As a free-lance writer I am my own boss, so I’ve developed a system for staying on-track I call Month, Week, Day.
Every month, I list my goals. These include both Big Ticket items, like the two books I’m working on, one a novel and one a piece of non-fiction, and the Smaller Tasks, which include my blogs, radio commentaries, newspaper editorials and work-for-hire. Some of these goals have deadlines. I post here at Live to Write – Write to Live every other Tuesday. I post to Living In Place on Wednesdays, and I submit The Middle Ages column to The Rutland Herald on the third Monday of the Month before posting it to my website the third Wednesday. I make my own deadlines for Vermont Public Radio and pencil in my ideas and due dates for two commentaries a month.
I also take time to list the meetings I’m already scheduled to attend as well as the interviews and events I either want to attend or need to schedule to research a commentary, my non-fiction project, or an editorial idea itching at the back of my mind.
By the time I’ve finished, I have a daunting list of goals for the month, so I break it down week by week.
Either at the end of work Friday or on Sunday evening, I fill in the following week’s deadlines, appointments, and meetings – all of which I schedule for afternoons. Because I’m one of those writers who thrives on consistency, I fence off my mornings for writing, and I try not to schedule anything else until after noon – and later, if possible.
Because writing is both sedentary and solitary, I also try to schedule exercise and social time for afternoon or evening. I attend local yoga classes that offer me both a good workout and a chance for brief interactions with friends.
But before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule what I have to do the next.
Because I’m not very good at breaking the novel down into small, measurable and achievable tasks, I simply block out the first hours of every morning and work on that first. This is the project closest to my heart at the moment, and because sustaining an entirely fictional reality requires fierce concentration, I work on it until my brain gives up. Then I write essays. I save research and formatting posts for late in the day.
There are two reasons for this. First, my studio is internet- and telephone- free, so I can’t squander my writing time on social media when I’m supposed to be writing; second, these tasks don’t require my morning mind, when I’m most fluent with words and ideas.
Sometimes, I’m distracted by other obligations. When that happens, I consult my list of goals for the month, week and day, which helps me reorient my mind to my desk. At the end of each day, week, and month, I cross off the tasks I’ve completed and the goals I’ve reached; I reassign those that I didn’t.
Thanks to a post Wendy wrote years ago about The Planner Pad, I have a great system for making Month, Week, Day work and for Accounting for Your Writing Time, but there are lots of good systems out there. The important first step is to develop a system and stick with it.
Like everyone else on the planet, I also have other obligations. Most notably, I have my 90-year old dad living nearby and a small farmstead at home, as well as children out in the world and a community in which I serve. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what obligation to tackle first and how I’ll ever get everything done. Well, I can’t always get everything done, so I do what’s most important first: I write.