How to Create a Writing Routine that will Activate Your Creativity
It’s a new year and a new you! Which means it might be time for a new writing routine, too? Is your old writing routine failing you or just non-existent? Are you struggling to sit down to write every day? Or are you just looking for a way to jump start your writing this year? Then, this post is for you. I’m sharing my step-by-step guide to creating a writing routine that works, so you can get those words flowing and start finishing projects faster.
First up, you might be wondering, do I really NEED a writing routine. And I’m here to tell you, YES YOU DO! You absolutely need a writing routine.
So, first let’s talk quickly about what they are and why they’re important.
A writing routine is a set of steps that you follow each time you write to make sure you’re writing consistently, activating your creativity and boosting your productivity (meaning writing as much as you can each time). Writing routines are more than just picking a time of day to write (although that’s a big part of it.) If you’ve taken my course, Productivity Hacks for Writers, or Novel Fast Drafting, you know that I take writing routines to a whole other level. Because I truly believe they are the key to making you not only a successful writer but a productive writer.
Establishing a writing routine and sticking to it will not only make it easier for you to sit down to write each day, it will also ensure you get more words written every time you do sit down. Human beings are creatures of habit by nature. We thrive on routine. Which is why writing routines are so important to our success as writers. Before I created my writing routine, I struggled to write each day. I hemmed and hawed over it daily. I procrastinated all the time, finding a million things that just had to be done right that minute and before I knew it, it was night time, I was tired and hungry and NO WORDS WERE WRITTEN. Now, I write consistently 1500-2000 words a day which allows me to finish 3-4 books per year. Just from having a writing routine that works.
That’s what I mean by “you need a writing routine.” I honestly believe that a solid writing routine is what makes a solid writer. Not skill, not plot, not character development. But creating and sticking to the same routine every single day (or if not every day, then on a consistent schedule). That’s what separates the pros from the amateurs and, far too often than not, the finished novels or writing projects from the half-finished ones.
Here’s why. Anyone can start a novel. Some people might say starting a novel is easy. Because it’s when you have the most inspiration. A shiny new idea with shiny new characters and a shiny new world and shiny new writing tools to help you record it all.
But not everyone can finish a novel. That’s the hard part. Because inspiration runs out. Always. You have to count on that. If you count on inspiration getting you through your novel, you’ll most likely fail. Because inspiration is too fickle. It never shows up on time. It cruises in and out of your office whenever it feels like it. And it often takes unscheduled vacations for weeks at a time. Basically, inspiration is the worst employee ever. So don’t depend on it.
But you know what will get you through your novel, or any other writing project you tackle? Discipline. Discipline is the best employee ever. Discipline shows up for work every day. Clocks in at the right time and works hard no matter what. Discipline never takes a vacation and is always there when you need it.
And the way we get discipline is by setting up a consistent writing routine and sticking to it. So, let’s talk about how to create one that works for you.
Step 1: Pick a time of day to write
This is by far the most important step which is why I talk about it first. You want to try to stick to the same time every day. This will help create a habit in your mind and in your schedule. When you do the same thing every day, you don’t have to think as much about doing it, you just do it. It becomes part of your day. Not something you have to find a way to cram into your schedule. I often compare writing to brushing your teeth. Most people brush their teeth at the same times each day. We don’t really think about it, we just do it. The more you can cement your writing time into your day, the more it will start to feel like just part of your day.
So look at your schedule and ask yourself where you can realistically fit in a writing session. Be honest with yourself. If you’re overly ambitious and trying to write at 6 pm each day but you know you often have dinner plans throughout the week, it’s going to be hard to make that work. I encourage most people to try to write first thing in the morning. It’s when our brain is freshest and when there are the least distractions. Especially if you wait to look at your phone or check your email or social media until after you’re done writing (which I do.)
But also, it’s the easiest place to make time. If your schedule is already chock full from morning to night, then simply set your alarm 30 minutes or an hour earlier and write then. This is also easier than trying to stay up an hour later each night. Our brains tend to be more tired at night and our well of willpower runs dry throughout the day so it’s often more difficult to convince ourselves to sit down to write after a long day of convincing ourselves to do other things. So, I urge you to try to schedule your writing time each morning.
