I’ve had several people ask me lately about my daily writing routine, and since it’s a topic I love to talk about (you know, because I’m all about routines!), I thought I’d share some insights with you. My theory is that a writing practice needs routine, because routine remind your brain what you are there to do.
Here are a few of the routines that work for me:
Declutter Your Counters to Declutter Your Mind
This may be my Triple Type A personality talking, but I find there’s a direct correlation between my work environment and my creativity and productivity. Clutter – on my desk, the coffee table, or the kitchen counters – distracts me and produces low-level agitation. One of the first things I do in the morning is clear surfaces – I put the dishes in the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, gather up errant books and papers, arrange the sofa cushions, and stash the remotes in a drawer. My house isn’t necessarily clean, but at least it’s clutter-free, which helps me focus on my work for the day.
Exercise to Get Your Creative Synapses Firing
Most mornings I run four miles, the same distance and the same route I’ve been running for the last 15 years (See? I really like routines). Running is good for my mental health, and it’s good for my creativity (and it’s not just me…read this article about the connection between exercise and creativity). I often work out a blog post or ruminate on a verse for a devotion while I’m running. In the past I ran without headphones, but lately I’ve fallen hard for podcasts, so I often listen to one of my favorites. It helps me forget about my achy legs or the stich in my side, and I’ll often get an idea for a blog post or article from the show I’m listening to.
Treat Your Writing Like a Job
Because it is! After my house is decluttered, my run is done, and I’m showered, dressed and sitting at my writing desk (by now it’s about 9:30 a.m.), I don’t let anything get in the way of my job. This means I don’t do housework between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. I also don’t run errands, schedule appointments (if I can help it), Vox, text friends or even answer the phone (unless it’s my mother…and sometimes not even then). To be honest, I rarely meet people for coffee or lunch during these hours, especially when I am working on a book. I have a five-hour work day, so I try to make the most of every minute.
Dedicate a Specific Amount of Time to Email and Social Media
When I first sit down at my desk in the morning, I glance at my emails and reply to those that need only a quick response (I save longer, more detailed emails for late afternoons or evenings). I also check in on Facebook and Twitter, and, if I have a blog post up that day, I’ll link to it from my various social media accounts. I admit, this is dangerous ground. Social media is my Charybdis, so I have to be super vigilant about not getting sucked into the vortex for too long. I typically spend a half hour with email and social media before I get down to serious business. Then I turn off all notifications (too distracting!) and dig in.
Eat the Frog First
As Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” I always start my work day with the project I most want to procrastinate. If I’m writing a book, I definitely start with book writing, because it’s the most important, and it’s also the most difficult. My goal when I’m book-writing is to write 1,000 words a day, and I’m not a super-fast writer, so 1,000 words can easily take me three or four hours. The biggest, dreadiest projects require the most brain power, and if I procrastinate, I’m typically too depleted later to be very effective or productive. Plus, it feels good at the end of the day to know that I’ve made progress on a hard thing.
Do Lighter Work Later
I do what I consider my “lighter” work – the work that typically requires less brain power, like editing, proofreading, blog post writing, marketing and promotions, social media, and responding to emails – later in the afternoon, usually after lunch and definitely after I’ve eaten the frog. I also try to use the time waiting in the school pick-up line wisely, by either decompressing, reading, or catching up on Voxers, texts and phone calls.
And one final note that’s more observation than routine…
You Fill What Time You Have
My boys are now in high school and middle school (hold me), and are gone from 7:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., so I have the luxury of a big block of time and a quiet house. I don’t take that for granted, but I will say this: you fill what time you have. Honestly, I got nearly as much writing done when I worked part-time outside the home and had young children. I had less time overall to devote to my writing, but I was more efficient with the time I did have. I have more time now, but I don’t necessarily get more done.
So tell me…what’s one routine you swear by (and it doesn’t have to be a writing routine)?