Where my writers at?
If you enjoy writing blogs, books, poems, short stories or just some good, old diary diddles, and you’re hoping to produce ongoing work, setting a writing routine is essential. Every writing professor I ever had attempted to hammer this truth home. While I’d like to tell you that I immediately developed a fervent writing schedule flooded with notable dedication and discipline, that would be a lie. The truth is that I am only just now, after taking a personal writing retreat and getting a little push to do it, attempting to set and stick with a routine.
For me, lack of time seemed to be the enemy to progress, but really, it’s always been choices. Do I … sit glued in front of my computer for a dedicated amount of time regardless of whether rubbish or rubies emerge on the page? Or, do I jump on the couch after a long day of work, flip on the tube and watch someone else’s story play before me? I don’t know about you, but I’d like to start doing the first, even though the second often feels so good.
During my retreat in Buena Vista, I spent time researching different authors’ writing routines. I wanted to get a feel for how other people make the time. From C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain to Jane Austen and J.R. Tolkien, their schedules differed, but similar core principles emerged. Here’s what I discovered:
First and foremost, you have to just start. Personally, I’m still in an experimental phase with my exact schedule, but I have been waking up earlier to provide more time to write. It hasn’t been successful every day, but I am making progress.
When developing your writing routine, you do have to consider your primary responsibilities first: your job, family, and other commitments. Sadly, one must put making a livable wage above unpaid writing. If writing is your primary source of income, awesome! Please send some pointers my way.
At this point, I am not a full-time writer or author; well, not in the way that I want to be. I work in public relations and marketing, and about 90 percent of my job is writing, but it’s not the same as spending your day writing only what you want, on your project, no one else’s. Uh, the dream! I also recall hearing many a professor say that you will likely have to write about what you don’t want in order to eventually get to write about what you want. Here’s to hoping!
In the meantime, whatever your job and life situation, start making the time to write. If your schedule regularly changes, then fit your typing or penning into the gaps. I’ve found that deciding either the night before or early that morning works well as a starting place to developing a routine. See the space, set the time, stick to it!
2. Create your writing routine.
Now, after a couple weeks of dabbling, if you haven’t already found a starting routine, it’s time to get down to it and commit. I’m just about at the two-week marker, so I’ll let you know how well I’m keeping up with my own advice! Hoping to do a post about my specific routine once I’ve got it nailed down a bit more.
When reading about the authors’ writing routines, I noticed that multiple of them had set times for meals, teatimes and other breaks. C.S. Lewis in particular seemed to have a very regimented schedule. He had his day outlined from breakfast to bedtime. Here’s his routine:
8 a.m.- Breakfast
9 a.m.- Reading or writing at his desk
11 a.m.- Tea or coffee brought in (a preferred occurrence)
1 p.m.- Lunch
2 p.m.- Walking alone most commonly
4 p.m.- Perfectly timed return, arrival of tea and reading no later than 4:15
5 p.m.- Back to writing
7 p.m.- Supper, talk with friends, lighter reading, everything else
11 p.m.- Absolute latest for bedtime
You can read the excerpt from Lewis’s Surprised by Joy that details his routine, here.
Now, before you feel overwhelmed by the specificity, you should note that other writers simply committed themselves to large amounts of time hidden away to write. In that group, Mark Twain stuck with a very simple routine: eat breakfast and then lock yourself away to write until dinner. Depending on when he ate breakfast, that’s a good chunk of time stowed away.
3. Consider different hours.
One thing I noticed from Lewis’s routine was that he would write during the 5-7 p.m. hours. I typically workout during that time, but I am considering shifting things around. I’m married, so it wouldn’t really be fair to Nate, myself or our relationship to commit my evenings to writing. That’s why I’ve been trying to wake up earlier. Start my day before the sun rises with some reading and journaling, and then dive into personal writing.
If you have the flexibility, test out having your block of writing at different times during the day. Maybe during an extended lunch break, or after your second class if you’re in school. Find those open blocks and dedicate them to your writing. Thankfully, I have a flexible work schedule, so, for the most part, I’m able to rearrange when work hours happen and when my writing happens, along with when I work out, take Sadie to the dog park, cook dinner (a new direction for me for 2020) and so on.