Step 2: Pick a length of time to write
How long can you realistically write each day? 30 minutes? An hour? 2 hours? More? To be honest, I don’t think the length of time matters as much as the consistency. Staying in your story or project day in and day out will help you keep track of it and maintain momentum. In other words, you’ll get more writing done each week and better writing done if you write for 30 minutes every day then 3 hours only once a week.
So even if you can only carve out 30 minutes. Do it. If you can carve out more, great. But again, the key is to be honest with yourself. Don’t over commit and then have to let yourself down two weeks in. It’s better to schedule a 45 minute writing session each day and be able to go over time on some days then schedule a 2 hour session each day and have to cut it short half the time.
You can get a TON of writing done in only 45 minutes when you do it consistently and when you eliminate distractions during your writing
Step 3: Decide how many days a week you will write
When writers ask me how often they should write, I usually say, “every day if you can.” For myself, I find writing every day is the easiest way to make it a habit and keep my brain in my project. When I write only a few days a week, I can lose track of my story on the days off and then I find it extra hard to get back into the writing when I come back to it. This can throw off your momentum.
However, I realize that writing every day is not realistic for some and that’s fine. Which is when I tell people the most important thing is, again, to be consistent. If you choose to only write 5 or 6 days a week, try to make sure it’s the same 5 or 6 days a week, like Monday through Friday or Tuesday through Saturday. Or if you only write on the weekends, try to write every single weekend.
Again, it’s all about creating that routine for yourself so that writing feels normal, habitual, a part of your life. Instead of something you do from time to time when you feel inspired or are bored. Trust me, none of my novels have ever gotten finished by only writing when I was bored…or inspired for that matter!
Step 4: Schedule your writing sessions in your calendar.
When you schedule lunch with a good friend, you put it in your calendar right? When you have an important meeting with a co-worker, you put it in your calendar. When you book a massage or haircut or any other service you have to pay for, where does it go? In your calendar.
Why? Because you don’t want to forget it. And because it’s important to you.
The same goes for your writing routine. You need to treat it like any other appointment. Something you don’t want to forget and something that’s important to you.
When you make your creativity a priority, your creativity will make YOU a priority and show up for you when you need it. When you treat your writing time with the respect you treat other appointments, you will not only be less likely to skip it, you’ll find you simply get better writing done. Because you’re reserving space for it in your mind and in your schedule.
Once you decide which days you’re going to write, what time you’re going to write and for how long you’re going to write each day, all of that should go into your calendar as an appointment. Not only will this help you stay consistent, it will keep you from accidentally booking things that might conflict with it and then having to cancel your writing session.
When you open your calendar and see, “Writing Time” scheduled along with all your other engagements, you will start to take the act of writing more seriously and give it the attention and priority it deserves.
Step 5: Design a pre-writing ritual to activate your creativity
Have you ever watched an Olympic swimmer mount the diving block and shake out their limbs one by one? Or a basketball player bounce the ball at the free throw line? Or a tennis player bounce the ball before they serve? If you look closely, there’s something very systematic about it. Almost like they’re performing a ritual.
And that’s because they are. When we perform the same movements over and over, they become ingrained in us. Our brains memorize the movements and associate them with certain activities. The same works for writers.
If we think of each writing session as that winning free throw, or that winning serve or that dive off the block to win the race, then we, too, must do something physical to cue our bodies that it’s go time.
It’s essentially hacking our brains, by systematically snapping it into writing mode.
One of the ways I’ve been able to hack my brain into writing consistently every single day (and getting ample word count out of every single writing session) is by establishing a pre-writing ritual that plays on my brain’s natural inclination to respond to routine. Which is why I do very specific things every single day, in a very specific order, before I start writing and encourage other writers to do the same.
Beyond simply writing at the same time every day (which definitely helps cue your brain that it’s writing time), I urge you to also create a pre-writing ritual that is unique to you that will activate your creativity each day.
