On Schedules


Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the most influential and thoughtful science fiction authors of all time, published her writing schedule once. For me it would be punishing. For her it was merely strict and simple, like so much of her writing is. It cuts to the quick, it gets the job done, and then it quietly lets you go. 

She laid it out in a 1988 interview with Slawek Wojtowicz. You may have seen it floating around on twitter, incomplete and out of context, but I think the full quote is far more enlightening. She said:

Ideal schedule:

5:30 a.m. – wake up and lie there and think.
6:15 a.m. – get up and eat breakfast (lots).
7:15 a.m. – get to work writing, writing, writing.
Noon – lunch.
1-3 p.m. – reading, music.
3-5 p.m. – correspondence, maybe house cleaning.
5-8 p.m. – make dinner and eat it.
After 8 p.m. – I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this.
I go to bed at 10:00 p.m. If I’m at the beach there would be one or two long walks on the beach in that day. This is a perfect day for me.

Most of the re-posts and tweets of this schedule that I’ve seen have left out two key points: First the word ‘Ideal,’ and second the inclusion of the dreamy final line. That specific addition that if she is on the beach she will take a long walk.

Ursula Le Guin is a far, far better writer than I am. But I’ve also barely gotten started in comparison to her. She dedicated decades to a timeline like this. It is not the sharp 5:30 wakeup that blows me away about it. It is all the space. All the room to breathe.

Nearly an hour and a half in the mornings before she expects herself to work. Five hours set aside to write, and then she is done for the day. Then she reads, and listens to music, and writes letters, and ‘maybe’ cleans. She eats, and allows space for foolishness. She gave herself a routine, but left so much room to exist.

I’ve never really tried having a set schedule. Unless you count ‘go to work,’ which… I suppose that does count. Even as I write that, something is clicking into place. I remember clearly having the thought ‘I’m just not happy when I’m not at work.’ I remember taking a few days off, but simply staying at home, quiet and still. I remember it making me feel so sick, and tired and wrong, and angry.

I remember my ADHD diagnosis all those years ago basically coming with a pamphlet that said ‘routine will make you feel good.’ Feels obvious looking at it from the doorway, about to walk outside.

So when I start writing instead of attending an office, a schedule will be needed. No doubt. Here’s the rough draft, though I don’t have Le Guin’s remarkable talent for saying so much with so few words:

Daily Schedule:

7-8 am: Awaken a la Ursula Le Guin. ‘Think and be’ for some time. Put some caffeine, breakfast, & water in the blood. Be in the sun if you can. DON’T turn your computer or phone on yet!
9 am: Body Wakeup Call! A gentle morning warmup workout. Try to engage in stretching & some strength training. No need for cardio until later.
10 am: First writing session! Address where you are and what you want to get done to start the day, not in terms of word count but in terms of story progression.
12-1 pm: Lunch break! Try to take the time to actually make something. If it’s big enough to share, you’ll feel better for having fed other people.
2 pm: Hobby O’Clock! Plunk out that piece of music on the piano, practice knitting, take the camera out for a long wander, look at a horse, bake, or do some drawing.
[3:30: If your hobby did not include exercise, do some plyometrics or cardio!]
4 pm: Second Writing Session! By this point you’ve had some ideas while you were eating and daydreaming. Use a little of that energy and plunk it down.
6 pm: That’s enough work for a day unless it’s not. Keep going if you want to, otherwise this is a great time to start on dinner. (If someone else is cooking, it’s a great time to help with dishes or take care of some other household chores!)
10 pm: Start winding down! Lower the energy, and try not to start anything new. Good time to look at tomorrow’s plan, priorities, and menu.
11 pm: Try to be in bed, if not asleep. Rest is good, and so is being horizontal. Put yourself in a position to have a good day in the morning.

Optional Activities:
ANY daily task or tasks may be replaced with one of the following:

Grocery/necessity Shopping: Gotta eat! Gotta live!
Laundry: Clean clothes move mountains.
Organization/Cleaning: Clean spaces, both digital and physical, will help.
Adventure: If you have an opportunity to do something exciting, take it!
Service: Does someone or something need you? Answering a call is a worthwhile endeavor.
Spa Day: Doing something nice for yourself is a necessity.

A couple of notes about this schedule, what it contains, and what it lacks.

My first instinct when I thought of making a schedule has always been punishment. Force. MAKE yourself get up. FORCE yourself to work for [X] number of hours. PUSH yourself to get things done. Before I even begin, I hate the thought of it and shy away.

Looking at Ursula Le Guin, I’ve tried for a different tactic. I am leaving a punishing 8-hour work day that has crushed my creativity. There is no need for me to recreate that environment at home. Instead I’ll be aiming for roughly 4 hours a day of writing, with breaks and space for me to exist and indulge in other interests, many of which have fallen by the wayside through the years.

I am looking forward to this schedule. I’m scared, because the idea of letting anyone down petrifies me, and I have slowly started considering myself as one of those people I could let down. But that’s a story for a different time.

There will, of course, be exceptions. There will be days I don’t keep that schedule. There will be days I do more. That’s why it was so important for me to read the word ‘ideal’ in Ursula Le Guin’s answer. It wasn’t that she magically never wavered from schedule. That was just what she tried to do each day.

I’m looking forward to trying.

[T minus 34 Days until leaving the workforce]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *