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Building a Writing Routine

A session with Laura Drake

rou·tine /ro͞oˈtēn/

performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason.

Note, I didn’t use the term, ‘habit’. A habit is an impulse to do a behavior with little or no conscious thought. Not doing a habit feels uncomfortable, like not washing your hands after using the toilet or not flossing your teeth before bed. A routine is a behavior frequently repeated.

Yeah, saying writing takes conscious thought is a bit of an understatement.

Writers (and not just newbies) struggle with setting up a doable writing routine. Life always seems to intervene, especially if you have kids, aging parents, careers, spouses... a life. But we all have lives, yet some writers manage to crank out book after book— HOW?

You find a blank space in your busy schedule to write. It’s that simple, and that hard. You say you have no blank space? Sure you do. You find time to go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, take a shower, right? If writing is that essential to you, you’ll find ways to fit it in.

BUT – it has to be what works for YOU. Here’s an example.

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, I was a full time CFO (read: Corporate bean-counter), had two active kids in junior high and high school and a household to keep together. I have always been a morning person — it wasn’t a choice, it’s just when I function best. After work and home stuff, I fell into bed exhausted. My work consumed me during the day, so that was out. The only space I had was early morning. So I started getting up at 3 am to write for two hours before I had to get ready for work. I went to bed earlier. I did that for so long, that when I retired, I still got up at 3 am. I do, to this day. Sound crazy? Hey, that’s where my space was.

I’m not suggesting you adopt my routine. You need to adopt YOURS.

How do you do that? I have ideas, but they require you to look beyond the obvious – after all, you’ve already tried those, right? Challenge yourself before you discard a choice. Maybe with a bit of tweaking, it would work.

Ready? Okay let’s go.

  • Are you a morning person? Night owl? That’s your first decision. If you’re trying to fight your natural time clock, you’ll lose. Guaranteed. Find a time that works for you. You may have to get a bit extreme, but it worked for me.

  • You don’t need two-hour chunks of time. Yes, that would be great, but if you’re a soccer mom, that’s not happening. But wait – is that true? What do you do while you’re sitting on the sidelines? What if you sat in the car instead and wrote? I know a mom who did this – wrote on the backs of grocery lists, Target receipts, whatever. She’s a published author now. Another I know writes at the climbing gym while her son practices climbing. Is it ideal? Probably not, but you’re not looking for ideal, you’re looking to finish a book.

  • Working out – we all have to do that, right? I know writers who have a board across the arms of their treadmill. They set their laptop on it and write. I have plotted while riding my bike, dictating into a tiny digital recorder. I’ve even plotted while swimming (missed that recorder, though). Walking, jogging, working out at the gym…with a little ingenuity, it can be a plotting/writing space.

  • Dreaming – yes, you can work while you sleep. I know, sounds crazy, but it works. See, your brain is wired to solve problems. It HAS to. So, if you’re stuck in a scene (or in my case, the middle of the book), think about the problem before you fall asleep. Ask a simple question. Not involved or elaborate, just one small question you don’t know the answer to. Honestly, when I do this, I wake with the answer. Almost every single time.

  • Say no. The PTA really needs your help this year… could you coordinate the church rummage sale? The girl scouts will be selling cookies – would you take a shift at the grocery store? You know, all those things no one wants to do. I’ll give you a hint: They’re asking you because everyone else said no. No is a valid answer. After all, you really don’t have time – you have to write! If you don’t learn to say no to most of them, your book will never be written.

If none of these work for you, I challenge you to think of more. Challenge your, ‘I can’t’.

Every single one of them.

And if you truly don’t have any space for writing? Don’t feel guilty about it. The writing will be there when you do.


About the Author…

LAURA DRAKE's first novel, The Sweet Spot, was a double-finalist and then won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award. She's since published 11 more novels. She is a founding member of Women's Fiction Writers Assn, Writers in the Storm blog, as well as a member of Western Writers of America and Women Writing the West.

Laura is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways or serious cowboy crush. She gave up a corporate CFO gig to write full time. She realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

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