How to create a better writing routine

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Both careful planning and a respect for reality are crucial components of any successful writing routine…

Are you too perfectionistic about your writing routine?

I work with many writers who are. My perfectionist clients give themselves goals — like write 500 words a day — or write for at least 60 minutes a day, and then feel discouraged and inept when they fail to achieve them.

They tend to think that making the vow, “I’m going to write 500 words every day,” is enough. But something always goes wrong.

Here’s what I see happening: These writers assume a best-case scenario – quiet or sleeping children, no personal distractions, no car accidents or missing dogs. And if they’re academics, they usually overlook the need to teach classes, grade student papers, hold office hours or meet last-minute requests from the Dean.

The fact of the matter is, we usually don’t have total control of our writing routines. Someone else is almost always vying for our time. So we need to figure out ways, places and times to write that may be less than ideal. 

Here are five ways to protect your writing routine.

1-Be realistic rather than idealistic. Perfection does not exist in real life. With luck, you will already understand that your crappy first draft won’t be perfect. But also understand that the writing process itself may sometimes feel burdensome and oppressive and taxing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It simply means that it’s another item in the long line of imperfect tasks in the world.

2-Write first thing in the morning. Note that I never suggest you get up at 5 am to write. That’s just nutty (even though many writing coaches advocate this approach.) Sleep is important not just for your good health but also for your creativity. If you’re compromising your sleep in order to write, you’re giving yourself a raw deal. 

So when I say “first thing in the morning,” I mean early but not too early. Essentially, I’m saying you should try to write within 30 minutes of waking up, whatever time that happens to be. Why? You want to minimize the amount of time you spend procrastinating about writing. Every time you say to yourself, “I really should start writing…” or, “I hate writing but I guess I have to do it,” or “why do I have to write?” you’re making the job of writing seem even worse for yourself. 

Now I know that, for you, mornings may not be available. Perhaps you have kids to feed and get off to school. Maybe you’re not a morning person and by the time you wake yourself up you’re practically thrown into phone calls or a morning commute. Or conceivably, you’ve put exercise first on your list and it’s more important to you than writing. If any of these situations describes you, then figure out the next available time of day you can write. Maybe you can take five to 15 minutes of your lunch break to write (ideally in a coffee shop or a library, not in your office where you might be vulnerable to interruption.)

3-Start small. People procrastinate not because they’re lazy but because the job is too overwhelming or too uncomfortable. Yes, your book may need to be 80,000 words or your dissertation more than 100,000, but don’t let those numbers cross your mind (and therefore intimidate you) while you’re writing. Focus only on the number of words you want to write that day. And until you’ve built up a long-term sustainable writing habit, I’d suggest keeping that total small. Start with 200 words. (And even if it stays at just 200 words a day for an entire year, you’ll have accumulated 73,000 words during that time.) But if you feel comfortable, you can gradually increase that total and do a little more each day. Just make sure that your increases are so gradual you barely notice them. 

4-Create conditions that allow you to focus. We all have different demands for our writing selves. I need a relatively clean desktop and a treadmill on which I can walk. I like a little bit — but not a lot — of noise. Your specs may be different and that’s fine. Just be aware of the conditions that allow you to shine. In particular, if you are easily distracted by the internet (or your cellphone) consider shutting them down while you write. 

5-Have a backup plan. So let’s imagine the worst. You plan to write at 8 am and you have a morning appointment. Try to identify another time during the same day at which you’re going to be able to write. Maybe it’s lunchtime. Maybe it’s right after dinner. Not ideal, no. But remember, you’re not aiming for perfection here. You just want to accumulate a small number of words. Every day.

Keep reminding yourself that you’re not aiming for perfection. Your idea is to aim for a success rate of 90 to 95%. And if you can do that, you’ll be doing far better than 90 to 95% of the rest of the writing population.

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Need some help developing a better 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.

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How does your writing routine work for you? 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 April 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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