3 Ways to Establish a Writing Routine: Insights From a Month of Writing
It feels as if I’ve been writing for a month on end. Truth be told, I’ve been writing for a very long time! But after this month of writing furiously, I might know everything there is to know about creating and sticking with the practice. Here are three ways to establish a writing routine, drawn from a month on the blog and between the pages.
1. To establish a writing routine, set realistic, meaningful goals.
After a month of writing, this is my number one tip for establishing a writing routine. Your goals, first and foremost, need to be realistic. Then they need to be meaningful.
If you only have a half hour a day to devote to writing, full stop — and you know this going in — then formulate your goals around that half hour. That half hour is everything. That half hour contains your writing life and your writing practice. So it’s probably a bad idea to set a goal like, “I’m going to write 2,000 words a day,” unless you’re a superhuman. Writing 2,000 words an hour is pretty darn hard for most people, let alone in a half hour.
If you set unrealistic goals, you’ll pay the price in failure. I’m not being pessimistic here. I’m telling you the truth. Even setting a goal that sits towards the unrealistic end of the spectrum will still take its toll. For example, if I said I was going to write 10 blog posts a day… While that would be physically possible, I probably wouldn’t be very happy after a month doing it. And a lot of those blog posts might not feature things I really wanted to write about. Read my post on the numbers game for more insight into how I think about plugging and chugging.
Consistency is key.
Need this be said? It could be a whole point on its own, of course, but it’s been said so many times that I’ve relegated it to a subsection. When you’re trying to establish a writing routine, you’re going for a routine, which means you’re going for consistency. In terms of routine, it’s no good to write 3,000 words three days in a row, crash and burn on the fourth day and write nothing, then write 500 the next day. Nope. Not a healthy writing practice. I’m not saying writing can’t get done that way, I’m just saying that that isn’t a routine.
A routine is getting up every morning, sitting down, and plugging away until you have those 500 words or those two blog posts or whatever you’re working on. And even if one day you wake up and stare at the screen for two hours, you’ve still maintained your routine, because you’ve still come to the place and time where you write with the intention of writing. I’ll talk more about this in a bit, but it’s important not to sweat it too much when things don’t go exactly to plan.
Setting meaningful goals
Keep in mind, of course, that the goals you set have to be meaningful as well as realistic. What’s a meaningful goal? A goal that has meaning to you. This means that you need to shut out external factors. When you’re establishing a writing routine, think about writing and writing alone. Meaningful goals might come in the form of a daily word count you want to hit, or in the form of, “I’m going to finish the second act of my novel this month,” or in the form of, “I’m going to write 100 blog posts this month.”
Meaningful writing goals are NOT things like, “My blog is going to get 1,000 views this month” or, “I’m going to make $100 off my books this month.” Those aren’t writing goals. They’re marketing goals.
Having big, overarching marketing goals and audience goals is important. But these goals don’t belong in a discussion of your writing routine and practice. Think about what you want out of your writing, then set a goal that is both realistic and meaningful to you.
2. Create a writing schedule.
Now, listen, I hate schedules as much as the next chaotic-minded soul, but they have their place in establishing a writing routine. Sigh.
But the good news, for you fellow non-planners out there, is that your schedule can be as rigorous as you want and/or need it to be. Which means that it doesn’t have to be rigorous if you’re not looking for rigor.
You could plan out every hour of time you have to devote to writing. Some people do that. But for me, making a schedule consists of having a “scheduled” block of time that I devote to writing. I create blog posts in the mornings, from roughly 6:30 to 10:00 AM. I take a brief break and usually am back at it by 11:30 and work until around 1:30 or 2 PM. I devote the afternoon block up until around 7 or 7:30 PM to social media perusal and marketing — and reading. Then I work on my creative writing from around 7:30 to 9, and then I go to bed. Yes, I have a very early bedtime. But I also get up early, which lets me harness the hours that are best for my mind.
Tailor your writing schedule to you and your best operating practices.
Okay, now that I made us all sound like robots… But seriously. I function best in the morning. This is how it’s been my whole life. So if I want to prioritize writing, which I do, then I reserve that morning slot for writing.
If you’re a night owl, you’ll probably want to reserve some of those wee hours for writing, if writing is your priority. (And since you’re reading about ways to establish a writing routine, I’m guessing writing falls somewhere on that list.) I can’t tell you what your schedule should look like. Only you can tell yourself that.
Depending on what you do all day, it’ll clearly have to revolve around your other concerns. You probably shouldn’t be writing during that important meeting, but during lunch break? You can probably snag a couple hundred words if you try at it. You know yourself and you know your day. Schedule accordingly.
3. Pick yourself back up if you fall down.
For me, establishing a writing routine has always been easy. In fact, I’ve pretty much had the same writing routine for over 10 years. But here’s the thing. For many of those ten years, I was an elementary school, then middle school, then high school student. I didn’t have many obligations. Then I entered college and because I made the dubious choice to prioritize writing over schoolwork, I still didn’t have many obligations.
The most difficult time for me, writing routine-wise, has historically been over the summer, when I’m working pretty much full time. And this is the position that you may be in! Or you may have screaming kids! I babysit. I know what that’s like. Believe me, I don’t get much writing done during those babysitting sessions, even when the kid finally gets to sleep in the evening. I’m so exhausted by then that I usually just want to sit and watch YouTube videos into oblivion.
When you’re leading a busy life and trying to work a writing routine into that mess, some small failures are inevitable. The day may come when you can’t muster the energy to pick up that pen or put your fingers on the keyboard. You might get horribly sick (let’s hope this one doesn’t happen). Or your kid might get sick, and you might have to spend all night fretting about whether or not to take him to the hospital. Work might dump a really large assignment on you.
Don’t expect to stick to your writing routine perfectly.
Or you’ll be disappointed. People are rarely perfect. And that, unfortunately, includes you and me. Granted, I did pretty well this past month, but there were days when I just didn’t feel like doing much more, when I was pretty much drained. But I always picked up the next day or the next couple hours and got back on track. That’s the important thing. Remember, consistency is key.
I hope you’ve found some insight in my words. I’m tasking you now to go off and establish your writing routine, however you think it ought to look like. Good luck! I’m sure you’ll sparkle.
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And can I just say before I go that there’s nothing more wholesome than a Ticonderoga pencil? (Courtesy to the image at the top of the page for putting that thought in my head!)
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