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Fitting it all in

ChecklistLast month I wrote more than 25,000 words.

And—don’t hate me—it was easy.

It’s been a long time since keeping a pace like that was doable. Last year I only had two months that good, and those were when I was writing Scrivener For Dummies under deadline. Not since I first started writing—back when I didn’t belong to any writing chapters, didn’t know any other writers, didn’t blog, tweet, or have a Facebook author page—has writing come so easily.

Part of it is the joy of a new story. But it’s more than that. A couple weeks ago I wrote about how I’m scheduling out my day, holding myself accountable to write every weekday morning before I get sucked into everything else that goes on in my day.

Well, it’s working.

Mainly because I don’t allow excuses; I have to write for 90 minutes. Once I get started, after I’ve read through the previous day’s words, time usually flies. In fact, even though I’m guilt-free for the rest of the day if I don’t write more, I find myself wanting to get back to my story because it’s on my mind. Which means I often add words again in the afternoon.

Productivity is contagious.

I don't know the science behind it, maybe we release endorphins every time we keep our promises to ourselves. I don't really care why it's working for me, I'm just glad it is. Not only is my new schedule now a habit, my new normal, but it feels good to end each day with 1000 shiny new words instead of a day full of busyness without anything meaningful to show for it.

The positive feelings I associate with my workday (or those endorphins, whatever)—and the fact that I can end it at 5pm without guilt or stress—get me out of bed in the morning.

Sure, there’s always more I could be doing. I’m a whiz at finding things to add to my growing list: more research reading, plotting on that other book I never finished, edits for the manuscript I need to resubmit. The list is nearly endless and overwhelming sometimes.

The key is to define each day’s priorities in advance (I usually do it the night before), and then schedule accordingly.

How’s your writing coming? Have you tried a new system to get on track? Have one that already works for you? I’d love to hear about it.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    I try to write first thing in the morning as well, but I have been doing it at the office. Unfortunately, people have keyed in that I’m getting here early and the demands have been getting earlier each day. Writing when I get home just doesn’t work. My son needs to know he has two parents and my stay-at-home husband wants to talk to an adult. Very frustrating!

    • Reply

      Angie: It’s hard when others encroach on your time and space. Can you hole yourself up in a conference room or something so people don’t see you? Or maybe Starbucks on the way to the office?

      Can you tell people in the office that you’re not really there? Maybe with a sign? Time management guru Brian Tracy ( recommends making it clear to others when you’re available, and that you won’t respond to them (email, phone, door knocks) outside those hours. Good luck!

  2. Reply

    How do you get started just writing? What do you write about? This is my problem. Each time I sit to write I don’t know where to start. I do like the morning for writing. Your mind is not yet cluttered with the day. Great post.

    • Reply

      sthornton1972: That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? What type of writing are you trying to do? Novels, poetry, a memoir, magazine articles?

      Right now, I have a basic story outline and premise for a novel, so I just sit down each day and try to pick up where I left off. When I haven’t chosen a story idea to work on yet, I will play with old ideas, freewrite about the type of story I want to write or books I’ve read lately that piqued my interest, make lists, go through old notes, and write snippets of scenes from my ideas. Some of those snippets will later become a book, some won’t.

      You might check out James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers. In chapter 13 about writer’s block, he writes, “Write something that is not your novel. Write a jingle for a commercial. A free-form poem about your car. A letter to the editor.”

      Also, you don’t need to write in order. My HS freshman was asking for how to get started on a paper recently. He was stuck because he didn’t know how to start it. I had him jot down all the ideas he had (we actually used Scapple from L&L to brainstorm and make connections), then once he had a fair idea of what to say, I told him to start writing with the second paragraph. Then once he was done, he’d have a better idea how to introduce what he wrote. It worked.

      The whole point of that is to say that you don’t have to write in order. At all. And Scrivener supports freeform thinking splendidly. One of my projects–I call it Playground.scriv–is just a collection of scene ideas, mostly from manuscripts I haven’t written. But, that’s how the one I’m working on now got started. I sat down and just played with the idea for a few days, and when I felt like I had something I gave it it’s own file.

      I hope you figure it out!

  3. Joe


    Congrats, glad it is working. I always have my workouts planned weekly and that way I stay on track, if a conflict occurs I readjust!

