Do you have a writing routine to support you?

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Without a writing routine, it’s probably pretty close to impossible for you to get a substantial amount of writing done…

I taught a two-week course on research last month. It turned my writing routine upside down and required me to spend oodles of time responding to chats.

Not that I minded! I LOVE teaching courses like this, and I relish the chance to connect with my readers and clients on a more personal level.

But courses like this turn my routine into chopped cabbage. When the course wrapped up at the end of last month, I gave a sigh — not of relief, because that would suggest I hadn’t enjoyed the experience, which I did.

I gave a sigh of satisfaction.

The course went well, the 55 participants seemed to get a lot out of it, I enjoyed it, and now I could get back to regular life.

I cleared off my desk, cleaned out my files and clicked back into my regular routine.

Regular routines might sound boring and uninspired because, well, they’re regular. But that regularity gives our lives structure. Research shows that about half of daily actions are driven by repetition.

The work of writing requires concentration, creativity and intense focus. It’s far easier to use these “muscles” if you’ve developed a habit and you don’t need to depend on willpower.

A habit is something you do with little or no thought. In fact, it requires so little thought that life feels strange when you don’t do it.

You may have the habit of brushing your teeth before bed every night. Or of having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Or of exercising. If the habit is solid, you’ll feel uncomfortable if you try not to do it. Many of my clients tell me they now feel this way about writing. It feels strange if they don’t do it.

If you want to establish a writing routine, here are seven tips for you:

1-Do it for yourself, not for others

Even though you get to sit down at a desk while doing it, writing is hard work. It’s not something you should take on because someone else wants you to. Instead, you need your own internal motivation.

Here’s a tip: Every time you’re tempted to use the word “should,” try replacing it with the word “want.” For example:

“I should write today,” becomes, “I want to write today.”

And, “I should start writing at 8 am,” becomes “I want to start writing at 8 am.”

Do you see how that minor change in vocabulary totally changes your mindset and your attitude?

2-Make your goals easy to achieve

When people want to get things done, they often give themselves overwhelming and onerous goals. This is especially true for writers.

For some reason, many would-be writers seem to think that a full hour is the minimum required time to produce writing of any value.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You can write something useful, even if it’s only 100 words, in five minutes. Sure, it may require effort, but you can get the idea jotted down on paper (or screen) rather quickly. It needn’t take all day.

And having an overwhelming goal may be the thing that’s holding you back.

Always start small. Make your writing goal no longer than 15 minutes. And even one to five minutes is better than nothing.

3- Stop multitasking

This is the number one mistake I see beginning writers make. They want to start editing while they’re writing. Or they try to research and write at the same time.

Multitaskers not only feel unhappier and more stressed than single-taskers, but they also do a worse job. Don’t stack the deck against yourself.

When you research, only research.

When you write, only write.

When you edit, only edit.

And don’t try to check email when you’re doing any of these tasks!

4-Have a way to manage your “to dos” so they don’t get in your way

Some of us have a hard time focusing while we’re writing. So we self-sabotage by doing something else we’re convinced is more important. Making a phone call. Reading an email. Scrolling through Instagram. (Just joking!)

Instead of doing your “to dos” when you want to be writing, placate your brain by having a place to keep those “to dos” so you don’t forget them later.

I use a piece of software called ZenKit To Do, but there’s a host of good list-keeping software available. Choose one that works for you.

5-Use time blocking

Time blocking is where you make appointments with yourself to get tasks done throughout the day. My standard day consists of roughly 15 appointments with myself, each for 30 minutes. (Two of them are for lunchtime!) Some of those 30-minute meetings end up being with other people, which is fine. But I almost always reserve my mornings for myself and my writing.

When I started time blocking about seven years ago, I made myself at least 50 percent more productive and 100 percent happier. See more here.

6-Make sure you get enough breaks

We all need time for rest and relaxation. Taking this time is not a sign of weakness. Instead it’s a sign you know what you’re doing. Writing, in particular, requires that we have enough creative “inputs” to draw upon. I call this having enough “water in the well” (or “money in the bank”).

If you’ve experienced enough creativity — from watching movies, reading books, going to the theatre or attending concerts — then you will be better able to create. Getting enough exercise and spending time with family and friends also count as creativity contributors.

7- Forgive yourself for failing

If you expect yourself to perform at 100% every day, you are doomed to be disappointed. We’re human beings, not machines! If you expect machine-like resolve, you’re going to become discouraged at the first setback.

Focus on consistency rather than perfection. No one becomes great at anything overnight. Not Serena Williams or Michael Jordan. Not Yo-Yo Ma or Taylor Swift. Not Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood. Not Warren Buffett or Martha Stewart.

You can build habits over time and with practice.

Finally, be aware there’s no such thing as a 21-day habit. Health psychology researcher Phillippa Lally from University College London calculates that the real time it takes to form a habit is somewhere between 18 and 254 days. Why the wide variation? Well, obviously, some habits are harder to form than others.

For example, if you wanted to develop the habit of eating broccoli every day and you already loved broccoli, it would be relatively easy for you to build that habit. But let’s imagine you loathe the taste of broccoli. If you were motivated enough, you could still develop the habit, but you’d need to go to much greater lengths to establish it, finding and making recipes that helped disguise its taste.

Other factors, such as personality traits, motivation and prior experiences, also play a role in how fast you can build a habit. And then there are external factors like stress, lifestyle and the presence (or absence) of a support system.

But if you want to build a habit, you can.

Just go get started!


My video podcast last week addressed how long your book should be. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


What’s your writing routine? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Emily Haynie, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a comment on my April 30 blog about maker vs manager. (Please send me your email address, Emily.) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/24 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please scroll down to the section 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. It’s easy!

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