Okay, you caught me. I haven’t really written 672 previous posts about schedules. It just feels that way to me, and possibly to you as well. But when I wrote a brief series of posts about my upcoming life changes, I promised to share occasional updates, to compare the reality with the ideal I wrote about in posts like this one. Well, I have some data points, so let’s get to it!
Looking back at this oh-so-hopeful post, it seems I had some very cute ideas (as in ‘aw, isn’t that cute, she thinks she’ll have more time some day if she just figures out the right schedule‘). Yeah, you can see where this is going. Oh, I stand by the advice I gave myself, like get real about how long things really take and hire help when necessary. But the idea of finding the magic scheduling formula is, alas, not going to be my lot in life.
As I told you in this post, I did make a major life change that will, over time, impact my schedule and the amount of time I have for writing and living a life outside of the day job. I left my life as an employee to strike out on my own as a consultant. My last official day of work with my previous employer was May 23. My first official day as a consultant to a paying client was May 24. That left exactly zero days for actual business set-up time. Over the next five weeks, I eked out time for the bare necessities of establishing the business while working crazy hours (I know, you’ve heard it all before). But there were important differences this time.
For one, no matter how many hours I worked in a week, I got paid for each and every one of them (or at least I will – welcome to the brave new world of monthly invoicing and net 45 terms – if these things mean nothing to you, count your blessings!). For another – and this one is an important one for me – I could take off on the occasional weekend day or leave the office for the evening before other people working on the project guilt-free, because I now I had a damn good reason to leave: I had to budget the hours the client had contracted for my services. I couldn’t exceed those hours. Those were the terms of our contract. It’s a beautiful thing to be contractually obligated to go home from work at a somewhat reasonable hour.
Still, the company had contracted for plenty of hours to allow me to continue in my workaholic ways, leaving less time than I’d hoped for writing. But, you might ask, what about those lofty plans to set the alarm for an earlier time and write first thing in the morning, before doing anything else? Yeah, about that…It turns out I’m about as energetic writing at 5 AM as I am writing at 10 PM. Oh, I can do it. I can carve out words, even coherent sentences. At times, they can extend to perfectly lovely paragraphs. But the magic happens at a snail’s pace, and frankly, it doesn’t feel all that lofty. Mostly, it just feels painful.
So now it’s time for my true confession, for something I’ve learned about myself over the past few months: I am an afternoon writer. As much as I would love to be a 5 AM writer, my brain has gotten less and less cooperative at that hour, and I’m much better off working out or just grabbing that extra hour of sleep. As much as I would love to get through a workout and a shower and first cup of coffee and then turn my mind to writing pursuits, that doesn’t happen either. For too many years, that shower/coffee/start the day routine has automatically switched my mind into day job mode. I can’t help myself – I’ll respond to emails, read documents, provide feedback on them – but I won’t write much in the way of words for my story.
After I’ve spent some hours slogging away at the day job, whether for an employer, a client, or my own business set-up, my brain turns its thoughts to story. The truth is, I’ve done this for years, but I just thought I was giving myself a brief mental break in the early afternoon by daydreaming about my characters and book scenes. I never let myself do more, because I couldn’t. But this past month, working a more flexible schedule to ‘mind the hours’ meant I was occasionally off the clock for part of the afternoon. And almost every time that happened, I filled my afternoon with writing. I didn’t plan it that way, didn’t discipline myself to do it, didn’t set alarm clocks and schedules around it. I just did it.
The afternoon won’t be the most convenient writing time when I have paying clients expecting me to work a normal workday. But one of the great (and scary!) things about this new gig is that there will be weeks, sometimes even a month or so, when I won’t have a paying client dictating my hours. This coming week will be one of those times, so I am going to try to add a little discipline to my process (come on, you knew I couldn’t quit cold turkey!) and set a goal to write for 3 hours every afternoon. Business set-up in the morning, family time with visitors from the west coast every evening, and in between – writing!
And as for writing every day, or at least nearly every day, while I love the idea, it’s time to admit that it’s not always going to work for me. My consulting work will be highly demanding and deadline-driven, just like my previous day job was. Some weeks, I will only be a weekend writer; other weeks, I won’t even manage that. But that’s life, at least this writer’s life, and it’s a process.
How is your creative schedule working for you? Has anyone who had the same (crazy) 5 AM writing plan stuck with it?
What a great share! It sounds like the new lifestyle *is* working for you — maybe not in the way you planned but you are making it work in a different way.
I couldn’t help thinking about the famous Robert Burns quote: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” but unlike the pain and grief that Burns talks about, sometimes the plans agley are often a better plan and something that really works.
(-: Me? I’m still searching for a good schedule. I wish I were a 3 p.m. writer . . . .
Congratulations, Kat! It sounds like you’ve worked out a plan for yourself, even though some of it might have developed accidentally. I made a plan for myself a while back to write every day and to do it first thing, so that it would get done. So far, so good, but I’m sure not doing it at 5am. That way madness lies!
Ten years ago, I was a 4 a.m. writer. My husband had to get up for work at 4, so me writing from 4-6 kept us in synch. But he’s on a more normal schedule now and I find I’m needing more exercise as I get older to keep my weight under (semi) control, so I use the 5-6 slot for working out. Now writing gets stuck in wherever I can find time and energy.
That seems to work okay when writing is going well enough to create a siren call that lures me back to the computer, less well when it’s going badly and I don’t really want to write.
Fingers crossed this new approach works for you!
To my great surprise, I too found out that afternoons are my more creative time. I was getting up at 5 a.m. to write, but found myself doing more messing around on the internet than anything else, so I moved it back to 6 a.m., and I’m really benefiting from that extra hour of sleep. I think that routines can work for a while, but when they stop working, a new routine is in order. I’ve accepted that I need to reevaluate my writing routine about every six weeks. Right now, with the kids home all the time, I’ve had to shoot for a weekly word goal rather than a daily one. My writing is important, but time with my kids is more important, and if I force myself into writing time when I really want to be with the kids, the time isn’t that productive anyway. I think it comes down to knowing yourself and being honest with yourself. I know when I genuinely want to be outside in the backyard and when I’m just using it as an excuse because the writing is hard. I have to be brutally honest with myself. Happy Writing!