Striking While the Iron is Hot—by Rosalie Spielman
During a panel last weekend for the Suffolk Mystery Writers Festival, an attendee asked about our writing schedules—did we write at a certain time of day, etc. I have to admit that I didn’t want to answer that question because I don’t really have an answer for it. I mean, no answer other than “no.”
I’m very aware I’m lucky to be able to say I’m a full-time writer. That isn’t because I’m massively successful or have a prolific backlist, but by the choice of having married a career military man. Up until he retired a few years ago, we moved so often that there wasn’t much point to try to have a career. It’s a common issue for military spouses.
Until I had my agent and a contract to write a book, my writing was a side activity. I was at home, dreaming and scribbling away any time the urge to scribble came over me, in between other chores and responsibilities. When I was in the query trenches, I worked on writerly things maybe two to eight hours a week. Now, since my first series received an offer for three books, which I subsequently accepted, my need to put in more hours is non-negotiable. I have one written book to turn in, two books that haven’t been written yet, plus editing on those three and the one that I turned in last month. All to be done by next March.
Add to that the non-scribbling writerly tasks like website maintenance, social media, creating promotional materials—the list is long! I had no idea how much time those would entail on any normal day. And activities ramp up during the book releases.
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to be busy. As with many occupations, you have to do the work when it is presented and take advantage of the busy times, because those opportunities could dry up. Like the adage “strike while the iron is hot,” referring to blacksmithing, where the metal is pliable when it is heated, and once it’s cooled, the opportunity to shape the metal has been lost. Just scribbling when the urge to scribble hits isn’t gonna cut it anymore. To take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented, I need to get busy!
I have the time, and the space. I have a dedicated writing office (I feel like I should mention that just in case the IRS is reading this) with doors that close and a device to keep my coffee hot. I can easily lock myself in and ignore the world. But despite my military background, I am not good at sticking to a self-imposed schedule. I’ve attempted to lay out my daily schedule on many occasions, but I have a problem with getting distracted, though not necessarily by unimportant things. What I need to do is announce to the world established writing hours and then stick to them. No appointments, no chores, no errands, no phone, no internet, no non-scribbling writerly tasks.
How do you make and keep a schedule? If you’re a writer, do you have “office hours” that are only for writing? Do you have any advice to share?
I had a lovely at-home writing schedule until my husband started WFH two years ago. Now it's competing zoom sessions and sharing the printer. We make it work.
I do have a dedicated office, with a door and two office cats. Back in the day when I worked a day job, I worked from home and my writing schedule was two hours before I had to report to work. That was worked well. Then my day job schedule when crazy and I was working 12-hour days. Even when I had time to write, I lacked the bandwidth so writing fell by the wayside. Fast forward to 2020 when, yep, my job became a COVID casualty. Now that I have 24-hours to write, I'm struggling to set a schedule. As my mother used to say, "There is such a thing as too much of a good thing." I'm inching closer to my goal by setting aside four hour time slots, five days a week, and it's feeling more comfortable. I'll get there.
I have a writing room at one end of the finished attic. There's a door to the attic, but just the space at the top of the stairs between the writing room and our bedroom. Before I retired at the end of 2020, I wrote before work, on my lunch hours, and after supper until bedtime. Most weekends and holidays, too. Now I set myself a daily word goal and write until I reach it. I've been able to take some weekends off, holidays, some of each evening, and I've had time to spend with . . . people! Fun! I feel very lucky.
At this stage of my life, I am fortunate that I do have time to write, and I try to adhere to a schedule. I have to admit, though, that not infrequently I dive down the old research rabbit hole and/or lapse into procrastination (wordle, anyone?)
I look for the biggest block of time in my day and make myself sit down and work then. I envy those who have a schedule but I work around my hubby, exercise, and beautiful weather - I'm easily distracted, too.
The closest I come to having a schedule is that I start writing after dinner when my husband watches television. I'm often surprised to look at the clock and discover that it is close to midnight. When I get closer to deadline, I spend all day working!
I'm sorry it took me so long to comment -- I was still wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes when I read "How do you make and keep a schedule?"
I can't seem to keep a schedule, so instead of setting a block of time to write, I just set a daily writing goal and do it when it works for me. I really try to stick with it -- if I miss a day, I have to write double the next. I do plan for non-writing days if I know I have a full day of other stuff going on. Even though this works best for me, I still wish I could stick to a schedule and know my evenings will be free, but alas, my muse doesn't work that way. She does work pretty much every day, though, as I'm a slow writer.
I apply myself to author work first thing in the morning getting a couple of hours in before anyone else is up. After that, depending on whether I am north or south, I either close the door or put on noise-cancelling earphones and only respond in emergencies.
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