Developing a Writing Routine: How to Write Every Day
Photo Courtesy of Jim Frazier
Developing a consistent, writing routine is both challenging and rewarding. There are so many distractions in our daily lives, so many demands on our time. Yet, as writers and artists, we often grow irritable, frustrated, and sad when we aren’t able to write on a regular basis. Learning to write every day not only improves productivity, but also it can be a way to manage your moods and your stress levels.
There was a time when I was lucky to write once a week. I was so busy with my day job, social activities, and cultural and political organizing that writing became something I squeezed into my schedule. More often than not, I didn’t write, and my output and my mood suffered as I managed to only finish a poem every few months or so. More significantly, not having a consistent, writing routine made writing difficult whenever I did have time. I felt out of practice and uninspired, and each time I tried to write, I felt like I was reinventing the proverbial wheel. It wasn’t until I began to write every day that writing became easier and inspiration happened more often.
For writers, any time we write is time to be guarded and cherished. If you don’t write every day and that works for you, then that’s great. You go. But if you’re interested in stepping up your game to write on a daily basis, then here are some suggestions that work for me:
- Make a commitment to your goal. Writing on a daily basis starts with a commitment to yourself, your creativity, and your inner artist. Be willing and open to the challenge, and try writing a contract, or a short statement that encapsulates your commitment and your goal. This contract needn’t be too elaborate. Here’s mine: I, Ami, commit to honor my creativity and inner artist by writing every day, regardless of whether I’m inspired or not.
- Collect your tools. Your writing tools don’t need to be fancy. In most cases, a notebook and pen will do. These days, I tend to buy cheap, spiral-bound notebooks and use whatever pens I find or collect. But when I was first starting out, I bought composition notebooks because I liked the way they looked when lined up on a shelf. Also, I used special pens that were a bit expensive but pleased me by the way they wrote and by the way the ink looked on the page. If you’d rather use your computer, free word processors are available. You can use Google Docs or Writer, which comes with Open Office Suite.
- Schedule time. Set aside a specific time to write, preferably the same time every day, and plan to write for a certain amount of time or for a certain amount of words or pages. It’s important to schedule this time as you would any commitment. Think of it as a date with your inner artist, and be sure to show up for that date, even when you might not feel entirely motivated. Once you start writing, you’ll be happy you made the time for yourself and your creativity.
- Be realistic. When determining how long to write or how many words or pages you want to complete, be realistic and set small, doable goals. Sometimes, we’re led to believe that we must have large chunks of time in order to write. But that’s simply not the case. It might surprise you at how much you can accomplish in 25-30 minutes of writing a day. If you don’t have a half hour, then write for 15 minutes. If you have more time, then write for an hour or two. Starting small and building up, over several days or weeks, the amount of time you spend writing is a great strategy. Ultimately, you’re the only one who knows what’s realistic for you. So, be honest with yourself and set a realistic goal that you can achieve on a daily basis.
- Prepare to focus. This step is crucial, as you won’t be able to keep your commitment if you’re constantly interrupted or distracted from your writing. So, create a distraction-free zone for yourself. First thing, turn off your phone and any other distracting technology, like your TV or computer. If you’re using your computer to write, then unplug from the internet or turn off instant messaging and any alerts for your email, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media. Finally, if you live with others, be sure to tell them that you’ll be writing and ask that they not interrupt you. Or choose a time to write when others are asleep or otherwise occupied. I write in the early morning hours when my partner is sleeping or working, but many people find writing late at night to be a perfect time for being creative.
- Warm up. Just like with physical exercise, it’s important to stretch your creative muscles and clear your mind of distracting thoughts. A great way to warm up is to free write for a few minutes. Write whatever thought or feeling comes to mind. Try to keep writing without pausing or lifting your pen from the page. The point here is not great writing, rather the goal is a kind of brain-drain to simply get rid of any fears, worries, or inner criticism that may get in the way of writing. When you’re finished warming up, then delete, recycle, or set aside those pages. Don’t read them; don’t share them. Just let them be what they are—random thoughts on the page.
- Use writing exercises or prompts. So you’re all warmed up and ready to go, and now…nothing. Even after free writing for a few minutes, you may not feel inspired. And that’s okay. You can continue to free write until something interesting emerges. Or you can try writing exercises or prompts. At Language is a Virus, you can generate prompts with a single click. A great site for poetry exercises is The Poetry Resource Page. Don’t take writing exercises and prompts too seriously. They’re intended to stimulate creativity and help you hone your craft. Hopefully, with a little prompting, you’ll find your creative flow.
- Be patient. Some days, you’ll be dissatisfied with your writing, but try to be patient with yourself and your creativity. Occasionally, days or even weeks will pass before I finally write something that sparks my passion or that I’m willing to share with others. Being diligent in your routine and trusting the creative process are absolutely necessary to staying motivated and productive on a daily basis. So, on those days when you feel that your writing is uninspired and uninteresting, try to have a little faith in your creative journey.
- Use rewards. It’s important to reward yourself for accomplishing your goal, as rewards are one way to stay motivated and to write again the next day and the next. Rewards don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Sometimes, I buy a special pen or a nice journal. Other times, I focus on the leisure activities I enjoy and let myself do those for a few minutes after writing. For instance, I often make time to read blogs, play a computer game, or browse the internet after achieving my writing goal for the day. Once you’ve fully habituated to your routine, you’ll find that the writing is a reward in itself. But until then, go ahead, indulge, and reward yourself in an inexpensive and small way.
- Share your writing. So, how do you stay motivated and maintain your writing routine? One way I stay motivated is to share my completed poems or more developed drafts via email to friends or my personal blogs. By doing this, I tend to get positive and constructive feedback from the supportive people in my life. Also, sharing your work with your greatest fan, such as your mother or your best friend, can be a great way to get instant gratification. I share my work with my partner who, of course, thinks everything I write is utterly brilliant. Finally, you might share your work at a poetry open mic. Having an audience respond positively to your writing can be highly motivating to write some more. But the key to sharing your work, especially early on, is to find “safe” people to share it with. Seek out those who are likely to offer positive and constructive support. Also, if you’re sharing your work on the internet, then you may want to think about protecting it with a Creative Commons license or limiting who has access to it.
Writing every day doesn’t have to be a full-time job to produce brilliant work. Novelist Toni Morrison reportedly wrote her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, during the early morning hours while her sons were sleeping. At the time, she was working for Random House as an editor.
And writing on a daily basis doesn’t need to be some regimented drudgery. Some artists suggest that “discipline” is needed in order to write and produce good work. But what really inspires me is thinking of writing not as regimented discipline but as a way of playing. Every day, I get to do what I love best, which is experimenting with words, images, and meaning. By doing so, I often surpass my goals and write longer and more than I had planned. So, think of writing as experimentation and play, and see if you too begin to write daily.
Do you write every day? When do you write and for how long? Do you have a different routine for writing? Or do you eschew routine altogether?