Align Your Writing Goals With Your Routine

A few weeks ago, a viewer left a comment on one of my YouTube videos saying that they only enjoyed writing for an hour a day, after that, their joy disappears. They worried that it wasn’t long enough and that they ought to be doing more. They worried over whether this feeling was normal, and if so, should they push through this threshold and grind out the story.

I replied to their comment, but felt there was more that I wanted to say…

Writing rules and advice are yardsticks that our inner-critic loves to beat us up with whenever we fail to ‘measure up’.

A common myth about writers is that they spend all day bent over their keyboards wrestling with their untamed manuscript. In this vision, the writer is wearing over-sized glasses, their hair is pleasing dishevelled, their sweater is artfully torn, and there is a half-drunk mug of coffee (or whisky) beside them … and they’ve been at it all day–or all night–working away on their masterpiece.

They are alone. The room is quiet. Maybe a dog sleeping in the corner.

What is missing from this scene is a partner knocking on the door, kids running down the hall, the TV blaring in the other room, a pile of laundry waiting at their feet, an overgrown lawn that needs mowing, a car that has to be dropped off to the mechanic …

Years ago, I read Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Still Writing, and in it, she shared her ideal writing day.

It was pretty simple.

To paraphrase, Dani would wake-up, have breakfast with the family, prepare lunch for her son (then school-aged), put on a slow cook meal (e.g. crockpot), take the dog for a walk, then write/edit/admin from 9am-4pm. She broke up her workday with some meditation and yoga, and then it ended with dinner and a glass of wine.

How often did this full-time, award-winning, and beloved author experience her ideal writing day?

About once a week.  

More often than not, her writing days were interrupted by domestic chores, errands, travel, appointments… you know, life.

As Joanna Penn says, ‘What you can’t pay for with money, you pay for with time.’ If you don’t have the funds to hire a cleaner, a personal assistant, nanny, or dog walker, then you’re going to have to do these tasks yourself just like the rest of us.

It is a false belief that a full-time writer writes for eight hours a day.

Look, people don’t talk about this, but is really exhausting.

We all know that writing isn’t coal mining, but it also isn’t sitting on a chaise lounge in the warm sunlight with a glass of iced tea as the words drip out like rare honey.

Rollo welcomes you to their writing space.

Writing is work.

It’s tremendously fun, challenging, satisfying, and frustrating work, but it is also exhausting work.

Why?

Because writing is relentless decision making, especially during the drafting phase. Not only are you making decisions about what will happen next, you are building human beings (how they speak, their backstory, their behaviours) and alternative worlds (even if you are writing realist fiction).

Building a human or a world is a big deal. That shit is complicated.  

The reason why morning routines and checklists are so popular is that they reduce the amount of decision you have to make.

Making decisions for eight hours straight is a big ask.

This is why you’ll find that many writers only write for 2-3 hours a day (Stephen King, Steven Pressfield, Joanna Penn). Some write a little longer (Margaret Atwood, JK Rowling, Ernst Hemmingway average six hours a day) and some write a little less (Gertrude Stein wrote for just thirty minutes a day).

What do they do for the rest of the day? Teach, read, critique, edit, and a whole lot of email (except for Gertrude and Ernest cos they’re dead, lucky bastards).

Some authors write their books in just fifteen minutes a day!

There is no right way to write.

You don’t need to write for six hours a day to be considered a ‘real writer’; tiny steps can lead to big goals.

However, I would add the small caveat that how much you write and how you approach writing should be aligned with ‘why’ you write. (NB: you may have multiple motivations for writing).

A ‘real writer’ always types while holding a cappuccino.

You may write because…

  • You want to be famous.
  • You want writing to be your full-time job.
  • You love books and are inspired to create one yourself.
  • You love language.
  • You love the mental stimulus and challenge of making a story work.
  • Creating stories is fun.
  • You want to move others the way that you have been moved through literature.
  • You’ve lived through a challenging time and want to share your experience to help others.

Plus, another million reasons.

If your motivation for writing is to generate a full-time income by self-publishing several novels a year using the ‘rapid release’ model, then an hour a day isn’t going to get you there.

If you write because it’s fun, relaxing, and a creative outlet, then writing for an hour a day is perfect.

I’ve spoken about this before, but it’s worth repeating, writing isn’t always fun. At least for me, but then, ‘fun’ isn’t one of my whys. (You can click here to read my whys). 

For me, most days writing feels fine. It feels natural and satisfying. I feel like I am putting my time to good use (a feeling I rarely have while running errands or doing paid work outside of the writing/publishing/academic spectrum).

There are moments when writing feels wildly joyous, and then there are days when I am white-knuckling through every word. I write even when it’s hard because:

1. I want to get better.
2. a bad day of writing is better than a good day doing anything else.
3. I made a promise to myself and the story.

But that’s just me.

Writing is a creative practise, and like all creative practises, you get to customise it.

Tune into why you want to write and then create a structure and routine that is in alignment with, and supportive of, that feeling or goal.

You can write for fifteen minutes every day or once a month (not gonna lie though, every day is easier!).

You get to decide what writing looks like for you, so decide wisely.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you compare your writing routine to other more ‘established’ authors? Do you worry that you’re not a ‘real writer’ because of X, Y, Z? And if so, what do you do to silence your inner-critic and get back to work? Also, I would love to know what your ‘whys’ are, so leave a comment below!


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Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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