Thursday, May 24, 2012

Accountable to the Page: Writing and Schedules

Tuesday I shared what gets me motivated to write--today I'm thinking about what I can do to hold myself to write.  Having a schedule or goal or other expectation keeps you accountable to your work--and the best partner, I think, to creativity is accountability.  We writers have a little problem most of the time during our writing careers: We aren't accountable to anyone but ourselves and the page--no boss, no time card, no nosy coworkers--so we have to create that accountability for ourselves.  I want more of a schedule-based writing life, and a few ways of doing so have emerged for me:

1) The Clock Method.  This one is basic--you clock in, you clock out.  Your butt is in your chair for a set number of hours each day, hands on keyboard, writing.

2) The Goal Method.  A little more flexible, but also, in my opinion, harder to hold yourself to.  You have a daily (or, depending on your schedule and lifestyle, weekly) writing goal, and you meet it by scheduling yourself to complete it when you have time.  One day it might be first thing in the morning, another it's staying up late to finish.  Regardless--your goal is your taskmaster, not the clock.

3) The Task Method.  Like the goal method, but instead of a specific word count, you have a task that needs to be completed, and you set yourself to doing it until it is done.  Maybe you use this when you have a scene that's giving you problems--you set aside time to get it done, and you're not budging until it's finished.  Or maybe you've set aside a weekend to barrel through some editing.  It wasn't about a word count or the amount of time you spent butt-in-chair, but about getting a specific job done.

So which method works the best?  It probably depends quite a bit on your lifestyle and your work style.  Some people work best with a regimented schedule; for others, it's not going to happen with a hectic work and family life, or they feel tied down by a time card, even if it's an imaginary one.

Often the Clock Method is advocated for those who want to "take themselves seriously" as writers, and I can see the wisdom here.  Your WIP is your boss, and you're showing it respect by getting to work on time.
I've never had the schedule ability to try to use the Clock Method.  Until recently, I was working full time and had about a bazillion other things I was responsible for, too--that happened at all different times of day, so a set schedule was never possible.  I'm still responsible for a lot of stuff, but I'm no longer working full time (this is a "yay" thing, by the way, not an "oh crap" thing), so I want to try to hold myself to more of a schedule.

So!  Starting next week, I'm going to be a Clock-er.  We'll see how it goes.  I'll keep you posted--I have a feeling I'll either love it or beg you all to let me off the hook.

And speaking of schedules--having a schedule for social media is a good idea, too.  For one, it keeps you responsible for the things you want to be doing on blogs and Twitter...and for another, it keeps you responsible for avoiding those time-wasters that you don't want to get sucked into.  Here on the blog, I'll be posting Tuesdays and Thursdays, and, when the time permits or the fancy strikes, over the weekend.

Do you have an accountability method for your writing?  Have you ever tried one that didn't work?


  1. Being a clock-er is difficult to me especially if the weather is nice. I am curious how you will find it, though - good luck!

  2. I guess I use a combination of them all. When I'm writing or revising, as I am now, I try to work a certain number of hours a day. But I also set weekly and monthly goals. I actually have a habit of working too much and too quickly, so for me the key is pacing myself. I will get it done. I'm too much of a task oriented person to not get it done. As far as the accountability, I have a group of friends, (the group changes depending on who else is working on something similar at the same time) and we check in with each other every few days. But, now that I'm published, I actually do have deadlines, so once the announcement is made that a book is going to be available on a certain day, you can bet I'll but my can to make sure my deadlines are met.

    And word count. Ick. I definitely have issues with word count.

  3. Hmmm - great question! I'm a cross between a tasker and a goal-er. I generally write a chapter at a time and don't like to quit until that's finished. I do have an average word count, which I use only to determine if I was averagely productive or not...and to be sure my chapters are all roughly the same length.
    I've found that, as long as I have the main idea of the chapter in my mind (like a road map) I don't need a clock to keep me writing. When the story is in motion, the clock works against me. There's never enough time. ;)

  4. Anachronist--I feel you! Some allowances must be made for perfect weather days :)

    Val--great points that accountability helps.

    Melodie--I can definitely appreciate that feeling of not enough time! I tend to write a full scene at once--usually a chapter, but sometimes a couple chapters or half a chapter.

  5. Sounds like I go against the grain of everyone else - I'm a goal kinda gal. When I'm most productive, I set myself a minimum of x number of words to write each day, I even make a spreadsheet and everything (geek alert!). I tend to set myself a relatively low daily minimum (750 words), then sit and write until I feel I've reached a natural break (often the end of a scene or chapter)/can't sit still any more/have to go and do something else/etc, I check how much I've written that day, so if it's a day when I'm just not feeling it or I'm busy, I can generally make myself write those 750 words without feeling guilty or that I've failed, whereas days when I have more time or get into the flow, I can write 1,500 words or more and get a great buzz from having smashed my goal!

    Psychologically, for me, it works - if I write 800 words in a day but I aimed to write 1,000, I'd feel rubbish, whereas if I write the same amount of words, but the goal is 750, then I feel good and that feeling carries over into the rest of my day, as well as the following day's writing.

    For me, having a word count goal also helps me to fit my writing in, rather than watching the clock - some days I don't have time to sit and write for one hour, even, other days I might have loads of time.