It's happened to all of us: we create a plan for a writing project and start diligently working on it, but then something happens that derails our schedule. Suddenly, we're struggling to find the time to write, or worse, our writing output has slowed to a crawl.
I’m no stranger to this. At the beginning of this year, I created a writing and publishing schedule for the Rising Elements series. I scheduled a few buffer days into each month in case something came up and I couldn’t work on my current project for a few days. I set (I thought) reasonable goals and gave myself plenty of time to achieve them.
… And then my carefully-laid plans went off the rails. I got buried in editing projects and didn’t have a chance to work on my draft for three weeks in a row. Then my editor wasn’t available until later than I’d anticipated (which ended up being fine because my draft was done a whole month late anyway). And now that book 2 is off track, of course books 3 and 4 will be off track too.
So now what? What do I do now that my writing and publishing schedule is completely out of whack?
First of all, before I say anything else, let me tell you this:
EVERYONE HAS BAD DAYS… and weeks. And months.
Read that again.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional author, a hobby writer, or anywhere in between. Life happens to all of us, and it’s usually out of our control. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If your plan goes off the rails… it’s time to adjust your plan. Today I’m going to share 4 tips for getting back on track when your writing schedule falls apart. Let’s get to it!
1. Take a (timed) break.
This may not be a fun tip to read, but I’m going to write it anyway. There may be a reason your writing schedule went off track. Maybe your goals weren’t realistic for your situation right now. If you’re a stay at home parent with little kids and your goal was to write 5 hours a day… well, there’s a good chance your schedule will fall behind. It’s important to take a hard look at your life and determine if the writing schedule you set was truly attainable.
Or maybe your writing schedule was realistic and you’ve been keeping it up for a while, but now the words just aren’t coming anymore and you’re falling behind. If so, here’s my question: are you nearing burnout? Maybe you need a (timed) break away from your project so you can come back with fresh eyes.
It’s important to take a TIMED break. Decide on your time limit. Will it be a week? Two? Maybe even a month? Set that limit and stick to it. It’s very easy to take a small break from your project and then life gets in the way, and next thing you know it’s been six months since you touched it.
2. Make some hard decisions.
Now you have an idea WHY you went off track… it’s time to make a plan to fix it. You have two options: you can hustle hard to catch up to the original writing schedule you set… or you can adjust your plan.
Either way, make a list of what you need to do to get there.
When I realized I was off track with my writing deadline, I thought about hustling to make up the difference, but then I took a hard look at my life. Summer is starting and I know I’m going to be insanely busy with vacations, summer programs, swim lessons, and other activities. It’s just not realistic for me to make up the time I’ve lost, so the right answer for me was to adjust my deadlines and push everything back a few months to give myself enough time for books 2, 3, and 4. So I pushed book 2’s release date back a few weeks, and I plan on pushing the publishing dates for books 3 and 4 back several months so I’m not rushed.
3. Make a plan.
Now’s the time to create a new schedule. Set some specific, attainable goals and deadlines and write them down. Put them in your calendar or your planner or on your wall where you can refer to them often. For example, I used a calendar and wrote in my deadlines for first draft, edits, final draft, and publish date for each book I plan on writing for the rest of the year. Then I calculated how many working days I had (I work 3 days per week) and how many words I would have to write in order to make my deadline. It worked out to about 2,000 words a day for me, so that became my new daily goal. I also scheduled in plenty of buffer days in case I get overwhelmed with editing projects or something comes up to make me unable to work on my project.
4. Execute the plan.
This is the hard part. This is where you failed last time. But if you’ve set attainable goals and you’ve taken a break so you’re feeling the fire to work on your project again, I know you can do this! Find someone to keep you accountable (a spouse, a writing partner, a friend) and check in on your progress. Let your friends and family know about your goal so they understand when you hold the boundary around your writing time. And then follow your new plan to the best of your ability!
[BONUS TIP] Celebrate!
Let’s be honest. If your goal is to write 2,000 words per day and you’ve fallen behind schedule, but you still managed to write 1,000 words per day, isn’t that something to celebrate? If your goal was to write every day and you didn’t do that, but you did think about your project throughout the day and came up with plot ideas, isn’t that amazing?
Celebrate EVERY victory, no matter how small. Because every step forward is a step in the right direction. And if you have to continue following this checklist and adjusting your plan over and over again, you know what? That makes you human, and that’s what life is. The best-laid plans never work out, so we keep laying them again and again until we reach our ultimate goal. That’s resilience, and that’s what life is all about!
Let’s face it: we all have bad days. Sometimes the words just don’t want to come out, or everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong. And when that happens, it can be hard to get back on track with your writing schedule. But it’s not impossible! If you take a break when you need one, make some hard decisions about your next step, and then execute your new plan, you can minimize the time your bad day will impact your work. And don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem – it’s important to give yourself credit where it’s due.
How do you get back on track when your writing schedule goes awry? Let me know in the comments!