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Writing By Time Might Work For You

writing fiction by timeIn some previous posts I advocated setting daily, weekly, and monthly word count targets, with an emphasis on the weekly targets since those are the easiest to achieve. Lately, my full-time job has been increasingly complex and I want to dedicate more of my time to my family. I talked about this before in a post on writing when busy.

Unfortunately summer is usually a killer. I’m not saying that, as a writer, you should not get to enjoy your summer. I actually recently blogged about writing while on vacation. What I find is that during times of high stress and vacation, when it is very easy to get distracted, setting a word count target is still good, but might be an evil in disguise.

All it takes is one week of not achieving your word target, and you will think the next week will be good enough to catch-up. But it never is; it turns into a downward spiral of missing word targets. And that’s why I came up with a different system:

Writing By Time

writing fiction by timerWhat do I mean by that? First of all, it’s very good to know your writing speed. On average, how much can you write in one hour? If you don’t know do two tests:

  • Take 3 pages and type them. How much time did it take?
  • Think of a new idea for a story and start writing. Stop after 3 pages. How much time did it take?

Now, count all the words in the six pages and divide them by the amount of time in minutes. You should be getting an average number of words per minute. Times that by 60 and you get a pretty decent average number of words per hour. My guess is you will probably get something between 1000 to 2000 words per hour.

Now, let’s backtrack: what is your word count target? If it’s 10,000 words per week, and your average words per hour is 1,500 (let’s say), then you are looking at a total of 7 hours in a week (rounded up).

I know you just stopped right now and said: “What?? Only 7 hours?? Come on! There are 168 hours in an entire week and I only need 4.16% of it to achieve my word count!?

The answer is: YES.

So what stops you from finding those 7 hours? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you how you can fix it: scheduling time.

Schedule Your Writing Time

writing fiction by scheduleSo, if we are talking about 7 hours in a week, we are really talking about an hour a day. Let’s split that in two and we get 2 chunks of 30 minutes per day. This step is optional; if it’s easier for you to do a complete hour, keep it that way. This is what worked for me: I set my alarm clock 30 minutes earlier, I wake up and I write for 30 minutes. I set my phone for an alarm at 9:30 PM. When it rings, I jump up, go to my keyboard and type for 30 minutes.

You get the idea? Decide what are the times of the day when you have the ability to give yourself 30 minutes for writing. As soon as that time comes, stop whatever you are doing and go write. Set yourself a timer and write for those 30 minutes without stopping. Don’t even worry about word count. Just write. Have a little paper or Excel document where you mark the time you spent.

When you get to the end of the week, take your word count and your hours count. Normally, if you stuck to the schedule you should have hit the target word count.

How Is It Different?

How is this different than setting a word count? Well, setting a weekly word count makes you prone to this internal thought: Oh, it’s Monday… I can skip today and write tomorrow. Oh, it’s Tuesday… I have time Wednesday. And then… It’s Sunday. Oh, crap!

By setting yourself daily short timeslots you achieve two things: you are on a precise schedule and take the guesswork out of it, and secondly, you do not get into a situation where you have to write 5000 words today, something so overwhelming that you are unable to write even one word.

writing fictionDivide et Impera or divide and conquer is a good way to solve a huge task, such as writing a novel. Breaking it into chapters, scenes, pages, and ultimately into chunks of time will take this daunting task from an overwhelming hurdle, to a systematic process.

Don’t be afraid to use what the Roman Emperors used to conquer the world. It works. Use it to your advantage, and I hope this will bring you success.

Make sure to leave your thoughts about this method. Do you already use it or do you prefer the word count target method? Leave your comments below.

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Best of luck,

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Iulian Ionescu