Writing Talks: Scenes vs Words

The other day, my critique partner/writing buddy/all around long time friend Ríona O’Inabha asked if I could write a post on how I fit my goal of writing a scene a day into my schedule. So here we are.

I’ve never really put all that much thought into how I structure my writing sessions or how I set my goals for them until Ríona asked me. The simple (but unsatisfying) answer is that I don’t have a schedule. Instead, I have a to-do list, unrestricted by time constrains I’d break anyway. If all of my years as a student have thought me only one thing, it’s that I work best in ‘tasks’ rather than in time constraints. If this doesn’t make sense, let me break it down. For someone who sets themselves a schedule, their day might look something like this:

9-10: Write
10-12: Write essay
12-1: Lunch break
1-4: Course reading
4-6: Gym
6:7- Dinner
7-9: Writing
9-10: Reading

Mine, however, would look like this:

  • Write x scenes/words
  • Write paragraph 2 of essay
  • Reading for course
  • Gym – legs/cardio
  • Read x chapters/pages

So rather than setting a time restraint for each of my tasks, I just have the tasks (usually in some sort of priority order). No matter how realistic I try to be, I never stick to my time restraints. If I got to 10am and I was only half way through a scene, I’d have to keep working until I finished the scene. So I decided to abandon a schedule all together and just stick to a ‘shit to get done’ list. Then, if I know I’ve got 5 tasks to complete, I’ll work towards getting them all done in their order of priority. Sometimes this means I don’t always get everything done I needed to, but more often than not I achieve more than I expected. So, no schedule = much easier to fit writing an entire scene/chapter into my day. Obviously, like everyone, I have to work around a real world timetable – I can’t very well not rock up for work because I was finishing a scene. So if I know I have work at 11, and I have to leave home at 10.15, I’ll only do tasks that I know I can complete in the morning, and save writing until I get home.

When it comes to setting goals for writing sessions, I’ve always found it easiest to work in term of scenes rather than words. I do write quite quickly if I’m feeling inspired, but it usually doesn’t matter if it takes me a while to write an entire scene. If the scenes are shorter, I’ll usually try and write a few in one session, or stick to one longer scene and then take a break when it’s done. Once I get going I find it really difficult to pause in the middle of a scene, so I just try to avoid having to do it. For things like NaNo, or if I really want to get my word count up, I’ll set minimum word goals per day, but they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.

So there you go. That’s how I fit writing one scene a day into my non-existent schedule. I hope this was at least somewhat helpful, and that my ramblings made a bit of sense. If there are any other writing topics you’d like me to cover, let me know!


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