This month in my newsletter, I talked about how I have returned to the themed week strategy I used while writing Blood Dawn and it inspired me to write more about it for today’s blog post.
In last week’s blog post, I talked about the 80/20 rule and how I’ve made changes in how I work to start investing 20% of my time in what accounts for 80% of my success. Here is how that looks for me.
Create a theme for each day
I created the graphic below to show you what my week looks like. This is similar to the weekly structure I used during the 15 months I spent drafting Blood Dawn, and now that I’ve kick-started the second draft period and am determined to get to the polished third draft by the end of the summer, I’ve returned to it.
Separate writing from everything else
Probably the most important insight I gained from developing this schedule was the importance of separating writing time from everything else I do. You’ll notice that on Saturday and Sunday and part of Monday I write, and nothing else. (Light blue = writing) This doesn’t mean I ignore my friends and family and work all weekend. What it means is that, come Friday, my mental gears switch from editing to writing, and come the weekend, my mind is in one place.
Time with words, not word counts
One important principle that’s come out of this approach to writing is a shift away from word count toward time with words. Instead of crunching myself to write a certain number of words per day, I set weekly goals. You’ll see for Monday under writing time I have “submit”. This means I set a weekly goal and give myself all weekend to write, but I do not permit myself to switch gears and become Mr. Robin the editor until I submit to an accountability partner what I need to get done in order to be on track.
The result is that my time at the keyboard is NOT focused on crunching out words for a day, but rather spending whatever time it takes with the manuscript to reach my goal. With this goal, for example, I hauled myself to a coffee shop and wrote until 1:30am one week to reach my goal. In the case of revision, my goal is not word count, but items in a checklist, but setting a goal has the same effect: I must get through a certain amount of material before it’s time to relax for the week.
The overall idea though is that focusing this time period on writing removes any and all sense of responsibility to other tasks that compete for mental space. The choice to haul myself to a coffee shop and write is one I can’t make if I have other commitments and decide, “Good enough, I’ll write more later.”
Time away is time put in
Being away from writing for 5 days actually improves what I write because I am forced to spend the week thinking about the direction I am going in. I found while writing Blood Dawn that this time helped me think more structurally and critically about what I was going to write.
This illustrates another important principle I’ve learned from this process: writing happens even when we’re not at the keyboard. This does not mean we can “plan to write a book” and never sit down to actually do it.
Writing the manuscript is one hand clapping. We need it. But spending time thinking about it is the other hand. We need both. I’ve found that this simple separation of writing time and work time allows for a perfect balance and keeps both those hands coming together with full acoustic force.
There must be some time to breathe
You’ll notice that in the 5-day block for the work I do to make a living, the middle day is special. I’ve labelled it “content/notes”. A better label might be: take a breath.
That day (for me, Wednesday) allows me to approach the work week as 2 days of work, followed by a switch to another gear, followed by two more days of work, followed by (YAY!) writing. That simple way of thinking about my week removes me right away from the mundane sigh that accompanies many a Monday morning. I don’t have to look forward to Friday. I only have to look forward to Wednesday. And when Thursday comes, I look forward to Saturday. Mentally, this keeps me centered.
That middle day is a special mental gear where I like to group together stuff that belongs in the fringes of the work I do. Originally, while drafting Blood Dawn, I spent this middle day doing revisions on what I’d written, but since I’m now working on revisions during my “writing” time, I spend that day instead focusing on notes or other things that relate to Blood Dawn beyond the crafting of the book itself. World building. Meeting my artist for coffee to talk about Blood Dawn and watch him dive into illustrations to bring those words to life. Those sorts of things.
In addition, though, I also use this day to work on what has evolved as a result of being heavily involved in marketing my work: namely, content generation (writing this blog post is an example — it’s Wednesday, but I write all my content on Wednesday and schedule it to publish later). Content generation to help market my book is closely related to auxiliary material such as world building and cleaning up my writing notes. It’s a sort of free day where I feel I can escape from everything and get done what I need to get done but can’t while I’m focusing on bigger projects.
Overall, this simple division creates a balance in my week and helps me say “tomorrow” to the things that are screaming at me to be done today. It adds clarity and focus to what I am doing. Most importantly, it keeps me from going insane with all the different mental places I need to be in the creative and professional work I do.