This article is part of my series How to FINISH Your First Novel. They are the basis of a book by the same name, which will include expanded versions of the blog posts along with contributions from fellow writers. So if you have something you’d like to add to the conversation, or if there’s something you want to know more about, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.
This installment of my Make Space mini-series is all about making space in your schedule. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many writers seem to neglect this simple step. Some people seem genuinely shocked how much time and effort is required to produce a novel. Honestly, the mind boggles. (The actual length of time it takes to write a novel, by the way, varies wildly from person to person. Here’s one novelist’s take on it.)
The entire process starts with writing the first draft. If it’s your first draft ever, then you’re probably still floundering as you find your own process. It’ll take longer for the novice writer to get settled than a veteran.
How Fast Do You Write?
Once you’re settled, then there’s just the matter of getting down to the writing. (First it should be planning, of course, but let’s not muddy the waters too much here.) Two things will define how fast you’re able to actually write: typing speed and the flow of ideas.
Typing Speed: I’m a reasonably fast typist — a speed that often surprises my non-writer friends — but we’re not talking stenographer-levels here. (For reference, I’m at around 62 wpm. You can check your speed here.)
Flow of Ideas: This is my stumbling block. I try to write evocative fiction, and my style is definitely inspired by visual media like film and comic books, so I have to frequently pause while I first place myself into the scene then find the words to convey what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. I also backtrack from time to time within a sentence or a paragraph – but never into earlier parts of the piece. A good session is between 500 and 1000 words. More on that in a moment.
Once you know how fast you’re able to write – both physically and mentally – you can start to set aside the necessary time to write. Luckily, there are a few ways you can go about scheduling your writing time, so there should be a solution for every budding novelist. I’m getting into the territory of the “elusive obvious” now, but I’ve been surprised before at how rare so-called common sense is, especially in my own addled mind.
Schedule a block of time: For those who live on a fairly tight schedule — for example, I’m a parent and husband with a full-time job, part-time job, and recurring freelance work on top of my writing — then you’re probably going to want to just schedule a block of time in which you write. For me, it’s my lunch breaks and morning (if I can get up in time). My blocks are sort of self-contained, so I don’t have to worry too much about counting the minutes. If you do set an allotted time – 15 minutes for example – then make sure it’s reasonable in your schedule. And remember that you’re going to lose some time in the task switching. You’ll need to get your preferring writing tools ready, settle in, and get yourself into the right mindset. Allow at least 5 to 10 minutes just to get ready for your block of writing time.
It’s also a good idea to schedule the same block of time every day. This works its way into your subconscious and tells your brain that it’s writing time. With practice, you’ll find it easier and easier to write. And if you have a physical space that you do this, then you’re well on your way to making a writing ritual.
Set a word count goal: If you have a flexible schedule, or you’re devoting yourself strictly to writing, then this is a great way to make serious progress. Setting yourself a very clear outcome is one of the best ways to accomplish your goal, so in this case, you’d say, “I’m going to write until I’ve written X words.” That X could be 300, 500, 1000, 3000, etc., but it’s a clear goal.
Stephen King is famous for his productivity, and it’s all down to his extraordinary discipline. He gets up every morning and sits down to write until he’s hit his 2000-word goal. He treats it like anyone would treat their job. Unlike more day jobs, however, he gets to set his hours by his productivity, not the length of the work day. By his own admission in On Writing, some days, he finishes in the late morning, while on others he reaches his goal mid-afternoon mid-afternoon.
Know what you can give up. To complete your novel, you’re absolutely going to have to give up something else you enjoy. Yes, you read that correctly: something you enjoy. Because as long as you’re working on a novel in your spare time, writing is a hobby. Sure, it can become a career later, but if this is your first (or one of your first) novels, then you’re supporting yourself with something else. By no means do I give you permission to shirk your responsibilities to pursue your dream of being a writer. Besides, the idea of a starving writer is so passe.
So you’re going to have to cut some of your fun time from your schedule. Television should be the first to go. At a minimum, skip an episode or two of your favorite show each day and dedicate that time to writing. (If you’re really serious about writing, then you should consider giving up TV entirely until you’re done.) Also, seriously cut back on your social media and Internet time. These are also massive time-sinks with very little return on your investment. Alternatively, if you’re a gym-goer or are otherwise engaged in athletics, first of all, I’m envious. If I have an athletic bone in my body, it’s probably one of those tiny ones in the inner ear. Unfortunately, you may have to sacrifice an hour or two a week if you want to get your book done. Don’t sacrifice your health, of course, but there are only so many minutes in the day.
The one activity you should never give up to finish your first book, however, is reading. Could you imagine a musician who doesn’t listen to music? Or a painter who does visit art galleries? No, that’s ridiculous. Writers read. It’s as simple as that.
Get your loved ones involved. If you’re single, unattached, and responsibility free, then you’re in the perfect position to write a novel. Your time is entirely your own. But I’ve noticed something that I find interesting: the vast majority of successful authors have a life partner of some kind, and though I have some theories as to why, they are for another post. However, it’s very likely that you also fall into this category. You may have a significant other, maybe children, or elderly parents. You might even have a goldfish who is frankly kind of an asshole, but you’ll be damned if you’re going to give up on him now.
My point is that there are people in your life, and they need you, too. It’s best if you get them involved in your passion project in one way or another. This could mean asking your significant other to look after the kids, agreeing to go antiquing on Sunday if it means you can write on Saturday, or offering to clean out the rain gutters for dear old mom and dad if they’d just give you a couple hours on the computer. That fish is still going to be a dick, however, so you’ll just have to work through his passive-aggressive comments.
It would also be a lovely idea if you were to include your loved ones in the finished product. Make sure they get shout-outs in acknowledgments. Ask for feedback if appropriate. (My mother doesn’t like the level of violence I write. And I doubt your Grandpa will have much of value to add to your Elvis-Frankenstein crossover erotica. But people are tickled to be included in the creative process.) And make sure to get signed copies to anyone who helped in even the smallest way, assuring you’ll get more support on novel number two.
But whatever you do, make yourself some time to do the damn writing. There is literally no other way to get it done. How do you make time to write? Let me know in the comments below!
Like the Make Space mini-series? You can check them all out below.
Or if you’re trying to get that first book done, check out How to FINISH Your First Novel.