The Truth about Writing Routines
You see it everywhere you look: If you want to be a successful writer, you MUST have a writing routine. However, looking up the writing routines of famous authors is likely going to be a bit disappointing, if not downright harmful. This is especially true if you’re like most writers and you’re trying to fit writing in around a full-time job. For example, Stephen King writes approximately 4-6 hours a day – every day. For most writers, this is entirely unrealistic. (But so is comparing yourself to Stephen King.)
Still, the question remains: What does a successful writing routine look like? And for my type-A comrades out there, you’re not going to like the answer. The truth about writing routines is that there is no one-size-fits-all routine, word count, or rhythm that works flawlessly for every writer. However, there are a few things that every writer can do to help them build an ideal routine.
Set Specific and Measurable Goals
We’ve all heard of SMART goals. These goals are effective in that they take us from, “I want to write every day” to, “I want to write 1000 words every day first thing in the morning until I finish my 60,000-word novel.” See the difference? While setting a SMART goal can be effective, this goal statement is not the final step in the goal-setting process.
Recent research by Kenneth Nowak discusses an idea he coins goal flourishing, which takes the results of the goal and turns them into successful habit change. While his article is full of insightful gems, one of the keys to goal flourishing is effectively planning for setbacks and distractions. As you develop the goals you want to achieve with your writing, consider outlining a plan that will help you manage these challenges.
Develop a Writing Mindset
Writing is hard. I’m confident I say this often, but only because it’s true. If you don’t want to finish the novel badly enough, it’s not going to happen. If you don’t believe in yourself deeply enough, it’s not going to happen. If you don’t believe you have enough time to accomplish the goal, you’re right. You don’t.
The only thing standing in the way of your writing goals is you. There will always be an excuse – laundry to do, a phone call to be made, etc. You’re the only one in charge of making these excuses disappear.
Writing is one big mindset game. What do you need to believe in your ability to reach your goal? What’s standing in your way? Spend time (with a coach or friend) clearing out your mental blocks and building your mental resources. A stronger writing mindset will follow.
Audit Your Time
Time audits are a great way to assess where you’re spending your time. Do you really know how much time you spend scrolling through social media? What about ‘productive procrastination?’ Start by writing down how you spend your time in 15-minute intervals every day for one week. From there, you can assess where you’re time is currently being spent and how you’d like to spend it instead. This might require a series of time replacements.
For example, let’s say you wake up every morning and begin to scroll through social media before getting out of bed. You know you’d rather be getting your sneakers on for a morning workout, but you’re also curious about your Facebook page’s performance. This means that you’ll need to find a time later in your day to scroll through social media so you can work out during that time slot.
The idea isn’t necessarily to get rid of the lower productivity things you do every day. I love watching YouTube videos about scary stories. It’s a fun break from the rest of my day. Because I know it can distract me from other, more important things, however, I try to restrict my YouTube time to when I’m cooking dinner. This allows me to leverage the times of my day where I feel most productive for the items on my list that are most demanding.
Get to Know Yourself
Are you most creative in the AM or the PM? What inspires you to create? What are your biggest distractions?
Taking stock of these little details in your life can help you develop a more robust plan to achieve your goals. If you can identify your biggest distractions, you can create a plan to help you avoid them. If you know what inspires your productivity, you can add more of that to your routine. Some writers will make a cup of coffee and sit down with a book every morning. As soon as they put their book down, they begin to write. After doing this for several weeks, their brains know it’s time to write as soon as they close their book.
Get to know what makes you tick and what slows you down. Adjust your plan accordingly.
Now that you know yourself better, try to incorporate different things into your routine. As the cliché saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It will likely take you several tries before you find the perfect writing routine. That’s okay. What’s more important is that you continue to play with different routine elements until you find something that leads to your success.
Tell the World
Okay, you don’t need to tell the whole world, but you should tell someone. Research shows that people who tell others about their goals are statistically more likely to keep and achieve those goals. Find an accountability buddy, tell your spouse, or call your mom. Telling people will help you stay focused.
Writing routines are not standard. They should feel personalized to your unique needs, be personally meaningful, and inspire your creativity.