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Set a timeline for writing your memoir

Three Tips For Creating an Effective Writing Schedule

It’s time to commit to creating an effective writing schedule.

You’ve already taken several steps in lifewriting. You have begun to write your stories and memories. perhaps the summer got in the way of your perseverance or perhaps it was something else–an illness, a temporary job, travel. Now you need to recommit to memoir writing by creating an effective writing schedule for yourself.

Rather than think in the general terms of “I’ll write as much as I can” (who are we kidding here!), base your writing schedule on a specific time or a page quota.

1) Decide how much time per week you want (or have) to devote to writing schedule.

You may come up with a vague idea like: “Oh, five hours.” If you don’t push yourself to be more specific, you are likely to fail at putting in your five hours. If you want to succeed, be specific. Break your hours down to precise times on certain days. Write this schedule down where you will see it and be reminded of your commitment.

Here’s an example: “I have five hours a week to devote to lifewriting–two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8 to 10 AM and one hour on Fridays from 4 to 5 PM.”

With that writing schedule, you are less likely to have to confess: “Time got away from me, and I didn’t write at all this week!”

Eventually, as your writing schedule becomes a habit, the pages will accumulate, and you will feel encouraged to continue lifewriting. It will get easier and easier to do.

Sometimes people find it useful to set a date for finishing their work: a holiday, a family reunion, an anniversary. Many writers report that a deadline (but keep it flexible by setting the production deadline signiificantly earlier than the event!) helps them to stick to their schedules. It works even better if people expect your lifestories by your deadline!

2) Determine how many pages per week you need to produce to make some progress and achieve your goals.

This is an alternative to the above. Let’s say you want to turn out five pages per week. Estimate how many hours it will take you to do that. (Eventually, with practice, you will have a sense of how many pages you can generally write in a given time.) Suppose you write roughly a page an hour. It will take five hours to meet your five-page quota. Now assign those five pages to five hours on specific days. Your schedule might look like this: two pages during the two hours on Tuesday from 8 AM to 10 AM and two pages during the two hours on Thursday from 8 AM to 10 AM and one page during the hour on Friday from 4 PM to 5 PM.

You can do that, can’t you? But the rub here (which makes it different from the first suggestion) is that you must continue to write past 10 AM on Tuesday or Thursday or 5 PM on Friday if you have not met your page quota! Conversely you may get up early from your writing desk to do something else once you produce your five pages (but I’m not encouraging you to do that–why not write additional text that day?).

Whether you budget writing by time or by pages, you do not have to write accomplished, sophisticated stories at any sitting. Many lifewriters begin by producing short, even journal-like, entries they place in their loose-leaf binders. After a while, they collect and rework these entries until what they have is a more and more satisfying story. Eventually, the story is finished and it can take its place in the writer’s memoir. This bit-by-bit method keeps you producing while you develop both the regular habit of writing and your skills as a writer.

3) Either way–approaching the task by the time or by the page–be creative with your writing schedule.

A writing schedule can maximize your chances for success. Both laxity and rigidity will work against you.

If you need to “borrow” time from your writing schedule on any one day, remind yourself to “pay back” before you allow yourself to “borrow” again. Being lax with this “credit” system will set you up for discouragement, and you could quickly feel overwhelmed (how easily and enjoyably can you “pay back” 30 hours?) or you’ll find that you are kidding yourself–you’re no longer writing at all.

Rigidity will also work against you. If your thoughts are flowing, continue writing even if you’ve met your page or time quota for the day. Stopping in the middle of your creative process–just because you’ve met your quota–doesn’t make sense.

Pursue writing step by step, day by day. Make decisions that contribute to your success.

Remember: the work of writing a memoir is important work. Be sure you establish a writing schedule that works for you. If this seems difficult, you might consider working short term with a writing coach.

This article is excerpted from Turning Memories Into Memoirs/A Handbook for Writing Lifestories.


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