For most, writing begins with inspiration. Something ignites our imagination, and we’re off, jotting down our ideas like a lovestruck youth. There’s no room for doubt, only the wonderful song that fills our thoughts, and the effortless flow of words as we race to keep up. Eventually the song fades, but the memory lingers. For some that’s enough. They may dabble in writing from time to time, but if inspiration doesn’t find them then they’re content to wait, and focus on other things.
For others, that first taste becomes the seed of a dream, or an addiction, depending on who you ask. In any case, writing becomes a major part of their lives. Waiting is not an option, but what then? Well the common answer is fairly straightforward, write. But that’s only the beginning. Simply putting words down on paper isn’t enough. There’s studying to learn more, revising and submitting finished stories for publication, and networking with other writers, helping each other to learn and grow. How should we manage ourselves?
One method I like is to create a list of incomplete projects, preferably in Excel. Each row has a category, a project name, a priority, a “last edited” date, and a section for brief comments. This helps me to remember all the things that I said I was going to work on, and the priority column helps me recognize that not everything can be at the top.
I also like to outline my week’s efforts with another table. This one has 9 rows, 1 for each day of the week, a summary at the top, and a place for notes at the bottom. Each row has columns for time spent, the category, and what I specifically worked on. Each week I set a goal (currently 10 hours), and a daily goal (ranging from 1.5 to 4 hours). If I meet the minimum for the day that row gets highlighted green. If I exceed it, blue. If I fall short, red. And same for the weekly summary at the top.
Of course, sometimes things go wrong, and I just can’t make the quota. That’s where the last row, notes, comes in handy. Whether I exceed expectations or fall short, I note that at the bottom, and add that to the next week’s table. Sometimes I’ve gone for weeks with a deficit, but gradually I chip away at it, mostly with 11-hour weeks, until I’m back in the green and blue.
Starting a Session
What about the writing session itself? I know for some fortunate souls it’s as simple as sitting down at their desk. I find that I need to be in the right mindset; full of energy but also relaxed. In some ways it’s almost like waking up in the morning. At first I flirt with it, casually thinking about the project while I clean up, or perform some routine task. The key is it’s something I don’t have to think about. Sometimes I watch a few minutes of a show, or play a video game, but always something familiar. That way it gives me a little spark of joy, to kindle my enthusiasm, without roaring it to life.
Then, after I’ve suitably stalled, I sit down and get to work. In some cases, I’ll meditate for a minute or two, letting my thoughts drift as I sit quietly, foam earplugs in my ears to block out any noise. But then I get to work, letting familiar music play in the background, typically nonlyric songs from soundtracks; particularly anime and video games, which are often used multiple times, so they carry less of a singular connotation for me.
For some this is where it stops. They’ve written their piece, and now it’s time to move on, but I think it’s important to pause, take stock of what’s been accomplished. Writing is a staggered process. We create, we revise, we send it off, and then we start again. Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, we get a response, but by the time that happens, we’ve already moved on to the next project. That’s part of what I like about the daily/weekly log. It doesn’t take long, but it’s a reason to note how much time we’ve spent, and recognize its place in the larger picture.
I also believe that once in a while we need to set aside time for a more formal and extensive reflection. For me, it’s an annual evaluation of my writing for the year. I add up the hours spent, along with the projects completed, and I take a moment to consider the grand total. Granted, it feels good to write, to be in the thick of it, but once in a while it’s also good to step back and allow oneself a little pride.
But that’s just one person’s opinion.
What do you think?
Do you keep track of how much time you spend on writing?
Do you try to allocate your time across multiple projects, (including study), or do you prefer to focus on one thing at a time?
How do you begin a writing session? Do you court your muse, or jump right into it?