Writing Short, Writing Long: Build Your Writing Practice

planning writing practice Jul 22, 2022

Sometimes I forget that writing takes time.

Last week, I had ALL of the meetings. You’d think the world would have run out of meetings by now, but no: apparently, there will be more next week. And I still had that cold that will not leave and has me hacking morning and night. My daughter texted to say that I’d forgot to send her money for university this month, which reminded me OH RIGHT, PAY THE BILLS. I had multiple events in the evenings and on top of that, I discovered Transparent on Amazon. (No judgement, ok?)

It seemed I would never get any writing done ever again. Which felt fine, because I wasn’t convinced that my current work was all that great anyway

In other words: just another normal writing week.

And this is me now that I’m not parenting on a daily basis. For a long time, I was also single parenting while working and going to school at the same time – and yet, in those years it seemed like I got even more writing done. What is up with that?

What’s up is that we get more writing done when we’re determined to get more done. When I am in a determined state of mind around my writing, I organize my week to be sure the writing happens.

For years now, I have organized my writing around parenting, work, study and volunteer obligations – all of these colliding in my life at various levels of intensity. So I know what it takes to plan the writing work and get it done in the midst of EVERYTHING ELSE. I’m offering this Writer’s Weekly Planner to you, dear fellow writer, in the spirit of someone who’s been there, done that and will need to do it all over again next week.

In the next few paragraphs, you’ll find a planning process you can use to plan your writing time for the coming week, and a few ideas about where to find those valuable blocks of time to devote to your art.

I encourage you to do the planning work for your writing week and then give it a try. Use what happens (i.e. Life!) as learning to help you adjust and prepare for the next week.

I believe that getting your writing done – yes, yours -- is important, perhaps more important now than ever. I hope this planner will be a resource to help you see how your writing life really can fit into the rest of your life so that ALL OF THE THINGS no longer stand between you and the writing life you want to create for yourself.

First Things First: Just Writing

Let’s just be real with one another for a moment:

You are not going to write your Great Novel this week, The Story to Make All Other Stories Redundant or The Poem for All Time. You’re just going to write some pages, okay?

Some paragraphs, a handful of lines or verses -- or notes towards some verses. You’re going to get those down on paper in whatever imperfect form they come, and keep moving to get the next set down as well.

Don’t get me wrong: if you want to write great work, and you’re really determined about it, then I believe you will. But probably not in your first draft. And that’s okay – as writers, we write first drafts and then we revise, we edit, we put our attention to craft and we mold the work into its final form. But first, we get the words/lines/sentences down on paper, and over time we let these form chapters/series/stories/sections. In this way, whole books are born.

But often, what keeps us from the page is the expectation that everything we write must be perfect. THAT IS A BIG. FAT. LIE.

If you believe this lie, you will never get your work written no matter how much time you have. So right now, I want you to reject that whole idea and if you hear a little voice criticizing the work as it’s coming to you, just shout “LIAR!” and keep writing. (You might want to be on your own when you do that, or if not then use your inside voice so they let you come back to that coffee shop next week.)

What matters most is the act of writing: everything else comes later.

But how to find the time??

I’d like to suggest that in your writing week, there are two kinds of time:

  1. Short time
  2. Long time

Short Time Writing Sessions

This is important: you don’t have to find 3-4 hours at a time in order to get your writing done.

Short time can be useful in 10, 15 or 20 minute bursts. This is time you can use to:

  • Freewrite (i.e. put pen to page and just keep it moving for a short set period of time no matter what, even if you have to repeat yourself) to keep your writing muscles limber.
  • Use a writing prompt to generate some new ideas. Google “writing prompts” or use the hashtag #dailywritingprompts and you’ll find all the prompts you’ll need.
  • Think ahead and prepare scene outlines, or sketch poem notes.
  • Take one paragraph, or one line, and re-write it from scratch.
  • Elaborate your description of the setting for your work.
  • Describe a character’s physical being from head to toe. (Hair today, neck tomorrow!)
  • Journal out how you’re feeling about your current project and where it might go next.

In the 15 minutes you’re waiting for the doctor to catch-up on her paperwork between patients, you can get your writing done. It won’t be The Great Work, but it might be entirely necessary in its own way. And there you are: writing in the midst of EVERYTHING ELSE. I’m proud of you.

Where can you find Short Time?

