Thursday, February 28, 2019

Scheduling for Writing Success

productivity, finding time to write
By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Finding time to write is a challenge many writers face--even when writing is their full-time job. Please help me welcome Shanna Swendson to the lecture hall today, to share a tip that helped her optimize her writing life. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Take it away Shanna…

I’ve been on a kick lately of trying to optimize my writing life—improve my productivity, increase creativity, and find a better work/life balance. I’ve been reading books, listening to lectures, looking at what other writers do, and trying the new things I’ve learned. This year, I’ll be sharing some of my discoveries here at Fiction University.

Shanna Swendson
Shanna Swendson
Productivity has been a big emphasis for me because getting more writing done is key to my career goals. I have so many things I want to write, and that means finding the time to write them. I’ve found that scheduling is one of the best ways to find more writing time. This applies whether you’re trying to fit writing around a full-time job or writing full-time. No matter how much available time you have, stuff seems to fill that time, and it’s not always the stuff you want to focus on.

One way that making a schedule can help is by concentrating all your decisions into one session. Studies about willpower have shown that the more decisions you have to make, the lower your willpower. If you make the big decisions about how you’re going to spend your time up front, then later in the day your only decision will be whether or not to follow the schedule. When you come home from work, you don’t have to decide whether to watch TV, do housework, or write. If you’ve already scheduled an evening of writing you only have to decide if you’re going to stick with your schedule. It’s easier to decide to write if you’ve scheduled it than if you have to pick an activity for your evening.

(Here's more on finding time to write)

There’s another reason scheduling can work: intention. The idea of intention is that you keep your goals and priorities in mind, and you make conscious choices to spend your time in ways that support your goals and priorities. There’s no drifting through your day, doing whatever comes up. You consciously choose to devote a certain amount of time to activities that are part of your plan to reach your goals, and you put that in writing in your schedule. This is also supported by research into “flow” states—even when people claim to hate their jobs and look forward to leisure time, they report more feelings related to happiness and satisfaction from time spent at work than during their free time, mostly because the time spent at work is purposeful, challenging, and productive while the unscheduled free time is less satisfying (the outliers in this study were those who had challenging hobbies they devoted their free time to).

Organizational and productivity gurus suggest that you don’t even make a to-do list. You make a schedule of when, exactly, you’re going to do those things, and you’re more likely to get them done.

How did this work when I implemented it? It was life-changing.

I’ve always set goals for how much writing I want to do in a day, and I use a stopwatch to track my work time to keep myself honest, but scheduling not only allowed me to increase the time I spend writing, but also accomplish other things. In fact, it may have been my leisure time that benefited the most. I resisted keeping a schedule for non-working hours because I value my free time, but I found that I had much happier and more productive weekends when I scheduled them. I had a bad habit of just sort of drifting in my free time, spending time on web or channel surfing, and I never got around to doing the things I actually wanted to do. I’d get to the end of a weekend with the sense that I hadn’t accomplished anything, but I hadn’t done anything fun, either. By scheduling my free time, I was making conscious choices of what I wanted to do with my time, so I spent more time doing things I truly enjoy.

(Here's more on balancing writing and working without losing your mind)

One issue I had with scheduling when I first tried it was getting too rigid about it. If something threw me off-schedule, I’d feel like I’d failed. I had to remind myself that I’m the boss of me, and there were no consequences I didn’t choose for not being precisely on-target. I also learned to build in some padding. I schedule in half-hour increments, and I sometimes schedule tasks that won’t take the full slot, which gives me a chance to catch up if something disrupts the schedule. It’s also important to plan breaks in your day. I generally treat that half-hour slot as 25 minutes and allow time for water/bathroom/walking around breaks.

Over time, a schedule may become a routine. I don’t usually write out my daily schedule on workdays anymore because it’s become a routine. I only schedule if there’s a disruption to the routine (like an appointment) and want to make sure I prioritize the right things in the remaining time, if there’s a deadline that requires a change in routine (a book deadline that requires more writing time, something like taxes that disrupts writing time, or another activity that isn’t usually scheduled, like writing this post), or if I’m getting off-track and want to do a reboot. I still schedule my Saturdays so that I not only get in my chores but also make time for fun activities.

Next time: Figuring out when to schedule your writing time.

Recommended reading if you want to learn more:
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard

About Enchanted, Inc.

enchanted, inc
Katie Chandler had always heard that New York is a weird and wonderful place, but this small-town Texas gal had no idea how weird until she moved there. Everywhere she goes, she sees something worth gawking at and Katie is afraid she’s a little too normal to make a splash in the big city. Working for an ogre of a boss doesn’t help.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Katie gets a job offer from Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., a company that tricks of the trade to the magic community. For MSI, Katie’s ordinariness is an asset. Lacking any bit of magic, she can easily spot a fake spell, catch hidden clauses in competitor’s contracts, and detect magically disguised intruders. Suddenly, average Katie is very special indeed.

She quickly learns that office politics are even more complicated when your new boss is a real ogre, and you have a crush on the sexy, shy, ultra powerful head of the R&D department, who is so busy fighting an evil competitor threatening to sell black magic on the street that he seems barely to notice Katie. Now it’s up to Katie to pull off the impossible: save the world and–hopefully–live happily ever after.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | iTunes 


  1. Very helpful post, will try your suggestions. Thanks!

  2. I really enjoyed this! I often have that problem with "drifting," too. I know I do better with writing (and everything else!) when my time is structured, and I'd like to get back into it. Thanks for the post!