The Power of a Writing Routine


It's almost poetic that today's entry is a couple of days late. Since last month, I've been trying to get new entries up each Monday. Because of my odd work schedule, this sometimes means that I actually have to sit down and write them on Saturday night. Well, I'll be honest with you. This past Saturday I did a whole lot of nothing. I just wasn't feeling it, so I willfully broke my routine. Now it's Tuesday night and I'm still paying for it. Instead of starting my new story, I'm catching up on the blog.

Is there a lesson in this? Of course. Shamefully, it's a lesson I've already learned. Procrastination is not alien to me--it's practically been my middle name since I was a kid. But I thought I'd already slayed this particular beast, at least as far as writing is concerned. I suppose this just goes to show it can rear its ugly head at any time if you let it.

So how do you prevent that? Well, there are a lot of answers to that question. But this entry is going to focus on one of the most powerful ways to address it: establishing a firm routine (and sticking to it).

Act Like a Professional

If you've been following my blog closely at all, there's a good chance at some point you've heard me singing praise for The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It's a book that's helped me tremendously as a writer, in more ways than one, but primarily it taught me to start treating writing like an honest-to-goodness profession. And the true mark of a professional is not the number of checks he's cashed or the accolades he's acquired. It's the amount of hard work and elbow grease he's willing to put in to achieve his goals. It's the respect and professionalism he's willing to apply to his craft. But first and foremost, it's taking that initial step out of amateurville and saying, this is not just a hobby. Only then can you stop treating it like one.

What does that mean? Well, think about it for a second. When do you write? Do you find the time to write or make the time to write? Do you write whenever the muse calls or do you schedule a daily meeting at your desk and show up whether she does or not?

Let me put it another way. My most practiced hobby is definitely video games. I play them to death, but only when the mood strikes. I would never "make" myself play video games. I don't schedule a gaming time and then set aside whatever else is going on to make sure I adhere. I just play whenever I feel like gaming. If this description of my video game habit sounds like your current writing routine, you're most likely still in amateurville.

Let's contrast that with my writing schedule. Every night by midnight at the absolute latest, I strive to be at my desk, hands on keyboard. The only exception is when my job interferes, and if I got my way that would never happen (a fellow can dream). When I let my playful id get the best of me and put my routine aside . . . well, then my blog goes up two days late, among other things. If it happened every day, I wouldn't get anywhere near as much writing done. I'm no Stephen King, but I'm easily twice as prolific now as I was just a few short years ago, and I owe that productivity to my nightly routine.

A Challenger Appears . . .

Now I won't sit here and pretend that we're living the same life, with the same challenges and obligations. I'm sure more than a few of you tilted your head at the fact that my writing sessions begin at midnight. And it is undoubtedly more difficult for some than for others to balance a professional writing routine with the demands of their daily lives. I assure you, it's the honest effort that counts. Even if you don't have time for more than a few hundred words a day, the important part is that you found a way to get your butt in that chair, hell or high water.

Speaking of challenges, I think I'll end this entry by issuing one to my fellow writers. If you've yet to try writing to a set routine, I challenge you to give it a try. Come up with a daily schedule for the next two weeks, setting aside as large a block of time as you can for a writing session, and stick to it. I'm willing to bet you'll see a marked improvement of output. If you take me up on it, be sure to let me know how you did. Leave a comment, tweet, or what have you.

In the mean time, I'll do my best to follow my own advice. Hopefully, I'll see you next Monday.

photo credit: badboy69 via cc

Comments

  1. I couldn't agree more. A writing routine is the single, strongest thread that keeps your writing together.

    The mind is a powerful beast. If you feed it and train it, it will work for you and help you achieve anything you set your mind to. If you let it run free and scattered for too long, however, it will turn wild and leave you stranded.

    Writing stories is no easy thing. We need to pay attention to so many things, and there are so many issues to take care of whether they're directly related to our work or not. It's damn easy to lose track of things. But treating your writing like a profession, and having a schedule you stick to, is a sure way to get back on track and stay on it.

    I can only support this and attest to its validity. I can't imagine having to fight my own dispersal and lack of consistency, on top of all the day-to-day stuff and the distractions. How would that ever be better than a productive routine?

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    1. If left to my own wiles and devices, the procrastinator in me would have me spend all my free time playing video games, watching movies, reading, and all of the other fun stuff I love. It would make for great down time, but I sure as hell wouldn't be writing anything. What little I did would probably be so out of practice that no editor could save it! In fact, I probably wouldn't be typing this right now, because this blog probably wouldn't exist. :P

      Thanks for reading, Vero.

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  2. Hmm, I had never thought about comparing the hobby of video games to the craft of writing in terms of, I guess, how it defines whether yer an amateur or not. Really good point, and I agree, and am happy that I must be doing something right by slowly building a writing routine.

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    1. Absolutely! I bet you're already seeing the benefits of a consistent routine, no? The video game comparison could be replaced with any time consuming hobby, really. I just know it's the one hobby of mine that vies for my attention the most.

      Thanks for the comment, magic mint!

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  3. You know, I know this to be true and I phases where my routine goes well then gets interrupted by holiday or illness and I have to work back up again. I am going to get back into a routine, you have inspired me!

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    1. No worries, even the most disciplined among us are going to hit a pothole here and there. That's life. What matters is climbing back aboard and setting yourself back on the path of professionalism.

      Glad to be of service, VikLit!

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  4. Since I am working on my next book and participating in BuNo, I definitely have a set routine for my writing every evening. I do the same for my guitar playing.
    And with you on the games...

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    1. Alas, my guitars don't get near the attention they deserve. At one time, it would have made more sense to use that as the example instead of video games, but I'm long out of practice. I really hope to correct that one of these days.

      Thanks for stopping by, Alex.

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  5. This came in perfect time - I was using browsing blogs to procrastinate! Got me back to working so thanks :) For me being consistent means I also am more productive. Whenever I take a longer break I notice it is so much harder and takes so much longer to produce anything!

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    1. Glad to hear it! I'm the same as you, Katharina--the longer I put it off, the tougher it is to get back on the horse.

      Thanks for reading.

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  6. So true. Maybe if I stop treating my writing as a hobby, I'd actually get something published. I've been coming down hard on myself lately, resulting in a pretty crappy attitude. I write, revise and stash it away! What good can come of that? It's high-time to start being professional about it. Great post. :))

    What an interesting image of the eye. Captivating.

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    1. That's the spirit, Candilynn!

      I always think of it this way: how would my boss at the job react if I just started coming in whenever I felt like it? I think it's a huge help if you can be the boss when it comes to your own writing. Hold yourself to the same standard you'd expect from someone who was doing a job for you.

      Good luck! And thanks for stopping by.

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  7. I actually took all of my video games, put them in a box and stuffed them on a shelf in the basement. Amazing how much more productive I became! Routines are--like you said-- a great idea. Sometimes I do the "I don't feel like it," thing and come to regret it later. I've been doing much better with that sort of thing lately and lo and behold, I'm getting things done in a timely manner! Great post, JW.

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    1. I would probably get even more done if I followed your example and stashed all of the video games away as well. But I . . . just . . . can't! Their hold on me is too powerful! Besides, I get to pretend I'm doing "research" when I play a scifi or fantasy game. But seriously, kudos for taking that step. That's awesome. Glad to hear it's working out for you.

      Thanks, Randi!

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