If you’re here, you’ve probably already decided that you want to write. But there’s a big difference between having the desire and following through with it. Writing requires actually getting words on the page, and a writing routine is one way to make that happen. This post will discuss how to develop a writing routine and stick to it.
You can jump write in and simply set aside time to write each day, but I think it can be more helpful to start by evaluating yourself and your time.
First, consider when you feel the most motivated to be creative. Do you wake up with ideas itching to do something with them? Are you most creative when you wind down after work? Does your creativity come in spurts throughout the day based on what else is going on? You’ll want to harness these creative feelings.
It’s also worth considering what writing feels like for you. Is it joyful and easy? All consuming? Challenging? If being creative uses a lot of your energy and you still need to do other work, you’ll want to keep that in mind. Also think about what kind of environment is necessary for you to write. Your routine needs to work for you. There’s no use committing to a schedule that has you trying to write at the same time family or roommates are making supper if you know you need distraction-free time.
You should also look at your the time you have available. If you keep an agenda or journal, it’ll be easy to look for unscheduled chunks of time. If you don’t keep one, take a week or two and try to make note of your downtime. When do you have free time? Do these gaps of time appear regularly? If you don’t have any gaps, think about what activities are flexible or can withstand multitasking.
Now that you’ve evaluated yourself and your time, it’s time to actually schedule your writing time.
Ideally, you’ll have or be able to make free time during parts of the day when you’re at your most motivated and creative and that time will also meet your needs (just the right amount of background noise, minimal distractions etc.). But we rarely get ideals in life, so try not to worry too much about it being perfect. Instead, focus on setting aside the time.
Put it in your schedule, write it down, share it in the family calendar if you have to. Actively schedule it into your day or week and don’t back down from that plan (within reason, of course—health, safety, and emergencies shouldn’t be ignored).
Writing with a goal in mind can help you stay motivated. The key, though, is making goals that work for you.
Time goals are helpful early on in your writing routine because they’re all about the act of writing rather than the product. This takes some pressure off and helps you focus on just getting in front of the screen or notebook. And for those of us who are often busy, that can be half the battle.
Time goals are also flexible. You can also start small and build up your time as you adjust to a routine. You can also make changes when you know you’re going to have a busier week. Just make sure you don’t use this flexibility as an excuse to procrastinate or deprioritize writing.
As for what your time goals should be, that’ll depend on you and the self evaluation you’ve done. I like to have a daily goal, like “write for half an hour every day.” But you can make goals based on your schedule and needs. Maybe that means aiming for five hours of writing time in the week, or different amounts of time depending on the day—whatever seems like an achievable challenge.
Word Count Goals
A word count goal is simply a set amount of words you aim to write during a writing session or in a day, week, month etc.
Setting this kind of goal is useful if you want to be sure you’re producing in the time you set aside to write. A word count goal is also great for specific projects. For example, if you’re writing a novel in a genre where novels tend to be around 70,000 words, you can set 70,000 words as your end goal and then set mini word count goals along the way. During NaNoWriMo, participants aim to write 50,000 words in a month. That’s about 1,667 words per day over 30 days.
You’ll have to actually track your word count for this. Microsoft Word records total word count, so if you want to have a daily quota or track how much you write in a single writing session, you might have to do some math (end count minus start count) or use another app or a different writing program.
Project goals are similar to word count goals as they also focus on producing. Of course, you can work toward a final project with any of these goal types, but project goals are a way to break up your work into more manageable chunks.
With a novel project, you could use project milestones as your mini goals. For example, you could aim to write a scene or a chapter every day. With a memoir project or autobiography, you might aim to write by period, like aiming to write everything about the summer of 2015 in a week of writing time.
Use Tools To Follow Through
Whether you’re focusing on hitting a daily time goal or using the Pomedoro technique, a timer can be a good tool for keeping yourself focused and on task.
Some folks swear by kitchen timers, but you can always use Google too.
If you find yourself pulled toward apps on your phone or scrolling through social media on your computer, focus apps can help prevent your from indulging in distraction.
I use WasteNoTime on my computer to limit my time on certain sites. You can set “work hours” and create a “Block List” of sites that you want to limit in those hours. You can even set an instant lockdown if you want to focus for a set amount of time without setting up work hours.
There are several phone apps for focus. I’ve used Forest, which is a fun way to gamify not using your phone. The app lets you plant a tree at the beginning of your session, and if you exit the app for any reason, your tree will die. If you stay on the Forest app though, you’ll grow a nice little tree. Over time, you can end up with a whole forest.
If you don’t want to download anything extra on your phone, you can probably access a focus mode or app restriction feature in your phone’s settings. Different phones have different functions, but you can probably look under “accessibility,” “security,” or “digital wellbeing and parental controls.”
What is a writing routine if not a habit? I track my habits using a bullet journal. I make a grid at the beginning of the month and every day I complete one of the habits, I cross off a box. It’s a low-tech solution, but it’s satisfying to cross the box each day and to see a whole row of Xs at the end of the month. Plus, when you start to see a streak, you get motivated not to break it.
Speaking of incentives, why not reward yourself for staying on track every once in a while? If you’re the kind of person who finds rewards motivating, this can be a good way to celebrate and stay motivated.
Your rewards could be small things, like watching a ten-minute YouTube video after half an hour of writing, or larger things, like treating yourself to a day trip once you complete your project. Try to match the reward level to the goal (little rewards for smaller goals), so that your rewards don’t get in the way of continued work. You probably don’t want to watch a two-hour movie or spend a lot of money after writing a single short paragraph.
Reevaluate & Adjust
Once you start your routine, you might find it isn’t working for you. That’s okay. The trick is to not let a failure prevent your from trying again.
If you find your initial writing routine plans aren’t working, evaluate again. Think about what’s getting in the way and how you can reduce those factors.
Even if your routine is going well, you can always switch things up to try to find something even better or just to spice things up. Remember: it’s your writing routine. So long as it’s helping you write and it isn’t causing trouble in other parts of your life, then there’s no wrong way to develop or keep up with your routine.
I hope this post helps you get and keep your butt in the chair, as Anne Lamott would say. It might take time to find what works for you, but you’ll get there!