by Janis Patterson
There are those who say that the success to writing lies only in following a strict schedule. So many words per day, every day, or writing X number of hours without deviation, or... whatever. On the other hand, there are an equal number of equally fervid writers who are convinced that no good writing ever comes from being forced. One should wait for the magic touch of the muse, as anything which is worked at, which happens without fiery and flowing inspiration is unnatural and bad writing.
Give me a break. Or two.
That said, I will admit that my writing is easier when I am in the throes of inspiration, and that I do try to write a certain number of words every day. Keywords here are 'easier' and 'try.'
Like all of life writing is uncertain. You can vow that you will write a minimum of 5,000 words a day, every single day without fail. If you can, good on you. The rest of us have lives. We have families, cars, homes, jobs... all of which seem to go maniacally wonky just at the worst times. There are things in life that should come before writing - family comes to mind first.
So - you've set a schedule and stuck to it pretty well, then something overwhelming happens and until it is resolved the writing goes out the window. Then what? Your rhythm is off. You haven't kept your word, and if you're so unreliable why go on? Obviously you aren't a real writer unless you .... whatever.
Yes, there are people who actually believe that. I look at writing schedules sort of like I do at a diet. They can be wonderful things from which you can benefit greatly. Depending on your attitude, they can also make your life miserable. If you break a diet, you don't just give up and wallow in a slough of chocolate (however delightful that might seem), you admit what happened, then pick up and go on. Or at least you should. At least, I do. Most of the time.
Being a writer is a life and career choice - it shouldn't be a sentence. Yes, we have deadlines, and yes, if we've given our word that so-and-so will be done by such-and-such a time, we should honor it, no matter what it takes. That's a sprint, though, not a way of life.
So am I advocating heedlessness, hedonism, laziness? No. If you are a writer, you must write. But... if you are a human, you must also live. As the Facebook meme says, Eat the chocolate, drink the wine, smell the roses.
It's all about balance. I am a firm advocate that family comes first. Yes, you owe dedication to your craft, but you also owe dedication to your Self. And your family. And your life, however you choose to live it. But you must also be disciplined and productive in the way that is right for you.
Besides, there is a extra - if rather naughty - benefit to having a writing schedule. When something comes up that you should do, but don't really want to, but can't say no gracefully, you can always say, "I'd love to, but I haven't made my word count for today." Works every time.