be completed. You’ll be able to gloat and tell everyone (not that anyone usually cares – my family usually give me blank stares) that you finally finished your novel (article, poem, non-fiction book etc.).
Sometimes your writing may not be flowing or a memorable literary masterpiece but write it during these allocated times anyway. You can revise, polish and edit later. Remember, no excuses – just write.