    • Reply

      I do the same thing with workouts. It’s especially important to plan ahead for them on days when I’ll be out all day, or have appointments. 🙂

    • Reply

      Jean: If it keeps changing, check your compile settings. If you deselect documents for compile, by default, they’re no longer counted toward your total. Does that help? Or did you mean you’re having trouble getting to the word count you want? I have my Help Desk hat on today… 😉

      • Reply

        Thank you Gwen for taking time,to reply . I finished my short story today,it feels great.
        My question was, I can’t get a total word count. I haven’t touch the compile settings. My son thinks that it has something to do with my folders and sub folders,not being in line. I’m going to have to play around with them,now that I have more time. Thanks again Gwen.

        • Reply

          Jean: You should be able to get your total count from Project–>Project Statistics or Project–>Show Project Targets. But those only show you what’s under the Manuscript (Draft) folder. Anything in other folders like Research, or those you’ve created that are on the same level as the Manuscript folder won’t be counted.

          As a last resort, you can select all your documents and view them in Scrivenings mode (View–>Scrivenings) and check the word count at the bottom of the screen. 🙂

  4. Reply

    Gwen, I, too, had decided to get serious about my writing. I pumped out 30,920 words in January. I have continued to work out my scenes in my head before I start writing, often with a beginning line or two imprinted in my brain, and go from there. But what I’ve tried new is to try to write in small increments of 500 or 750 words at least twice, sometimes three times in a day, for 1500 or even 2250 words, a tip I picked up from another writer’s blog that works well for me. Another large help is Scrivener. My current project is the first that I did completely with this software. I started in mid-November and intend to publish in mid-February…a 60K+ novel i just 90 days! I’m so much better organized with this program. Plus I took time away from it to proofread/revise a scanned version of a backlist title and get that ePubbed as well, plus set up an eStore on my website, both of which took a fair amount of time in December. A count of all new words created goes into an Excel spreadsheet I set up broken down by project (even on the proofing of scanned work; I record the start word count, the end word count, and record the difference under Miscellaneous). I, too, have a wonderful feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day. And it feels like a habit. Now, if only I can exercise with such devotion…

    • Reply

      Great job, Bettye! Your comment shows that the important thing is not only to schedule your time, but to find a schedule that works for you. Now, the key with the exercise is to do the same thing. 😉

  5. Reply

    Ah, Gwen. You’re so darned productive. You’re making me feel bad 🙂 I know I threatened to become more organized after your post about using the whiteboard for writing out your daily schedule, but that hasn’t yet happened. But I still plan on it, though 🙂

    On a serious note, though, thanks for being so helpful in so many different ways. I think yours is one of the first blogs I started to follow when I got back into writing and it’s still one of my favorites.

    • Reply

      Oh no, Dave! Quit threatening already. 😉

      But seriously, thank you for your kind words. It’s nice to know I’m not just talking to myself here. I appreciate your continued participating in my little community, and I always enjoy seeing what you have to say. Thank you. 🙂

  6. Reply

    You’ve challenged me to be more productive. I usually go into work at 8 or 9. I’m more productive on the nine o’clock mornings. Ha!

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

  7. Reply

    If I rub up against you can I catch what you’ve got? Amazing and awesome productivity Gwen. I think I’d better try Scrivener. Maybe that will help. Truthfully, however, social networking is taking up waaaayyy too much time. By the time I’m ready to start work my workday is over. And I’m getting too old to stay up half the night. When I’m writing, it goes alright. The trouble seems to be getting started. I’ve been stuck in avoiding revision mode for a year now. Well maybe I’m exaggerating, but that’s what if feels like.

  8. Reply

    Haha, thanks, macswriter. 😉 Scrivener helps me by blocking out everything else (when in full screen composition mode) and keeping what I need at hand, but the schedule keeps me from spending too much time on the Internet. I still have to fight the urge to just rotate from email to Twitter to FB and back again all day long.

    I’ve started listening to music on low volume through headphones during my writing time. My brain filters it out for the most part, but it’s become a signal that it’s time to write, and makes me feel more insulated from the world around me even though I can still hear outside noise. Is there something you can pick as a trigger to tell your mind it’s time to work? Maybe a location, burning incense, drinking a certain flavor of tea, or some other small ritual? Good luck!

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