The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 1: The Beginning Professional Writer.
However, if you’re like most writers (broke!) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.
This Is The Schedule…For Now
I hate that word. Hate it anytime I have to be on one.
A schedule is one of those hot buttons for me, as well as for a lot of other artists I know.
Being on a schedule will drive us crazy. It isn’t how we want to live.
I will make a deadline. That’s different. I’m a professional.
But the rest of the world works on schedules.
This chapter talks about how, as an artist, you can approach schedules that the rest of the world demands and make them work for you.
One of the best things in the world about writing full time is that I don’t have to get up at the same time every day.
That may seem strange to some of you. But for me, and for other artists I know, getting up at the same time every day is hard. It grates against my soul. That’s the only way I can think to describe it.
I believe it has to do with the difference between being time driven and event driven.
In a time driven world, you get up at 5:15 a.m. every day. You shower, shave, drive into work. Have breakfast and coffee there. Read the news. Go through your email. And start writing every morning at 7 a.m.
Everything is done according to a clock.
If this kind of thing works for you, great.
If this is the only way you can find the time for writing, also good.
But for a lot of writer/artists, this sort of regimented, time–based schedule will only work for a very short while. Then the writer will burn out on the schedule. They can no longer be productive, and they may or may not understand why.
Instead of getting up at a specific time every day, I get up when I wake up, generally sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. (I do have an alarm set for 7 a.m.) I walk for a mile or more every morning to wake up. When I come home, I feed the cat (because she’s convinced she’s starving).
Then I write. I finish the scene or chapter or what have you, go take a shower, then go back and write some more.
Only after I’ve finished two writing sessions do I eat breakfast, open my email, let the world in.
This is my habit. I’ve made it a strong habit, such that it feels bad when I don’t follow this.
Notice that my day is not time driven. There are no times associated with any of the events. One just follows the next. Maybe I take only thirty minutes to write. Maybe I take three hours. I don’t know, and I don’t have to plan it. It just happens.
There’s actually some research exploring how “clock–time” people are less creative than “event–time” people (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, June 2014)
Most artists don’t have the luxury of being full–time creatives. They need that day job and that paycheck.
Or perhaps they live with a partner, or have a family. They have other demands that they must meet, and that includes being on a schedule, being time–driven.
The rest of the world marches to a clock. As an artist, you have to at least fake it.
Negotiate. Then Re–negotiate.
If it’s possible, get your partner or family or support network or whoever it is that is in your life to understand that the schedule that you negotiate with them is temporary.
Not because you want it to be. Not because you’re a flaky artist.
But because the schedule won’t always work for you.
Schedules will work for a while. How long depends on the schedule and your temperament. For me, I’ve always found a schedule works for two to three months. Sometimes four. But generally no longer than that.
Then I’m no longer productive. And the schedule grates on me so hard my teeth ache. It’s awful. And I feel awful.
But the writing comes first. So I re–negotiate the schedule. Change things around.
Work with the knowledge that no schedule will ever be permanent. Nothing will ever “work.”
As I mentioned above, I don’t have a schedule, not really.
I have habits.
For example, instead of writing at 7 p.m. every night after dinner, I merely write after dinner.
That gets me out of the false trap of, “Well, it’s 7:10. I’ve missed my writing time. Oh well!”
I write after dinner, whether that be 6:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. It’s a habit, event driven, not time driven.
Do you have a cat or dog or some other faithful companion? You might think they’re time driven, but really, for the most part, they’re event–driven.
My partner comes home generally around 5:30. My cat gets fed at 5 p.m.
Sometimes my partner comes home early, occasionally as early as 4:30. The cat is convinced that I’ve forgotten to feed her. The events haven’t happened in the right order.
I’ve recently gotten into the habit of brushing my cat every morning sometime after I shower. Again, it doesn’t matter what time it is to her. I’ve showered and dressed. It must be time for her brushing.
But Then There’s The Day Job…
And the day job demands a time frame that’s pretty rigid. You can’t escape it. It grates, but you need to eat.
There’s not much you can do about that kind of schedule. It’s imposed on you and you can’t really escape (unless you change jobs, or start working for yourself).
To survive, I’ve always built habits around those hours. If you write best in the morning, give yourself an extra thirty–minute timeframe for getting up so you don’t have to stick to the same time every day.
If you write best in the evenings, again, let yourself mix it up as much as you can. Maybe you eat dessert first, then write, then have dinner. Or maybe you walk every night after work to get in some movement. Walk to a coffee shop to write. Or jog there.
Keep the rest of your life as fluid as you can. It will help you survive the rest of the schedule. If you try to schedule your writing like the rest of your life, you’ll burn out.
Here are the three things you need to remember about schedules:
- Many artist/writers are event–driven, not time–driven. Build habits around events, not hours on the clock.
- Change your schedule when it stops working for you. Don’t be surprised if that’s every other month.
- Keep your personal schedule as fluid as possible if you have a rigid work schedule.