There are certain things all writers need: inspiration, creativity, dedication, some measure of talent. But there's one thing that's perhaps more important than all these elements combined – one thing that's guaranteed to help you become a productive, prolific writer. And that thing is a writing routine.
Every writer who wants to achieve their goals must have a writing routine.
Without a routine, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of procrastination, or to disappoint yourself when your writing output isn't where you want it to be. Without a routine, it's hard to make writing a regular habit – and making it a habit is something you must do if you ever want to finish that novel!
Like most things in life, there's no 'one-size-fits-all' solution here. Every writer works differently and has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as a different set of personal circumstances.
One person may write full-time, for example, while another may need to fit writing in around a day job. Obviously, the same writing routine will not work equally well for these two people.
So how can you establish a routine that's right for you? One that will help you dedicate yourself to your writing and be as productive as possible? One that will allow you to achieve a balance between your writing and all the other aspects of your life?
Let's take a look at seven top tips for establishing a solid and successful writing routine.
1. Set goals and establish your routine around them
The first thing you must consider when creating a writing routine is this: what are the goals you want your routine to help you achieve?
There's no point establishing a vague routine like 'write every day' if you're not working towards particular goals. If you have particular targets or milestones you're working to achieve, it's much easier to formulate a successful writing routine based around these specific goals.
A common goal many writers share is to finish the first draft of a novel in a specified time frame. Once you've established this as your main goal, you need to break it down into smaller targets, such as writing a specific number of words or for a specified amount of time each day/week.
When these micro-goals have been established, you can use them as the basis of your writing routine.
There's something important to remember when goal-setting, though: you need to know what constitutes a realistic goal for you, taking into consideration your circumstances and the way you write.
For instance, there's no point setting a 2000-word goal for each day if you're a relatively slow writer and only have an hour or so to spare.
The most successful writing goals and routines are developed specifically to suit the writer. Take author Karen Russell, for example:
I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time?"
Whether it's a measure of time, word count or some other metric, use whatever works best for you to set your goals. Then you can devise a writing routine that will help you achieve them.
2. Adopt a 'making time, not finding time' mindset
Perhaps the most common problem writers face when trying to establish a routine is the time factor.
Many writers believe they don't have the time to write regularly, and so don't ever bother to establish a routine, instead just writing snippets here and there.
While this is all well and good if it's how you enjoy doing things, the reality is that it's hard to achieve your writing goals when you're only ever working in snippets. To really become a productive writer and finish your projects, a routine – and the time involved therein – is necessary.
But if you're still worried about finding the time to establish a writing routine, remember this: there's a difference between making time for your writing, and finding time for it.
As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it:
Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.'"
You need to consider how dedicated to writing you actually are – how much of a commitment you're willing to make to achieve your goals. If you're really passionate about finishing that novel, you must adapt a mindset of making time for your writing, rather than simply finding time here and there.
Establishing and sticking to a specified writing routine is a way of telling yourself (and the world) that you're committed wholeheartedly to this writing thing. No matter what else you have going on in your life, if there's some way you can make time for your writing – even just ten minutes a day – do it.
Make the time. Make the commitment. That's how every successful writer in the world got to where they are today, and that's how you'll get there too.
3. Determine your most creative/productive time of day
One thing that can really influence the success of your writing routine is the time of day you choose to write.
As we discussed above, every single writer is different. Some writers work better first thing in the morning, when the day (and their mind) is fresh. Others are night owls, staying up and scribbling into the wee hours.
When you're establishing a writing routine, it helps immensely to know the best time of day to schedule your writing sessions. You can determine this through personal preference alone, or you can get a little more scientific about it.
Try Live Write Thrive's method of calculating your biological prime time, for example, which involves charting the peaks and troughs of energy and motivation you experience throughout the day.
Alternatively, you can simply try a few days of writing in the morning, a few days of writing at night and so on; record your output and motivation levels; and then determine which one is working best for you.
Once you know the time of day at which you're most creative and productive, you can work out how to build your writing routine around it.
4. Create a dedicated writing space
Something many writers find helpful in establishing a writing routine is creating a dedicated writing space.
Having a place that's just for writing, a place you know you can go to escape the outside world and enter your own fictional one, is extremely useful when it comes to making writing a regular habit.
Your dedicated writing space can be anything from a full home office, to a desk or comfortable chair in the corner of a room. Whatever it is, it must be an area you feel comfortable in, and one in which you won't be bothered by other people.
Eliminating distractions in your writing space is key. Close the door, if you need to; put your headphones on to drown out the world; turn your phone off and disconnect the internet. This space should be a sanctuary that allows you to concentrate, focus, and dedicate your attention solely to writing.
Having 'rituals' associated with your writing space is a great way to get yourself in the mindset/mood for writing. If you complete these rituals every time you sit down to write as part of your routine, that routine is going to be a lot easier to stick to.
Take prolific author Stephen King, for example:
There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places.
The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon. It’s not any different than a bedtime routine. Do you go to bed a different way every night?"
