For writers, the boundaries between work and life have always been blurry — now even more so.
Most of us are working from home which means that we can dip in and out of our work whenever we want (more or less). Our schedules and routines have become more flexible, but they have also become messier. (*Insert obvious disclaimer).
For most of us, writing is a task that we fit around other responsibilities, and now we can tend to those responsibilities pretty much whenever.
When the normal structure of our daily lives is taken away it can feel liberating, but it’s not without its dark side. When this external pressure is removed, it is far too easy to put off the completing of tasks or the pursuit of personal goals and to give into procrastination and laziness.
The following five steps are designed to create a writing routine that is effective, robust, but above all simple.
And we can all do with a little more simple right now.
Want to reinvigorate your writing routine?
Start with the lowest lying fruit: your environment.
Hate your office? Good, change it.
Move your desk to a different location; clear off all the scraps of paper, notebooks, pens that don’t work, pencil sharpenings, dirty mugs and plates, receipts (you still accept receipts?); wipe everything down and vacuum up them dust bunnies.
If you’re the kind of person who thrives in a state of chaos, skip the above step but be sure to follow the next.
Make your space aesthetically pleasing. We’re all spending a phenomenal amount of time in our homes right now, so the least you can do is make your space feel cosy and inviting, whatever that looks like for you.
Open a window; turn on the aircon/heater/fan; fill up your water bottle; make a pot of tea; put on some music; light a candle; wear whatever you imagine a ‘real’ writer would wear (black turtle neck and a scowl; a flowing purple kimono; plain white tee and no pants).
Make things pleasant for yourself.
#2 Decide on a goal
Whether you make daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly goals, this step is essential to ensuring that the ideas in your head become words on the page.
The easiest way to go from zero to completed draft is to first decide what your BIG goal is (essay/short story/novel) and map out all the mini-goals that make up the completion of the big goal.
A goal has to be specific, measurable, and have a deadline, otherwise how do you know if you’ve reached it?
Let’s say your goal is to write a first draft in three months. Great, you’ve identified a project and set yourself a deadline. How are you going to get there? What are the mini-step involved in completing this task?
- Set daily/weekly word counts: 500/1000/2000 words per writing session
- Set time goals: 1-4 hours, Monday-Friday
- Set page count goals: 3 pages a day
How you track your project is irrelevant; the only thing that matters is that you decide on a tracking method that best support your working style and the completion of your goal.
#3 Identify your optimum working hours
What does ‘optimum working hours’ mean? Basically, it’s the time/s of day that you feel fresh, energetic, creative, and clear minded.
Put it another way, are you a morning, afternoon, or evening person?
Most of us know which of these three categories we fall into. Once you’ve identified your optimum working hours, look at your schedule and see if you can squeeze a writing session into this time period.
If that’s not possible, ask yourself what about this time of day works for you.
For example, if you prefer to work in the mornings, maybe it’s because this time of day is quieter as you haven’t been steamrolled by emails, texts, or requests. If that’s the case, you may find that you can also write after dinner when the demands of work and the house have slow down.
There are only so many good hours in a day, so make those hours count.
#4 The Pomodoro technique + rewards
The Pomodoro technique is super easy. Set a timer for 25 minutes, write in a feverish heat, take a five-minute back, repeat until your writing session is over.
The whole idea behind the Pomodoro technique is that it is easier (and more effective) to work in short, intense bursts. (Want the data to back this up? Read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work).
By setting a timer, you create an external sense of pressure, a false belief that you only have ‘this much time to work’, so you’re less likely to procrastinate on email, social media, or baking cakes.
A caveat: during your five minute break, do not check your email or go on to social media.
Why? Because you are unlikely to read and write an adequate reply to an email, tweet, or comment within this five-minute window.
If you read an email, run out of time to reply, and then go back to your manuscript, your brain will still be thinking about that email and crafting a possible reply. In short, you won’t be concentrating on your book.
During your break, get up, and do something unrelated to your writing. Get a drink of water, pat the dog, yell at the kids, read a news articles, stare out the window. Give your brain a legitimate break so that you can return for another session refreshed.
Coupling the Pomodoro technique with rewards is like cherries with dark chocolate; marshmallows with hot chocolate; chocolate with chocolate.
A simple reward is to stick a gold star sticker (or any kind of sticker … I suppose) in your diary/planner every time you complete a session, or you can track your sessions in a bullet journal.
If you respond to more elaborate rewards, you could watch a short YouTube video, listen to a song, read a few pages of a book, or eat a piece of chocolate.
Whatever. If you opt for a bigger reward, save your indulgence for when you’ve completed your writing session rather than splurging between Pomodoro sprints.
#5 Create a bad day goal
This is so important.
Sometimes, life gets a little crazy.
You over schedule yourself; book back to back meeting; have back to back deadline; a laundry list of errands (because you’ve put everything off for a month); wake up to pandemic …
And sometimes, we’re emotionally, energetically, or mentally exhausted.
On these bad days, what is the least you could do that would still feel meaningful?
Feeling burnout or stressed out? Maybe you could write one crappy sentence.
Have six meetings scheduled? Maybe you could write a five minute outline for the scene you’re going to write tomorrow.
Do you need to go to the bank, grocery shop, mow the lawn, and scrub every surface of your house? Maybe you could spend that time reflecting on what will happen to your protagonist next.
Creating a bad day writing goal means that you are less like to throw in the towel and say, ‘Oh well, I just can’t write today.’
Your goal may be small – heck, that’s the point! – but completing this task will give you a deep sense of satisfaction, because in the middle of a bad day you still made time for your writing.
There you have it, folks. Now, I’d love to hear from you. What does your writing routine look like? How do you track your progression? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment below and tell me all about it.
Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.
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