What Every Work-at-Home Writer Needs: A Routine
The Free Dictionary defines a routine as "a set of customary and often mechanically performed procedures or activities."
When you're performing a routine, you're pretty much operating on autopilot. When was the last time you put any serious though into brushing your teeth, feeding your cat, or paying your bills, for instance? You've simply done these things so often that you've established neural pathways in the brain that understand when, where, and how certain things must be done.
So, why is routine good for us writers? In fact, quite the opposite aren't we supposed to focus on minutia that other, lesser mortals ignore? We can argue that point another day (and if I run out of blog ideas, we probably will) but at the moment I'm focusing on the importance of a routine as a time management device.
When I was starting my writing career, longer ago than I care to remember, I would get home from my day job and collapse in front of my television set for an hour or two. Then I would try to decide whether I "felt" like writing. The answer was usually "no," so I slunk off to bed, angry that I had once again failed to meet my goals.
Luckily, I ran into one of my old English professors who was a published novelist. "What do you do when you just don't feel like writing?" I asked her.
"Oh, I never feel like it," she answered crisply. "I just do it."
The next night I tried something new. Instead of getting home and going directly to the television set, I went directly to my computer and wrote for an hour. I didn't nearly clear my backlog, but I did get more done than I'd ever imagined possible. Within a month, I had a new routine. No matter what kind of day I'd had or what kind of mood I was in, I wrote for two hours after I walked in the front door.
Then I was free to walk away and engage in other things. As the weeks passed, something interesting happened. When I started my new routine, I stole glances at the timer on my computer the whole two hours I was writing; when it went off, I was out of there. It wasn't long, however, before I noticed I was ignoring the timer and working a little longer, simply because I…gulp…wanted to. I needed that daily routine to jump start me, but once my engine got going, I slid into a peak performance space that I really enjoyed.
That single work habit kept my freelance business going smoothly for almost ten years, until I was able to resign from my day job and step out on my own as a writer.
Do you have a writing routine? Do you find it helpful?