This can be anything as long as it’s a series of things you do each time you sit down to write. Like taking a walk, doing jumping jacks, stretching, putting on lotion, lighting a candle, clapping your hands five times, eating a certain food that you only eat when you write, or drinking a certain drink, listening to a certain song, wearing a special outfit designated only for writing.
Or a combination of things! I will say the activities or movements that I find work best are the ones that trigger senses. Like an aroma therapy oil or candle to trigger smell, a specific song or soundtrack to trigger hearing, a specific food to trigger taste, and so forth. (For a full list of ideas, be sure to download my free writing routine quick start guide below.) But the key is that you reserve these activities only for before your writing sessions. Maybe you buy a special scented lotion just to put on before writing. You don’t want to then use that same lotion when you’re running errands, or sitting down to pay bills. That won’t allow your brain to make the correct association.
And that’s the key to designing a ritual that will activate your creativity. The ability for your mind to associate the action or movement with writing. By simply setting up one of these rituals (which can consist of one action or a series of actions) and doing it every single day, again and again and again, you create an association in your brain with the writing process. It may feel silly and weird and foreign at first, but eventually, your brain will pick up on the patterns. And it will start to make a difference. Trust me on this.
For my writing ritual, I eat and drink the same thing every morning, walk the same loop with my dog, meditate in the same place, and write 10 things in my gratitude journal. Then, by the time I sit down at my desk to write, my brain is already in writing mode before I even type a single word. (Download my free writing routine quick start guide below for a full breakdown of my writing routine).
So, do some thinking on this. Try out a few things and see what feels good. It may take you a few tries to get it right. But whatever you choose, try stick to it, do it every day, and watch how your brain responds.
Step 6: Treat Your Writing Routine with the Respect it Deserves
And finally, the last step to creating a writing routine that works is to make a promise to yourself that you will treat your writing time with the respect it deserves.
This sounds simple, but it’s actually where most writers fail. And it can be the hardest step to implement.
Many writers perform all five other steps of this list flawlessly. They pick their writing time and length, put it on the calendar, design an effective ritual and then when it actually comes time to write, they treat their writing time like an annoying relative they don’t really like. Meaning, they do everything in their power to not actually engage with it.
Your writing time is sacred and you should treat it as such.
To start off, your writing time is for writing. Not doing a million other things at the same time, like checking email, watching a bit of the news, checking social media, texting with friends. My recommendation, before each writing session, is to clear away all other distractions. Shut down all other windows on your computer, put your phone on Do Not Disturb, or better yet in the other room. Shut down all notifications from any apps on your phone or computer. Turn off the TV. Clear your desk of clutter. Let your writing time be about WRITING.
To keep yourself on track and accountable, I also advise you to set a timer when you write. Nothing is more motivating than a ticking clock. And when you know you only have 2 hours (or however long you’ve decided on) to get your writing done, your mind doesn’t have time or space to wander, wondering what’s going on in the news, whether or not your brother replied to your DM on Instagram, or who’s going to win this season of The Voice. Your mind has one task and one task only: to write.
Plus, a timer (like putting your writing sessions on your calendar) keeps everything official and on schedule. And it trains you to value your writing time and respect it. If you make a dentist appointment, you show up on time, right? If you’re paying for a guitar lesson, you come prepared with your music organized, ready to play. You don’t dilly dally around, play a little, check your phone, watch an episode of friends, then play a little more. If you book a massage, you stay for the full hour you paid for, right?
Treat your writing time the same. This is YOUR time. You scheduled it. You put it on your calendar. You made space for it. It’s not a time to dip in and out of while you’re balancing and juggling ten other things. Prioritize your writing. Don’t stop to change out the laundry or text back your friend. It can wait! The timer is going. The clock is ticking. It’s time to write!
So, as you set out to create your own writing routine, make sure you’re including this last, but essential step. Make a promise to yourself that you will treat your writing time with the respect it deserves and your writing will respond in amazing, beautiful ways.
Until next time, happy writing! Filed under: Big News Tips for Writers Writing Mastery Tagged with: productivity writing hacks writing mastery writing productivity writing rituals writing routine Writing Routines (LMAP) writing tips