Sep 10 2015
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Tips for Beginning Writers: Developing a writing routine

I might be mixing workout routine and writing routine metaphors in this post. Yes, that’s a laptop desk on a treadmill. Photo by Flickr user HA! Designs – Artbyheather (Creative Commons license).

Maybe you aren’t a routine kind of person. Some of us are; some of us aren’t. But I’m guessing that if you’re reading a blog post about writing tips, you’re open to suggestion.

Because there are precious few writers out there who can subsist solely from practicing their craft, most of us tend to fit writing in where we can, between paying jobs, managing households, raising children, and engaging within our communities. As such, don’t underestimate the benefits of establishing a routine around your writing.

Doctors and wellness practitioners often dole out similar advice to people who are trying to get in better physical shape, so I’m going to use that for a metaphor here. Really, it’s not so much of a “stretch”; writing and creativity are muscles we have to flex on a regular basis if we want them to get stronger.

So how can you develop a writing routine? Here are some steps that have worked for me:

  • Identify where your “free” time is. For a period of two weeks, document your daily activities. Take a look at times when you didn’t have anything scheduled, and honestly assess how you spent that time. Could you fit in a writing “workout” somewhere? Could you move activities or obligations around to create a more optimal time to write?
  • Categorize your free time. When you’re relaxing after dinner, or setting an early alarm so you can be fully awake before heading off to work—those might not be the best times to try to write. We all need our down time (or our wake-up time). But is TV time taking up every spare minute between the kids’ bedtime and your own? If you’re an early riser, are you awake enough to fit in a quick journaling session before work?
  • Dig deeper. You have a good understanding of your free time, at this point. Now, push yourself that extra mile and think about your moods, energy levels, and motivation. Is there a consistent time of day when you feel more creative than other times? When you have more energy? When you know you absolutely do NOT have energy? One of the most prevalent fitness tips is to figure out when you have energy slumps and feed your body with high-protein, low-sugar snacks at those times. I find myself wishing I could spend every morning writing, but I work and can’t do that. So on weekends or days off, I get up early and take advantage of the time of day I feel the most creatively energized.
  • Clear your writing space. Dedicate a space to writing by removing clutter and anything not related to your craft. It might sound silly, but besides having access to equipment they might not have at home, this is a main reason why people go to fitness centers to work out. There is a sense of purpose in having a specific place to go to for a specific activity, so much so that you can train your mind/body to “react” to being in that space—as soon as you enter the gym, or sit down at your writing desk, you know why you’re there and what you hope to accomplish. Some people get more writing done at coffee shops or libraries; you can still apply some de-cluttering and clearing tactics (and even ritualizing ones, per the next point) in those spaces!
  • Ritualize your writing space. My desk features my laptop, two of my favorite pens, a blown glass pen holder, some crystals, a couple plants, and a yummy-smelling candle. Above my desk is a photo board with promo postcards for friends’ books, famous writer quotes, bookmarks, and various other items I think are beautiful and/or inspiring. Make your writing space a happy space and you might get more done while you’re there.
  • Prioritize your writing projects. Do you want to write a book chapter today, or are you content to edit a few pages? Are you in a mood to start something new or free write, or is there a deadline you need to make? You’ve structured time to write, but now that you’re in your space, what would you like to accomplish? Some days, it’s enough to just reread what you wrote the day before, to stay immersed in a specific piece, character, setting, or idea—a walk in the park, so to speak. Other days might require a more rigorous “workout.”
  • Help others hold you accountable. This final tip overlaps with an upcoming post on developing a writing community—a group, workshop, or exchange of mutual feedback—but it aligns too neatly with the metaphor of working out, where “exercise with a friend” is such great advice. Do you know another writer with whom you can regularly converse about both of your work? I do. I make sharing my drafts with her—and reading her drafts, when she sends them to me—part of my writing routine, and by extension, I make regular reading part of my writing process.

What did I miss? Tell me about your writing routines!