So many of us are creatures of habit. Unless we’re journalists, we’re not used to writing on deadline, so that combined with a book project likely being the largest writing project we’ve ever undertaken, and you can see how it’s daunting. That’s where routine comes in. If we establish a writing routine that is the same for each writing session, we can trick our brain into knowing it’s “go time.”
“Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration.” - Ralph Keyes (Tweet)
Here are a few considerations when establishing your routine:
When is your most productive time of day? If you’re a night owl, it doesn’t make sense for you to think that you’ll write every morning from 6 until 8 a.m., when your house is quiet.
What does your life look like outside of this project? Can you add 30 minutes of writing into your daily routine? Or can you block out Saturday mornings for the next three months to write? Be creative, but be mindful that the routine will only work if you’re honest about how much time you have, and when you have it. We all have a life that includes family, work, and volunteer commitments.
What kind of setting makes you feel productive? I can write in my office better than a coffee shop. That’s because I need quiet to write. Others go stir-crazy in silence and need background noise, whether it’s music, people, or just white noise. Experiment and figure out what works for you.
A caution: Even if background noise works for you, make sure your routine includes turning off phone and social media distractions. You don’t need your phone vibrating or beeping with notifications; you don’t need to hear notifications from Facebook on your computer. In fact, I recommend not even being connected to the internet while writing. If I come across something I need to look up, I simply note it in the manuscript, highlight it to find it later, and keep going. It’s hard to get writing momentum; don’t lose it once you’ve found it!
Part of your routine will be the ritual of it. This signals to your brain that it’s time to write. I play the same music before I sit down to write; others have a more elaborate ritual that includes steeping a particular kind of tea or putting on a particular sweatshirt or scarf. The details are less important than the fact that there is a ritual. The more often you practice this ritual, the more routine it will feel. Speaking of practice, this meshes well with writing itself, because you really need to be writing every single day.
If you’re unsure of just how to establish a strong routine, experiment a bit and track the writing sessions. Keep track, such as in a notebook or a Google doc, the time, the word count, the setting, your feelings (Were you feeling inspired? Did the writing come easy?), and anything else that might have affected the writing session. So an entry might look like this:
- 10 a.m.
- 25 min
- 680 words
- home office
- hard to get started but easy after 10 min in
- neighbor mowing lawn right outside office
The track record will help you see patterns. Maybe you’ll find that there’s too much noise in your neighborhood to write on weekday afternoons in the summer. (I live in a wonderful development full of kids playing outside, riding bikes, and playing basketball across the street, which is fun — except when I’m trying to write since quiet is what works for me.) Maybe you’ll find that Starbucks is not a great spot for you but that the local mom-and-pop coffee house is. Maybe you’ll find that you’re just too tired mentally after a full day of work to use your brain for writing. Track it for a couple weeks (writing every day) and see what helps you be most productive.
Now that I’ve convinced you, I hope, of how important a writing routine is, let me caution you about one more thing: perfect setup syndrome. I have heard clients say, “As soon as my new desk chair comes, I’ll have the perfect writing area in my office and can get started.” Or “After I land one more dream client I’ll be able to pay for childcare for two hours each afternoon and that time will be for writing my book.” Pardon my frankness, but no, it won’t. These are excuses to not write. You don’t need the perfect space, the perfect time of day, or more time (you have to make time, not find it, I’m afraid!). Don’t let these things hold you back.
If there’s a book inside you, let’s get it out there to the world! What does your writing routine look like?