It's possible to train your brain to be ready to write as soon as you enter your writing space and complete your rituals. Whether it's a particular playlist you like to listen to, or the act of making yourself a coffee before you sit down at your computer, these little habits contribute greatly to creating a routine that sticks.
5. Try different writing methods to determine which works best
It may take some experimentation before you settle on the writing routine that works best for you. And we don't just mean goal-setting and determining the best time of day to work; we're talking about different ways of approaching the writing process itself.
For many writers, it's not as simple as sitting down and writing solidly until a certain word count or time limit is achieved. Many use a variety of different working methods and tricks to maximise their productivity.
If you're not quite sure how you want to structure your routine, we suggest trying out a number of different methods and recording your results.
For each method you try, note down things like how many words you achieved and how you felt about that particular method. Then compare your results to see which method/s you liked best, and which worked best for you.
Here are a few examples of different writing methods to get you started:
Word sprints are a great way to help get those words out onto the page. This method involves setting a short period of time – 30 minutes, for example – and writing constantly for that period, with no breaks or distractions. The aim is to get as many words down as possible, pushing aside your inner editor and allowing the words to flow quickly and freely.
Word sprints can be incorporated into any writing routine, but might be most beneficial for those who only have limited time available to dedicate to writing each day.
The Pomodoro technique
Similarly to word sprinting, the Pomodoro technique involves working in short bursts interspersed by breaks.
The aim is to determine what task you want to work on, set a 25-minute timer, work on that task until the timer goes off, then take a short break (usually five minutes). Once you've completed four 25 minute rounds, a longer break (20-30 minutes) is taken to refresh your mind before continuing.
The Pomodoro technique is a handy way to break up your work time into easily manageable chunks. It's perfect for writers who find it tricky to sit down and write for long uninterrupted stretches.
This unique routine revolves around stream-of-consciousness writing and helps writers overcome their creative inhibitions.
Developed by author Julia Cameron, the morning pages method involves...
...three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. [Morning pages] are not high art. They are not even 'writing'. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only."
This can be a handy element to add to your daily writing routine, primarily to help get you into the habit of writing every day.
If you struggle with diving headfirst into your writing each day, perhaps consider beginning your routine with a response to a writing prompt. This may help you warm up those writing muscles so you can make the most of each writing session.
Writing prompts are just that: prompt questions, scenarios or instructions designed to inspire a piece of writing. They're great for getting those creative juices flowing, and may even grow from a simple exercise into a larger work.
Writer's Edit has a collection of different writing prompts to get you started. Give them a try and see if they benefit your writing routine.
6. Set your writing commitment in stone
To help you establish a consistent writing routine, you need to set your writing commitment in stone.
Whatever your goals may be, making a verbal or written commitment can help you stick things out. It's much easier to create and stick to a routine if you make a solid, unshakeable commitment to achieving your targets.
Here are a few ways you can go about this...
Tell friends or family about your goals
Let friends, family and/or fellow writers know about your writing goals. Ask them to help hold you accountable for working towards them.
Even if they don't actively hold you accountable, the simple act of verbalising your commitment will help you hold yourself accountable. Once you've told people what you're doing, you're going to be much more motivated to live up to those expectations you've set for yourself.
You might even like to tee up a writing buddy to join you for a few writing sessions per week (in person or online). Incorporating another person into your routine means you're much less likely to skip out on it.
Write down your goals and/or your routine
Write down the goals you're working towards. Place them somewhere you'll see them every time you sit down to write.
Alternatively (or additionally), get your writing routine down on paper. Schedule writing time into your diary like you would any other commitment, such as a meeting or appointment.
Both of these acts will help you hold yourself accountable to writing. Reminding yourself of your goals on a regular basis is a great motivator. It will help you remember why you established a writing routine in the first place, and encourage you to stick to it in order to achieve results.
Similarly, writing down your routine will help you treat it as a proper commitment. The sooner you consider writing an essential part of your daily life, the sooner you'll establish a regular routine for it.
Keep a writing log
Record how much you write each day, or even just note down which days you write and which you don't.
As well as helping track your progress, the satisfaction of checking off a day or recording your word count can help keep you motivated to stick to your routine.
Which brings us to our final point...
7. Whatever your routine is – stick to it!
Once you've successfully established a routine that works for you, there's only one thing left to do: stick to it.
That's not to say you can't change up your routine as your goals, personal circumstances or writing habits change. Your routine's methods can be flexible – but your commitment to the routine itself can't be.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: the only way to achieve your writing goals is to treat writing seriously. This means sticking to your routine like clockwork.
It's a tried and true method for all successful authors. When Haruki Murakami is working on a novel, for example, he sticks to a strict, unvarying writing routine:
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerise myself to reach a deeper state of mind."
In any routine, repetition is key. The more regularly you write, the easier it will be to establish an effective routine and achieve your goals and dreams.
Don't rely on inspiration to dictate when you write. As author Ralph Keyes points out:
Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration."
So there you have it – seven simple tips to help you establish that writing routine once and for all. For more writing routine inspiration, we recommend checking out sites like Daily Routines and My Morning Routine.
Writers, we'd love to hear what your daily routine currently looks like – let us know in the comments!