When you follow a memoir writing schedule to write your lifestories at a certain time, then you will not feel anguished if you are not writing all the time. Because the unconscious seems to thrive on ritual—and memory depends heavily on the cooperation of the unconscious as well as the effort to remember you will inevitably find yourself remembering more when you write regularly.
Write at the same time—say every evening from 7 to 8:30 PM or every other morning from 6:30 to 7:30 AM. You will find your imagination automatically gearing up at those times when you yourself open up to writing at set times. It’s like your appetite being whetted by knowing a mealtime is approaching. One moment you’re not hungry and the next—after you’ve realize it’s quarter to twelve—you feel famished!
You must live like a bourgeois so that you can write like a bohemian. —Honoré Balzac
There are many options for creating a schedule.
1. You can assign your writing a number of hours per week.
How much time do you want to devote to (or can you realistically spare for) lifewriting? Be specific: “Two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 AM.” or “every weekday evening that I’m not out from 7 to 8 PM.”
Hint: finish your writing for the day before you have said everything you have to say. Stop before your impulse to write is sated, but don’t quit before you make a note for yourself about how you will proceed with your material. The next time you sit down to do some lifewriting, reread your notes and pick up where you left off. This habit contributes to a quick start the next time you sit down to write.
2. Another way to structure your memoir writing schedule is to let a fixed number of pages determine the length of a session.
You decide how many pages you will complete by a specific time. This is a page quota and may require that you write longer than you had anticipated if the writing doesn’t go well. However, if the writing goes very well one day, you may find yourself writing for many fewer hours. (But, if this is the case, why not produce additional pages for when you come upon a busy time at some point?)
3. You can also schedule a deadline by which you will have finished your writing.
Tell people when they might expect a copy of all or part of your lifestories. Their expectation—and inquiries as to whether that expectation will be satisfied—will keep you on task!
Variety is the spice of life.
Conversely and paradoxically, it can be very rewarding for you to break your regularity every once in awhile. If you always write on the kitchen table, one day, take your writing to the backyard, or to the shore or to a café (but don’t dissipate your energy in conversation!). If you always write after breakfast, occasionally write before breakfast—or after supper.
The idea of breaking your memoir writing schedule is not to promote an erratic approach to writing but to give yourself a periodic release so that you can appreciate all the more the benefits of writing at regular times.
Some people find it creative to break their writing times into small units of 20 or 30 minutes. On a day when you schedule yourself to write for two hours, set a timer for 30 minutes. When it rings, you take five minutes off to take your mind off your writing. This is bathroom time, make tea or coffee time, get the mail time. It is not the time to engage in a serious new effort or to make an engaging phone call. This break is only to relax momentarily you so that you can return to your writing. You may find that, with regular, short breaks, you write with more energy and get more accomplished.
Start a notebook or binder to keep track of your memoir writing schedule:
1. Assign a number of hours this week to write your lifestory. What are they? In your notebook, track of the hours you plan and the hours you spent actually writing.
2. Record how many pages you wrote each session.
3. What is your deadline? Be specific on setting your deadline and that it is a reasonable time for you.
4. Spice it up! Record where you write regularly and how it helps (or not) with the flow of writing. When you try a new location (café, park, lake, bookstore, etc.) record how your writing changed and how your mood and energy changed.