Messing with the Routine

I have followed a pretty strict writing routine for the past 18 months. It went a little something like this (minus the nuances):

5am: Wake up. Walk the dog.
6am: Shower. Breakfast
7am – 12pm: Write/edit (predominately working on novel, though sometimes I’d work on blogs or short articles)
12-1pm: Lunch. Domestic jobs
1-6pm: Work at part-time job
6-7pm: Shower. Dinner
7-9:30pm: Reading
9:30pm: Bed

During this 18 months, two factors allowed me to streamline my routine and minimise distractions. The first being that I was no longer living at home. Having chosen to complete a masters degree in another city, I reduced my costs renting rooms off families looking to make some extra cash. A by-product of this decision was an instant shrinking of my domestic duties (I was only responsible for keeping my room clean and tidying up after cooking). By moving to a different city, I was also moving away from family and friends which caused a dramatic reduction in the number of social invitations. Though I made new friends, the number of social invites was significantly less.

The second factor was much more intentional. I consciously chose to streamline my routine because studies have proven what we have all long known to be true: making decision is exhausting. By intentionally reducing the number of decisions I had to make on any given day, I was saving my mental energy for the projects that actually mattered. Also, many of the authors who I’ve long admired reportedly kept strict routines. (The one exception being women with small children).

In his book, The Boy Behind the Iron Curtain, Tim Winton says that he is his most productive when sticking to a disciplined writing routine, though he does admit that after a while this can also becoming uninspiring and stifling.

But then, my studies ended and I went home.

Suddenly, my strict “I must write every morning routine” no longer work.

A friend called and invited me over for a coffee. My partner suggested a road trip. My folks came up for a visit. The dog escaped. We moved house. The washing needed to be done. The garden needed to be watered. I was in my life again.

And my “Writing Routine” no longer fit in my life.

But Jesus did I try to make it fit.

I’d ask my friend if we could move the catch up to the afternoon. I’d take my laptop on trips away. I’d scribble article ideas into my phone with the intent of writing them up later. The dog was allowed inside. I did washing and watering between page edits.

But my word count was less than half of what it was when I was studying full-time and working part-time.

Needless to say, I was starting to become a wee bit frustrated, partly because I had some pretty big goals I wanted to kick over within a six-month period. And the morning sessions just weren’t cutting it.

“I just need to write!”

“I can only write in the mornings!”

“I’m a lark, didn’t you read my latest blog post! I’ve got a three-hour window in the morning and that’s it!”

I was super charming to be around.

One day, while flogging the dead-horse of “I’m not writing enough”, a writer mate gently suggested that I get over myself and make a new routine.

A new routine? You can do that?

So, following said friend’s advice, I decided to completing mess up my routine for one week. If I didn’t write in the morning because something came up, it simply meant that I had to clock in my hours in the afternoon or at night. Even if I was tired. Even if it was outside my “peak energy” time. Even if I didn’t want to.

The following is a brief break down of my messed-up routine across one week and an approximate word count by day’s end.

Friday 4/8/2017:

5-7am: Wake up, read for roughly an hour and have breakfast
7-1pm: Work on third draft of novel
1-1:30pm: Lunch
1:30-5pm: Work across multiple essays for possible publication
5-6pm: Take dog for a walk
6-7:30pm: Work on eBook series
7:30-8pm: Dinner
8-10pm: TV

Word count: 4000 words

Saturday 5/8/2017:
5-7:30am: Wake up, do prep cooking for week
7:30-10am: Work on novel
10-11am: Exercise bike
11-12:30pm: Work on eBook series
12:30-5:30pm: Cooking session as a friend’s house
5:30-7:30pm: Got lost in a wormhole
7:30-8:30pm: Dinner and some light editing for partner
8:30-10:30pm: Reading 

Word count: 2000 words

Sunday 6/8/2017:
6:30am: Sleep in (Boy-howdy!)
7-8:30am: Take dog for a run
8:30-9am: Shower, get myself sorted
9-11:30am: Visit with barista friend and consuming disturbing amounts of caffeine
12ish??: Breakfast? Lunch? I was entering hangry territory at this point so it’s difficult to say
12-1pm: Grocery shop
1-2:30pm: Log on to The Artifice and comment on other writer’s essays and make suggestions about possible revisions (while feeling completely inadequate to do so)
2:30-4pm: Brainstorm blog ideas and draft articles longhand
4-5pm: Water garden and hang with partner
5-6pm: Work on eBook series
6-7pm: Dinner and junk TV
7-9:30pm: Call mum (such a good daughter)
9:30pm: Bed

Word count: Approx. 2000 words

Monday 7/8/2017:
6-7am: Wake up, make coffee, mentally prepare myself to enter screenland
7-10:30am: Work on novel
10:30-11:30: Work on eBook series
11:30-12:30: Type up handwritten article from yesterday
12:30-1pm: Lunch break
1-2:30pm: Work on essays for publication
2:30-3:30pm: Take dog for a run
3:30-5pm: That damn wormhole showed up again
5-6:30pm: Work on novel
6:30-7pm: Dinner
7-9:30pm: Reading

Words count: 6000 words (Boy-howdy!)

Tuesday 8/8/2017:
5-8am: Wake up, breakfast, (needed an additional hour to mentally prepare for screenland)
8-12pm: Work on novel
12-1:30pm: Lunch, domestic crap
1:30-2:30pm: Work on eBook
2:30-4:30pm: Edit magazine articles and research new publishing opportunities
4:30pm-5:30pm: Yoga (like for reals)
5:30pm-6:30pm: Pack and get stuff ready for tomorrow’s trip
5:30-10:30pm: Go to a friend’s house for vegan din-dins (delish as always Bron!)

Word count: 3000 words

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday:
I was travelling to visit family these days, so not a lot of writing happened; managed to do about an hour of editing though.

Word count: 0 new words, 1000 words of editing.

The total word count for my messed up routine was 17,000. Granted, I lost three whole days when I went to visit family, so really this total occurred across four days (not seven). However, my average weekly word count when using my original morning routine was around 10,000 – so, I actually worked less days, but produced a higher word count.

So, the take away?

Wormholes are bad.

Oh, and being ridged about your writing routine may be more of a hindrance than a help.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve got A LOT more flexibility in my routine than most people do, but I hope this blog inspires you to try something a little different this week. If you like writing in the morning – do that! – but why not carve out a quick fifteen minutes session at night as well? To make this exercise a little more casual, consider working longhand (FYI: this technique can also enhance your creative thinking).

In her book, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande says that you must train your brain to write any time, any place. We all have stuff we need to get done, and that stuff can feel so much more important than hitting our word count, but by choosing to write at different times every day, you can train your writerly brain to be more flexible. Rather than moulding your relationships and responsibilities around a ridged routine, you can instead wrap your writing around your life.

Just try not to get sucked into too many wormholes.

Image: Saudi Hawks 9383 by Andrew Menage

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