Your writing time should be “non-negotiable”

My alma mater, the University of Virginia, just hired a new football coach and he has a name I would have loved to give to one of my story’s characters: Bronco Mendenhall. He’s been a coach at BYU for 12 years and from what I’ve seen and read of him, he is one committed, intense, and results-driven dude. In an introductory press conference in Charlottesville, he said something quite interesting: He takes off 90 minutes each day as personal time.

He goes surfing. Rides a motorcycle. Hiking. Fly fishing. Something physical and alone to get away from the stress and strain of his work.

This daily 90 minutes for “daily renewal” is non-negotiable. He claims it as an essential part of life.

Got me thinking. What if we, busy as we are with all the things we do with our jobs, families, and friends, claimed the right to write? Each day. 60 minutes. 90 minutes. 120 minutes. Whatever.

What if we decided our writing time was non-negotiable?

I get a ton of email, as you may imagine, as well as lots of comments here on the blog and for the last couple of months the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. I doubt there’s a day that goes by when someone doesn’t ask me how can they manage to write, to be productive given the hectic nature of their lives?

Believe me, I can relate. I teach in two venues: Screenwriting Master Class and the University of North Carolina. I blog here at Go Into The Story. I’m the host of the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. That’s not just composing posts, both involve a ton of interfacing with other writers. I have a family who obviously are important to me. I alternate between running and biking at least 5 days per week. I watch at least 2 movies per week. I am reading scripts all the time. And there are Black List events, like the five screenwriter labs in 2015 (New York, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles).

How to fit writing into all of that?

I’ll confess, as I spent much of 2015 researching a project, my writing time slipped. Typically I write late at night somewhere between 10PM and 2AM. Often I would be so overwhelmed with things on my To Do list, I would set aside my writing until the next day. Or the next day.

Then my screenplay project blew up. Out of a sense of frustration, I decided to spend November pounding out a comedy I had on my roster of projects. That’s what led to Zero Draft Thirty.

I had this conversation with myself before I pushed Schedule on the GITS post which would compel me to commit — publicly! — to actually do that. Here is an abridged version of that chat:

VOICES OF NEGATIVITY: Are you effing nuts?
SCOTT: Probably.
VOICES OF NEGATIVITY: You’re already busier than shit.
VOICES OF NEGATIVITY: You can’t possibly write a script this year, let alone 30 days. Give up this nonsense!
SCOTT: Nope.

Here’s what I discovered when taking up the Zero Draft Thirty Challenge. Despite getting sick. Despite flying to Los Angeles for a Black List screenwriter lab and being the lead mentor for four screenwriters that weekend. Despite overseeing a Pages I: Writing the First Draft, Prep: From Concept to Outline, a pair of one-week classes (Core VII: Theme, Core VIII: Time), mentoring several writers in The Quest program and private script workshops. Despite the time required to host this blog. Despite the whirlwind of activity which transpired here, on Twitter, and at Facebook concerning the ZD30 Challenge…

I got it done. I claimed a two hour writing scamper every night. Additionally I grabbed one hour here… thirty minutes there. Somehow my time expanded. I was able to get everything done including a flawed, but FADE IN to FADE OUT zero draft of my comedy script.

I believe that happened because I claimed that writing time.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s so much about the time. Rather it’s about our commitment to our Creative Self.

During the ZD30 Challenge, someone posted a photo in the Facebook group. You may have seen it.

If writing truly is a priority, then we ought to claim it as such. Again even if just 90 minutes, 60 minutes, or even 30 minutes per day. As I’ve blogged about, even at 1 page per day, we can produce 2 feature length spec scripts per year.

So as we head into the New Year, I’ve made a personal commitment.

My family time each day: Non-negotiable.
My exercise time each day: Non-negotiable.
My writing time each day: Non-negotiable.

That’s me getting in touch with my inner Bronco Mendanhall.

What if you approached your writing time as non-negotiable?

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