The Writing Life: Routine

to do list

When I was in my 20s, I thought having a routine meant you were in a rut. Life should be spontaneous and doing the same thing over and over did not appeal to me at all! I was quite nomadic. Always carrying a backpack with a few essentials because I never knew where life would take me. I didn’t know how freeing a routine could be.

I like to think of a routine as two or more habits grouped together. Gretchen Rubin stated that “With habits, we don’t make decisions, we don’t use self-control, we just do the thing we want ourselves to do.” We have many habits. Brushing our teeth. Showering. Washing dishes while preparing a meal. A routine helps us do more of the things we want to do without having to give those tasks much thought. This helps with procrastination and other feelings that might get in the way. No matter how tired I am, I brush my teeth, remove cosmetics, wash my face and moisturize before going to bed.

Developing routines can be so beneficial. A morning practice such as showering, having coffee (or tea) and a bite before work can ensure that you’re starting the day out right. And if, for any number of reasons, you don’t get enough sleep, having the habit of a morning routine will ensure a poor night’s sleep doesn’t wreck your whole day. Being tired makes me crabby but a shower makes me feel better.

Having a routine is very grounding and being grounded is important to a balanced life. As writers, we are not always the best at self-care. Sometimes we forget to eat. Sometimes we can’t sleep because the ideas and words keep flowing. When we’re in the middle of a project, sometimes that is all we can think about. Much of our time is spent writing, researching, and thinking about the writing. Some of us spend time planning and outlining each chapter of our book. Some of us develop detailed character sketches. Being a writer means often being consumed by our work. Routines can keep us healthy and on track with all aspects of our lives. We don’t want to neglect our health or our relationships.

Maintaining routines can ensure that we take time for ourselves and the people we love while ensuring that we have writing time in our busy lives. This is especially important if we work a full-time job to pay the bills. It is challenging to make a living from writing. Author Scott Tyrell quantifies how much he gets paid for writing in his blog. It’s not a lot right now. Like Scott, I have a day job to pay the bills. I work full time in addition to my editing and coaching work, writing, cooking, shopping, spending time with my spouse and our dog, and everything else that constitutes a life these days. If we didn’t have a routine to write regularly, our stories wouldn’t be told. 

The trick to routines is making sure that they don’t become rigid. We want the behaviors that make up a routine to become automatic so that we complete tasks without having to think too much about it. Thinking rather than doing can lead to procrastinating and other forms of resistance. On the other hand, if a routine is too fixed it can lead to problems. We need to be flexible. If I used the last of the coffee the day before (and forgot to buy some more), I’m going to be very upset with myself and I’m not going to have a good morning. My morning routine is out the window. Rather than just being upset and going to work upset and out of sorts, I could skip breakfast to get out the door earlier. Then, I can use that time for a quick stop at a coffee shop and grab some food there as well coffee. I can treat myself to a nice breakfast I didn’t (and would rarely) cook for myself. Maybe I’ll have ham, cheese and egg on a croissant! Or a blueberry scone! I usually eat something healthier like fruit, nuts, and low-fat yogurt. But going outside my comfortable behaviors can be a nice treat on the rare occasion rather than an upsetting and frustrating event.

Similarly, if you always write in the same place and at the same time, a break in the routine may not be as welcome. If you’re used to writing in a coffee shop and it’s closed due to lack of staff or renovations, where will you go to write that is busy and noisy? It might be better to have a routine where you write in different situations – quiet and noisy and, if you don’t have a day job, at different times, so that you can quickly and easily adjust to a change and still be able to meet your writing goals.

It’s good to have productive routines but remember to be flexible when normal routine is broken so that you can still achieve your goals.

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