15 Apr Create a Writing Routine Part II: Ways to Get Started
It is extremely complicated to create a writing routine, especially these days. Not only do we have day jobs, families, bills, and responsibilities of all kinds, we also have more technology than ever before, tempting us with an infinite amount of information, and useless distractions, at our fingertips. To be a successful writer now means to push back against everything that comes first in our lives and to fight every day for the time and space to put words on a page. And even though it is a fight, it doesn’t have to feel like one. With some planning, a shift in how we view our day to day lives and routines, and some positive self-reinforcement, we can all be successful writers, whatever that means to each of us individually.
I’ve had a lot of lifestyle changes recently. I’m married now, I have animals to take care of, a house to look after, and more bills than I’ve had before, plus, I’m constantly on the pursuit of different ways to make money. I’m also living in a new town without the comforts and resources I’ve had previously. Luckily, I’m pretty good at finding places to work wherever I am in the world, but the struggle of staying in one location longer than normal, plus stress of the other changes in my life put writing to the back of my mind. While I’ve always been interested in productivity, especially in a freelance work setting, it’s never been more important for me to stay on track and continuously progress both in my short-term money making opportunities, and my long term writing goals.
After reading books by Carolyn See, Áine Greany, Anne Lamott, Ron Carlson, and Natalie Goldberg, I’ve compiled a list of tips and advice that has really changed the way that I work and view the work that I’m doing. I’ve focused on five topics and have created a post for each of them.
Table of Contents
- Preparing you inner self for writing and being more productive.
- Ways to getting (re)started in a writing life, maybe again.
- The importance of having a daily and weekly writing habit.
- What to do about talking to others about our work.
- How to not let life get in the way.
Ways to Getting (Re)Started in a Writing Life
Once we have begun to train our inner minds to accept creativity better, we need to get down to business and create a routine that will work for us. Creating a routine, and sticking to it is essential to being productive. It’s great that we now have all of the confidence in the world, but if you don’t set some ground rules and expectations, you’ll never get anything done. Just like at any job, there’s someone around telling you what you need to get done today or this week. You have standards to live up to, and goals to reach for, and the same goes for your writing life, expect you’re the one setting these standards.
Setting a Routine
The first step in creating a routine is setting out when you’re going to work. You’ll have to look at your schedule and see where there are gaps within it to push in writing. You might have to move your schedule around to accommodate it, and you actually should. Writing should be just as important as your other tasks because, in the end, writing is your big dream, and treating like it’s less important will never allow you to reach that dream.
- Make a date with yourself. Set a time to write, every day or at least few times a week, between your regular commitments, and always stick to it as you would another appointment. Pen it into your schedule, giving it a code name if you must, so that when people ask you to do something during that time, you have proof that you already have a commitment. For most people, showing that you’re writing then will be enough, but for those who unfortunately don’t take this part of your life seriously, a code name in your agenda will avoid any explaining you need to do. Remember to stand your ground and guard this time fiercely.
- Right brain, right time, or at least that’s what Greany Calls it. She means to find your time of the day that you feel most creative and alive to write. This could be right before work, so you’d get to work a little early to write before your day starts. This could be after the gym, at lunch time, before bed, whenever you feel the creativity flowing through you a little easier. Harness this time and make your appointment to write.
- Find a clean well-lit place to write. It doesn’t matter where this place is as long as you feel good there. This place should be free of negative memories or feelings so your mind is clear to create. If you can make a place in your home, take a few minutes to fill it with things you enjoy. If it’s out of the home, find your favorite chair in the coffee shop. Just make sure you feel good and are ready to write when you go there.
- Write at the same time and same place. Writing in the same place can get your body and mind ready to write more quickly and will make you more productive. Test out places that feel best and switch it up sometimes to keep things fresh. Just make sure you have a place and that’s where you’re going when it’s time to write. Try to pair this place with your most creative time during the day to increase your productivity.
Ways to Stay on Track
Tell your family and friends. We’ll talk more about this is a little bit, but make sure that people know what you’re doing. Let them know that what looks like free time to them, is actually important and not to be disturbed.
- Switch off all electronic communication. It’s impossible to get anything done if we’re constantly tempted to reply or research something. Getting rid of those temptations will decrease unproductive time and allow us to use our writing time only for writing. Along with electronic communications, we need to limit any distraction we face during our writing time. It’s easy to get sidetracked when you suddenly realize you’re starving, or your throat is scratchy. You might have just heard the cat clawing at something he shouldn’t. You forgot to check the mail this morning. I do this all the time. One thought leads to another and suddenly I realize it’s an hour later, I’m not at the computer, and I haven’t done anything productive. I’ve had to start noticing these occurrences and put them to a stop as soon as they happen. When I notice myself thinking about something outside of what I’m writing, I stop, take a breath, and reread some of what I just wrote. Then I begin again. This happens a lot. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m thinking something else. Then I’m standing up, going to get a cup of water. I stop myself then too, sit back down, and keep going. I’ve realized my biggest weakness is just staying in the chair, keeping my hands on the keyboard, and moving forward.
- Write naked. Greany doesn’t really mean naked, though you can if you want. She suggests to get dressed in something that makes you feel like a writer. Whatever that means to you. If you need to wear a work appropriate outfit, like you’d wear to the office, do that. If you need to wear the t-shirt you had on when you met Stephen King, go for that. Whatever it is that gets you ready to write, do it.
- Set a daily writing quote or word count. Carolyn See pushes one thousand words a day, every day. I like this goal because it’s small enough that there’s no excuse for you not to write and reach that goal, but I also know that I can write more and feel like a badass when I quadruple it. Natalie Goldberg talks about ten minute timed writings. I’ve been doing these more and more lately because sometimes a project can seem so huge that I get overwhelmed. By setting a timer on my computer for just ten minutes, I trick myself to writing for a few hours. Ten minutes seems much more management than three hours. Even though they add up to the same amount, I still see those ten minutes counting down, and keep my fingers moving across the keyboard, sprinting to the end. Once I rest for a couple of seconds, I can start again, or what usually happens after a few rounds, I don’t need to rest and I want to press on and finish the goal I had for the day. Anne Lamott is a fan of the short spurts of writing. She says setting short tasks, one paragraph, one scene, one description of a new character, will allow us better focus and clarity when it comes to huge writing tasks.
- Free yourself from writing well. As most of us know Anne Lamott calls them shitty first drafts, and most other craft writers agree. To be able to write creatively, we can’t think about the outcome. This will restrict us and sometimes make it impossible to write. Natalie Goldberg sets some of her rules for writing first drafts. Remember to keep your hand moving, lose control, don’t think, don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar, be free to write the worst stuff in the world, and go for the jugular. Out of all of these, “go for the jugular” is the most difficult for me. My inner critic always stops me before I say something direct or meaningful. I pull back, writing a vague statement that doesn’t hold the same weight as a more specific, gory description would have. In this wild, free, creative first draft you have to go for the jugular because this might be the most open time. After this the revision starts, which, in itself, is trying to reign back some of the more out there, parts. Just go for it.
- Praise Yourself. Often I skip this step and in the long run it has been detrimental to my writing. I never seem to stop and look back on what I’ve done, really seeing what I’ve accomplished, I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough or ever moving forward and then it’s even harder to get started the next day. I take a minute to look back on the day or week. I think, “I wrote 5 pages today and they weren’t that bad,” or “this week I only revised 3 pages but they will probably make the final manuscript,” helps remind us that what we’re doing matters, that those hours sitting at a desk when we really want to watch TV, or when we wake up early to write when we could get more sleep, have all been worth it, and we really are moving forward.
What do you think of these tips? Let me know in the comments below.