As a freelancer, I have the luxury of scheduling out my days myself. But that doesn't mean I work best just making up each day's plan as I go. The key word for me is "schedule." I'm pretty much a textbook Type A. I like to know what I have to accomplish each day and each week, and I like crossing things off the list as I get them done. Listmaking is what keeps me on track with freelance deadlines and personal writing goals—and it's how I know I can fit in the various dance and yoga classes I want to take each week.
At this point, I have a fairly set daily and weekly routine, but it took some trial and error to figure out worked best. In particular, after I finished grad school, it was hard to work out just where my writing fit in, once writing for school was no longer a primary "job." I didn't want to go back to a full-time office job, so I knew I had to take on as much freelance work as I could handle. At the same time, without school-related writing deadlines, I wasn't sure how to keep myself producing MY work.
I started out treating writing as a reward: if I get X hours of work done today, or if I finish Y task, I get to work on my novel this afternoon/evening. That was certainly motivation to work hard. After all, I wanted to be doing MY writing, and freelance work was the means to my desired end. Unfortunately, when money got tight, I squeezed in more work, pushing back my "writing for me" later and later. There were days when I'd prepare to write and be so, so tired of staring at my computer. There were days when I'd written so much already, for work, that my brain couldn't be creative anymore. After a while, I felt like I was running on this hamster wheel and couldn't keep up with it all. My writing was suffering, and I was feeling guilty about not giving it the attention it deserved.
Last year, I decided to change my schedule around. To try something new. I decided that working on my fiction writing was going to be my first order of business each morning. I'd get up, fix some coffee, and then write or revise for at least an hour. More, if my workload for the day was light (Or if I was on a roll and just couldn't stop!). Only after I spent some time doing MY writing would I transition to freelance work. If that meant working an hour later into the evening to get everything done, so be it.
I haven't looked back since. By starting each weekday with my novel-in-progress, I can be sure my brain is fresh and rested, not cluttered with the day's to-dos and worries. I'm writing faster, producing more. And, because I start the day thinking about my book, I then have it in the back of my mind all day long, working out issues and making notes for the next morning. I've come up with plot twists in the middle of an afternoon dance class, solved sticky character problems on the subway, and raced home to write just a few more paragraphs at the end of the day, all because I started the day in a creative place.
Above all, I feel like now I'm literally and metaphorically putting my writing first. I'm grateful for my freelance gigs, but in the long-term, I want to write novels. For a living. The simple act of changing my daily schedule around took me from feeling like writing is a hobby—a treat for after my real work is done—to feeling like writing IS my real work.
Do you have a certain writing routine, or a time of day that works best for your writing (or other art-making)? I know I'm lucky being able to create my own schedule, but I also know that what works for me isn't going to be what works for everyone else. Share your creative schedule in the comments!
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