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This post originally appeared on Medium in January 2021.
NOTE: This post is Part 2 of a series. If you haven’t yet read Part 1 of this series, The Big Picture, please go back and do so first. Having a clear idea of the project you’re going to be working on is essential before getting into the specifics. Otherwise, it’s kind of like following a recipe with only a list of ingredients.
This second part involves a three-step process for getting specific about what you are going to work on, and when. This is where the actual work gets done, where you begin to see pages filling with words, creating momentum that will sustain you as you go from the beginning to the end with a million revisions in between.
I’d also like to quickly remind you that although this process may seem like it’s only worth doing if you are at the beginning of a new project, it’s actually a really useful exercise no matter where you are in the process, so if you are in the middle of a project, please stay with me and consider giving these steps a try.
Part 1: The Big Picture, included three steps to get you clear on what you are writing and why. This next part has three steps to follow as well, but instead of asking you to reflect on your project, I’m asking you to get out your calendar and commit to writing sessions.
Step 1: Commit to writing at least 4 hours per week.
Four hours each week is enough time to build momentum and grow your word count, while also being a small enough time to fit into the empty spaces in your day or rearrange your life around without too much effort. If you’re thinking that’s not enough time or that you have more available time than that, hang tight because I’ll address that in a minute.
Now, I personally like routine and predictability in my schedule, so I tend to plan my four hours at the same times each week. But not everyone is like me in that way. There is no requirement that they be at the same time of the same day each week. Each week can be different if that’s what works for you!
Also, you can break these four hours up in whatever way works best for you. Four 1-hour sessions? 8 half-hour sessions? One four-hour session? A one-hour session and a three-hour session? It doesn’t matter. Just a total of 4 hours within a seven-day period.
Now, perhaps you are someone who has more than four hours to spare and wants to increase the time each week. That’s just fine. But I urge you to be cautious about scheduling extensive writing sessions. Think about it like going for a run. If you haven’t been running in months, a three-hour run might not be the best place to start. Writing takes a similar type of endurance that needs to be built up over time. You may also find that you have limits no matter how consistently you write. I personally tend to wind down a writing session after a couple of hours at the most.
Step 2: Put those four hours on your calendar weekly for the next eight weeks.
Eight weeks (or 60 days) isn’t just an arbitrary number. First of all, it is long enough to be able to develop a habit of writing. But it’s not so far out that you won’t have some sense of what your weeks will look like. I’d never ask you to schedule out a year from now, because who knows what you’ll be doing then? But five, six, seven, even eight weeks from now? Chances are pretty good that you have a general idea of your daily routines.
Step 2 is to actually add your four hours per week for eight weeks (or 60 days) to whatever calendar you use for appointments and the like. Don’t just visualize it…actually write it down or type it in to your calendar. You’ll have a minimum of 32 hours of writing on your schedule, ready for you to show up and do it.
Step 3: Decide on a goal for each writing session.
You may be unsure of what will need to be written three weeks from now, which is why you should plan your writing in advance, like I’ve talked about before. There are three different types of goals you might assign to a writing session. Let’s say you have scheduled to write next Tuesday at 7am for one hour. You might set a word count goal or number of pages to complete. If you have done the advance planning of the key plot points, you could assign that writing session to writing half of a specific scene, section or chapter.
There isn’t a right way to do this, but there is a less effective way. I urge my clients and other writers not to just set a time goal such as “write for two hours”, because chances are good that you’ll spend part of that time trying to decide what to write. It’s better to set a result-oriented goal. What will you have to show for those two hours?
So let’s take a minute and review these three steps for getting specific about how you will meet your goal of writing a specific project:
- Commit to writing for a minimum of four hours each week.
- Plug those hours into your calendar for the next 60 days or eight weeks.
- Set a specific goal for each of those writing sessions. I recommend adding it right into your calendar so there is no question about what you will be working on.
Okay, a couple of frequently-asked questions. Yes, the schedule is adjustable. Life happens. Things happen. Schedules need to be changed sometimes. But just make sure that if you do bump or miss a scheduled writing session, do put it back on your calendar within the week. Don’t let yourself get into the habit or mindset that your writing isn’t as important as any other appointment you make.
Also, what if you finish something early, or are behind where you thought you’d be as far as word count, page count or completed sections of the story? No big deal! You’ve written down your goal for each session, but you can always adjust it. My strong recommendation, though, is that you make those changes in advance, not in the moment. In the moment changes are usually emotional and impulsive rather than using conscious decision-making.
What if you finish your project before the end of a 60-day period? That’s so awesome! First, do a celebratory dance, for sure. Then go back to part one and clarify the big picture of your next project and fill in the rest of your scheduled writing sessions by following these steps for the new project.
Finally, what happens when the 60 days are up? You do the whole process over again.
If these steps feel overwhelming or especially daunting, chances are good it’s because you’re feeling stuck in the first part: clarifying the big picture. When the big picture isn’t clear, the practical steps seem impossible. If this sounds like you, I invite you to sign up for an Unstick Your Story consultation with me. This one-time questionnaire and call can provide so much clarity around anything that is holding you back, whether it’s your mindset or the story itself. So let’s talk!
What I want more than anything is for you to get your stories out into the world this year. I am here for you, championing you, supporting you in any way I can.
Because your stories matter, and it’s time to get them written.
Let me help you with your goal-setting!
Book an Unstick Your Story consultation today. >>