  • Anytime you have to wait: in the car, someone’s office, hallways
  • Work breaks: sneak away at coffee break (there’s no rule you have to talk to your colleagues every single break!)
  • Magic found time: an event cancelled or delayed = you writing

Basically, don’t write in traffic, but any other time you find yourself with 10-15-20 minutes can be Short Time for writing. Steal that time back for your creative work. Short Time occurs in even the busiest of weeks and when you use it for writing, you will remember your creative purpose, refresh your spirit and make progress on your art.

How to prepare for Short Time:

  • Deciding to just do it. (This is the hardest part. Try it for one week: done consistently, Short Time can change your writing life.)
  • Carrying a pen and notebook at all times
  • Researching some writing prompts and printing them out in advance to stick in your notebook.
  • Printing out the last few pages of your current project and carrying them with you. You can refresh these each week during your Long Time.

Long Time Writing Sessions

Long Time is the length of time it takes you to become completely immersed in the work and pushing (or following) it ahead by some significant word or page count. Long Time is different for everyone: some people are happy with 250 words per session, while others like to get 3-5 pages down.

The trick to making Long Time work for you as a writer with ALL OF THE THINGS happening in your life, is to be happy with pretty much anything you can get done.

Because 2 more paragraphs today places you that much further ahead than you’d be if you skipped your Long Time session out of frustration that last time you only wrote 2 paragraphs. Am I right? (Bet your numb butt I am!)

For me, Long Time is 45 minutes to 2 hours. (If I’m at a retreat, that will be different, but in that case someone is probably making me lunch and I will do anything if someone else makes lunch.) Your Long Time might be 30 minutes, or it might be 3 hours. Or you might tell your partner it’s 3 hours but be writing for just an hour of that…I’m not gonna tell on you.

Where can you find Long Time?

  • Early mornings: get up 45 minutes or an hour earlier than everyone else and use that time to write. Doesn’t have to be every day: just 1 session a week can make a difference, or a few times a week if you find yourself in the groove.
  • Late evenings: if you get a second wind at night, try a couple of sessions of Long Time in the evening, after dinner and all the other necessities of your life are managed. (Or you know, some of them. Some things can wait, others can’t. Only you know which is which in your own life.)
  • Replace TV: I mean, not ALL the TV – I’m not asking you to be the TV Nun or anything, just a few episodes less each week and you might find all the Long Time you need.
  • Lunch Breaks: A couple of times each week, take yourself away from work and your colleagues and just write. Stick in some earbuds at a place just that much further way from where your work people normally go for lunch. This can be done – I have entire stories written over lunch. (Not one lunch: many. Over time they add up!)

How To Prepare for Long Time:

  • Schedule it. Like right now: see planner below!
  • Have access to your current project during scheduled time – so if you’re planning for lunch, bring it with you. If you’re writing early, do the printing at night so as not to wake up your people (because then they will want you to do things with/for them, trust me on that.)
  • Babysitting: sometimes (#often), getting Long Time in your week means finding someone who’ll take care of the munchkins. Ask people who love you to do this for you: partner, family, loving friends. Rotate as necessary. Make it a regular thing if at all possible; on Saturday mornings, partner watches cartoons with kidlets while you write. Or, Sunday afternoons, gramma always takes the kids. I get that this can be hard, especially if you don’t live near easy family connections, but you’re a creative person, you can work this out, I promise.

Progress, not perfection.

When you’re trying to be a writer in the midst of everything else, life can be very lifeful. For years, it seemed like every single time I wanted to dedicate time to my writing, something would happen: my daughter would get sick, or the dog found a skunk under the back deck, or I had to go on a business trip. Something.

That is going to happen, so expect it. If you can’t get your Long Time in this week, do it next week. No one’s life is at stake. (Except yours, maybe. If you put off writing long enough some part of you dies a little. I’m being serious here – if you’re a writer, your writing matters. It may matter to the outside world, but it definitely matters to you and your sense of self. So be kind and loving to yourself and make sure you fit it in somewhere, whatever that may take. Be creative: you got this.)

For me, an ideal writing week is when I have several bursts of Short Time and then at least one session of Long Time. But, as in everything else: you do you. If all you can manage some weeks is one burst of Short Time, that’s great – LOOK AT YOU WRITING!

If managing your writing life in the middle of your Real Life matters to you, grab a copy of my free PDF Guide: The Writer's Weekly Planner and learn how to work more writing time into your life on a regular basis.


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