4. Take beneficial breaks.
While not listed in every author’s daily regimen, multiple did mention taking breaks. Going on walks, exercising, or engaging in some other stimulating activity is encouraged. Activity stimulates the body and the brain. C.S. Lewis would go walk alone or with a friend who didn’t need to talk while they walked. He recommended not taking breaks that would inevitably lead to chit-chat and distraction.
Now, as stated before, not all authors specifically mentioned breaks as part of their routines. Writers like Victor Hugo and Mark Twain would simply lock themselves away for hours. It all comes down to finding what works best for you.
5. Read more.
In my research, I noticed that some of the authors specifically made time to read. It makes perfect sense. If you want to be a good writer, you should probably do a substantial amount of reading. I absolutely love the idea of reading! I always have. The smell of a perfectly brewed cup of coffee mingled with a hot apple pastry; even, warm lighting; a plush, deep, armed chair begging to hold you; and, a delicious tale of mystery, beauty, heroism and adventure in your hands. It’s a lovely idea, but somehow, I never actually make the time for it.
Reading is another area that I am trying to improve in 2020. I have always enjoyed books, but again, it comes down to a choice of time. Do I read a book or watch a movie? I almost always choose the latter. That’s why I think actually crafting reading into my routine is essential. I’ve even done some reading in combination with exercise – sitting on a bike with book in hand – so I can accomplish two goals at once. We’ve got to get creative, friends.
6. Find solitude.
A very common theme among these authors’ writing routines is solitude. Many would demand that they not be disturbed while tucked away in their studies. Twain’s family would actually blow a horn when they needed him rather than enter his study.
Some also noted, along with being alone, that they needed silence. I’m still testing this theory. I typically have music on while I write and work; sometimes I’ll even have a movie on that I’ve seen a zillion times. But, I do find myself pausing the screen or music player to work in silence now and again.
7. Drink tea … or coffee.
I had to add tea-drinking to the list because it helps complete the image in my mind of a dimly lit, wooded study where real writing happens. Plus, multiple writers, particularly those from the 19th and 20th centuries, noted tea as an essential part of their daily routine. While I don’t have the wooded study, I do have an Ikea kettle that boils and hisses to just the right temperature for a steamy cup of tea. One must assume that productive writing should often be coupled with hot coffee or tea.
8. Do what works for you.
In all of this, it really comes down to finding the writing routine that works best for you. Some writers have a daily quota of words they require of themselves rather than specified writing hours throughout the day. If sitting and writing until you have 1,500 or 2,000 or even 3,000 words on the page seems like a more motivating method for you, then give it a try. I can’t imagine sitting until I have 2,000 words typed, but maybe that’s not that much for a day’s work. With my current inexperience in daily, personal writing, it sounds like a great feat.
9. Just do it.
Once you have your routine developed, stick to it! Lock yourself away! Many of these writers would have large chunks of time that they would be stowed away in their office or even under their favorite tree to sit for hours at a time. If beautifully written words spring forth, wonderful! But, if you end up just sitting, thinking, and struggling for words, good! You’re fighting the necessary fight.
I remember my Travel Writing professor from Vanguard University telling our class that you have to stick with it; production will sometimes look like words on the page, and other days, it will simply be the discipline of being there. Creativity is a funny thing. Sometimes you have to just sit and mull before inspiration hits. I don’t know about you, but I never give dedicated time to the sitting and mulling. It’s like how the Bible tells us to meditate on the Word. Just think about it; mull it over; and over; and over.
10. Don’t give up.
Once you’ve set your writing routine, devote yourself to it. The difficulty is discipline; that’s where my struggle lies. I can get so excited about an idea; do it excitedly for a week; and then let it taper off into nothingness. It would be easy for me to feel the rush of setting up a writing routine, and then let life get in the way of actually using it. No doubt, life happens and things may get in the way at times, but I have the time now, so I’m going to take advantage of it.