How to establish a writing routine

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Do you struggle to find the time to write? Here’s how to establish a writing routine that will work no matter how little time you have.

I’m doing it again. For the second week in a row I’m writing a serious, content-filled post about writing — right when your brain is marinating in sugar, eggnog or chocolate. Or on holiday altogether. Or totally stressed by the need to buy dozens of gifts or plan meals for dozens of people.

But mark my words… once the hoopla of Christmas is over, you’ll be starting to ponder your plans for the new year and this post will be ready and waiting for you.

Today, I’m going to explain how you can establish a writing routine for 2019. Here’s my advice:

1-Decide to make time, not find time

I wrote about time earlier this year — after reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks— and the thoughts I expressed in that column bear repeating for anyone who’s planning for a new year. Quit thinking that time is “out there.” Instead, see it as something you “own”. Time is yours — not the other way around — and you can do with it what you will. If you want to write, you can make that happen with enough careful and diligent planning. You can make the time to brush your teeth, right? If that takes you two minutes then you need only make three more for a five-minute writing routine.

2-Identify the earliest possible time in the day that you can write 

I know this news will be especially painful for night owls, but most of us find it far easier to do important jobs earlier in the day. Part of the issue relates to the need to decide to work, and how this act of decision-making erodes our finite stock of willpower.  If you’re constantly arguing with yourself about writing, for example (e.g.: I’ll write at 2 pm, no 3 pm, no, 5 pm) then you’re going to feel beleaguered and unsuccessful whenever you’re unable to manage the task, which will be frequently. But if you develop the habit of writing as soon as you wake up — even if only for five or 10 minutes — then you’ll start your day feeling accomplished and successful. Also, it’s way easier to guarantee 10 minutes of writing at a time of day when your phone isn’t likely to ring or your boss isn’t likely to call you into a meeting. For night owls (I’m sympathetic — I used to be one!) try doing a small amount of writing in the morning and then add additional time in the evening. Tips specially for you, here.

3-Commit to a small amount of time (or word count) you can achieve every day, no matter what

This number will differ for everyone. For some, 10 minutes will be too much; for others, not nearly enough. For some 120 words will be perfectly adequate; for others, completely inadequate. There is no magic number that will work for every writer. If you doubt this wisdom, look at the daily word counts of famous writers from history:

Tom Wolfe: 135 words

Ernest Hemingway: 500 words

Ian McEwan: 600 words

Stephen King: 2,000 words

Michael Crichton: 10,000 words

Did 10,000 words make Michael Crichton better than Hemingway? No! Of course not. We all have different speeds and different levels of facility with writing. We are hardwired to write at a certain speed (even though we can all become better and faster with more practice.)

The secret to successful writing is to identify a total you can achieve relatively easily so you look forward to writing every day and understand that you are going to be able to knock your goal out of the park. The feeling of success you’ll have will keep you highly motivated, which, in turn, will allow you achieve the same goal the next day and the day after that.

4-Develop some rituals to help cement your writing habit 

Rituals give shape to our working days and our lives. For example, perhaps you’ve developed the ritual of going for coffee at a certain time of day. You may say hello to the barista or greet certain like-minded clients in the cafe. Perhaps this coffee break symbolizes that you’re relaxing from work or maybe it means that you’re gearing up for an afternoon of meetings. I have the ritual of drinking a large glass of Kombucha after lunch every day while I’m working. For me, it marks having finished a morning of work and launching into the final part of my writing day. Find some rituals that will do the same thing for you. They needn’t involve drink (or food) but might be related to clearing off your desk or reading a particular website or anything else you find inspirational or helpful. 

5-Determine some rewards — and then give them to yourself

 Writers need to reward themselves. Part of the reason is that the reward for writing is usually so delayed (or so small) that we need to keep our own spirits up. If you’re writing a book, for example, the writing process will likely take you a full year and editing the manuscript will take even longer. There’s no wisdom in waiting for the thrill of holding a finished book in your hand. Instead, give yourself some mini rewards along the way.  If you are new to developing a writing practice, make the rewards small but frequent. Speciality coffees or teas are good “prizes” as are magazines, time on Facebook/Twitter or even walks in a nearby park. You can (and should) give yourself slightly bigger rewards for bigger accomplishments. For example, if you write for 10 minutes a day (five days a week) for an entire month, you might take yourself out to a movie or buy a hardcover book as a reward.

But don’t be foolish enough to call your new writing routine a new year’s resolution. About 80% of people fail to stick to them for more than six weeks! Further, whether the resolutions are to do with weight or exercise or smoking, most of them tend to be about fixing something that’s wrong with ourselves. A writing habit is different. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a deeply rewarding one. View it as a Christmas gift to yourself. 

If you want some help developing a writing routine, consider applying to my Get It Done program.  This three-month accountability group will give you the structure you need to become more focused and productive as a writer. I’m going to be hosting a no-cost webinar about how Get It Done works on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 1 pm Pacific. Email me if you’d like to attend. No charge, but pre-registration is required.


My video podcast last week advised novelists how to know when they need to start a new chapter.  Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


Do you have a writing routine? If so, how does it work? If not, why not? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/18 will be put in a draw for a copy of the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. 

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