Google “writing routine” and you will quickly find that most great writers have some sort of process. Listening to music or to silence, waking up early or writing at night. Some are extremely disciplined, while some, like Khaled Hosseini, want no outline at all. Kurt Vonnegut’s daily schedule seems very appealing to me, of writing early, breaking for exercise, swimming at noon (I think I’d rather do something other than swim, though. Actually, anything other than swim). I loved this post outlining many quotes from famous writers about their processes.
As an Idealist personality, I feel like I’ve never mastered the writing process (or anything). I’m always beating myself up for not writing as often or as consistently as I should. In college, when I was optimistic and motivated, my writing routine looked like this:
5 a.m. — workout
6 a.m. — shower
6:45-8:20 a.m. — shower and write/edit anything and everything to my heart’s content
24/7 — jot down new ideas, scribble messy drafts, ponder on metaphors
These days, this is what my writing routine looks like:
6:00 p.m. — in yoga, teacher says something miraculous, think, “I must write a poem about this!”
7:00 p.m. — leave yoga in blissed-out state jotting down hippie-esque notes in my phone from class
6:00 a.m. the next day — look at notes, start to write poem, think, “All my ideas suck” and tinker with old poems or write a blog post instead.
I am no expert writer, I can promise you that, but I have been honing my writing craft for 4 years and have discovered a couple truths in the meantime:
- A writing routine works
- Self-criticism is the crucifixion of good writing
I certainly believe that writing routines can ebb and flow over the years, because your schedule, your life, how you approach things, ebbs and flows. And in every season of life, a writing routine entails a trial and error process.
However, I do know from experience that there are good reasons for establishing a writing routine at all.
1 – Your brain creates a habit. You know how when it hits noon at work, most people think, “Okay, time to eat” and not “Am I hungry yet? Should I wait a little longer?” That’s because lunch time is a habit.
Discussing the habit of meal times is an entirely different topic entirely, but think for a second if this was applied to your writing routine. What if at the same time every day your brain said, “Okay, time to write”? We’d sure gain a lot of pounds of poetry. 😉
2 – Writing regularly makes you think creatively. When I was carving out time for poetry more consistently in my mornings, I noticed something: I was thinking all day in poetry.
Imagine me, a year and a half ago, driving to work in the morning. I blast the radio so loud I can hardly hear the traffic around me. My lips are moving like I’m chanting a catechism. And maybe I am, in a certain way. Everything I see is instantly turning into a poem. My brain is just processing the world that way. It’s like people who see numbers in certain colors. I see life in certain poems.
3 – You can call yourself a writer. Something I hate about calling myself a writer is that so many people call themselves writers. And 80% of people who call themselves writers (yes, this is a real-life-statistic-I-just-made-up) don’t ever write. Seriously. What’s the number one thing you have to do to be a writer?
4 – Scheduling your time frees up your time. I’ve often wondered what would happen if we added up the amount of time we spent on social media every day. How many minutes, seconds (God forbid, hours!) I spend on Facebook, Instagram, reading blogs.
I’ve never done this exercise, because I’ve been terrified of the results.
But, I will tell you something about productivity: when I turn off my wifi to knock out a big project at work, I get it done in half the time. And even further, when I block a time in my Outlook calendar for the project, I feel less guilty about checking Facebook at 9:55 because I know I’m turning off the Internet from 10-noon.
Regardless of how you look to manage your time, being intentional with your time feels good.
5 – It inspires you to seek better writing.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get to the point with my work when I start saying, “All these poems sound the same. All these chapters sound the same. I need to shake it up.” Some of my best work has come from reading other poems and branching out to a new style. The more often you’re writing, the more you will push yourself to be better.
6 – Exercise turning off the negative voices. When you write every day, you start to come to terms with the fact that 90% of what you write will be crap. And you know what happens when you grapple with and–eventually–accept that? You write more, better, stronger, faster.
Because if you write every morning, there will be days when you feel as though you drained your brain the day before. You have to realize: not every day is the day you will write the great American novel. But if you just write something, the negative voices get quieter. In all areas of your life.
7 – You feel accomplished. And motivated. Even if you wrote something stupid, you wrote today. Which is more than someone who didn’t write today.
8 – You learn to trust the process. If I could have a mantra for life, this would be it:
Trust the process.
When you’re able to trust the process of your writing life, it’s so much easier to trust the process of your life. When you’re able to say in your writing life, “I’m going to show up every day, whether I create greatness or not; I’m going to trust that something good is in store whether it’s tomorrow or two months away,” then it’s so much easier to say these things about your life as well. And I think we could all lean a little more into that.