On establishing writing routines

There's an awful lot to be said about knowing yourself. One of the reasons that we don't get as much done as we might like is that we either haven't got our heads around what works best for us, or that we fight against that reality because it doesn't fit in with what we might prefer. 

So these are guidelines rather than rules. A quick scout around the internet will give you no end of lists of routines of the famous. Here and here, for example. But this is what seems to work for me.

  1. Start the day writing. The earlier, the better. For me, that's 5 a.m. I can get more done between 5 and 7 in the morning than in any other two hour period of the day. This goes back to when I was a child. In a book of Andrew Lang's  retellings of Greek myths, he relates the story of Theseus. At the start of the story, Theseus' father has left home, but has said that there's something buried under a rock at the bottom of the garden for the young man. Theseus tries but can't lift the stone. Then one day, he gets up early, goes straight out to the rock, and is able to shift it. Under the rock there's the weapons he'll need for his adventures. For some reason, that's stuck with me for dozens of years. And for me, it works. So; early starts.
  2. Don't write all day. Three or four hours a day is more than enough. Less is perhaps better. A couple of hours a day before the house gets up / work / college / whatever. I've got an upcoming post about what goes on in that writing time, but a few hours is enough, and maybe an hour a day, even half an hour - as long as it's productive - is OK.
  3. Targets. I've got a daily first draft target of 2,000 words. It doesn't matter what your target is, as long as you do what you have to do to get there. Your target needs to be realistic, achievable, but not too easy. And it's personal to you; bigger isn't necessarily better.     
  4. Use the right tools for the job. I don't have an office. At home, I'm best with a laptop on the kitchen table. By all means have a den, an office, a writing shed. Make sure that the right music is on, that Mr Snuggles the cat is nearby, that the moon is in Uranus. Put on your Magic Story Ideas Hat. But don't make a fetish out of these comforts.
  5. Have a dedicated machine. A little bit of an extravagance this, perhaps. But it might be worth considering, and it works for me. A laptop for writing, and one for everything else. Specifically for me, I first-draft on a different machine (a cheap Chromebook) and then do all the other work (rewrites, admin, research, correspondence, wasting time on the internet in general) on another one. 
  6. Coffee. Simple black filter coffee for me, thanks.  
  7. Be open to working in public. The Starbucks novelist may be a cliche, but if it works for you, don't fight it. For me, it's the library. My local library has a small local studies and reference room that's perfect for getting on with some work. After that initial burst of wordage first thing, I'll be more productive if I go somewhere to work rather than try to keep doing so at home. And the library is the best placefor me to do just that. 
  8. Trains. Writing on trains is the best. 
  9. Stick to the routine. Every day works for some. Monday to Friday for others. weekends only for yet more. 2,000 words a day every first draft day is my routine. I've just knocked up a planner for the next two months; first draft word counts, blog posts, monthly newsletter, other bits of writing. Find your method for keeping yourself on track. Make that method simple. Make it public if that helps - tell your significant other, whisper it to Mr Snuggles, Blu-Tak a chart over your desk - hold yourself to your own promises.
  10. I don't have a reward system, but if you need that to motivate, then go for it. Make these small and useful; another hot drink, a cigarette if you're a smoker, Bonios if you're really into dog treats.
  11. Don't cheat yourself. Don't borrow from one day's output to pay off another's shortfall. The clock always resets back to zero. You might find that a weekly rather than a daily target works better. Fine. Do that instead. Just do it!
  12. Don't let it be work. Adjust the time, the words to be written. Write something different. 
  13. If the routine needs to change, go with it. 

So, over to you. What's your routine?


My novel The Prospect of This City is out now and is available from me (signed if you'd prefer!) and also in ebook and paperback formats via Amazon.