Dear readers, I’m back. It’s been several months since my last real post and for that, I do apologize. You see, many will tell you that one of the keys of being a successful writer (or being successful at anything) is routine. I confess, I struggle with routine. Big time. This is probably evident will my lack of consistent blog posts.
First and foremost, I envy you. Yes. It’s true. Said it and meant it.
I envy those of you who are students living at home with your parents and those of you who are stay-at-home parents and spouses. I envy the unemployed. Why? Because your schedule is more free and flexible than mine. You can sleep in or take naps in the middle of the day to recover from a bad night’s sleep. You don’t have to deal with people pissing you off at work or during your commute. In a way, I despise what little routine I have.
I have a problem writing at the same time everyday. Truth be told, even though I have a regular Monday-Friday 7-330 job, sometimes (depending on the work load, which is entirely reactive and unpredictable) it becomes a 6am-4pm job or a 5:30 am to 530 pm job. My hours fluctuate but are at least 7-330 and that doesn’t include the traffic (which is horrendous when you have 40,000 employees trying to leave the southern tip of a peninsula at the same time.)
Some authors say that in order to be prolific or successful you need to cram writing in every second you can-like the commute to work. Well, even if I wasn’t driving, I’m one of those types that gets motion sickness if I try to read in a car. I get headaches and nausea. So even taking an Uber would be out of the question (and a waste of money since I have a car in good working condition, as does my man.)
Do I sound like I’m just making excuses not to write yet? Writers can be good at that.
I also lack discipline. It takes a surprising amount of willpower to make yourself sit in front of a screen. As much as our society looks at screens everyday, you’d think that would be easy and it is when you’re playing a game or watching a good movie but it isn’t always great when you’re playing god. And it isn’t always great when you’ve already spent your entire workday staring at a screen, ripping your hair out dealing with HTML code or filling in MS Excel spreadsheets. After eight hours of that, your eyes need a break whether you’ve got “computer glasses” or not.
Forming a routine is not easy for everyone. I’ve heard that once you begin a habit, it will be hard to break. I suppose my current habit is making excuses not to work on my novels, the stories and ideas that I love so much. It’s true. I love those stories and ideas but I’m certainly not treating them like I do. By neglecting them like a bad lover, my creativity and inspiration had gone silent. I admit that I haven’t figured out all of the answers just yet, but I’m committed to finding them which is a huge step in the right direction.
That being said, there is all sorts of advice out there about breaking habits but little about making them.
Things I’m doing to promote routine.
1. Logging progress. There is something to be said about being able to look back and see where you started. Simply setting up a handwritten chart or tracking progress in an electronic spreadsheet can do this. I noticed that during the month of November I was far more determined to succeed at writing. It wasn’t the community and camaraderie of National Novel Writing Month participants (even though they can be great.) Instead it was seeing my goals and progress. I had a clear, defined target which was easily reachable but also enough of a challenge. That’s part of the greatness of the program is that it helps you establish routine. However, you don’t need the program to keep going every day, every month, every year.
Programs like Scrivener track total project progress and writing session progress. Or you can manually track it through MS Word, MS Excel or any other word processor.
2. Forceful Repetition. Visual and audible queues that remind you to take the action. Set alarms and leave notes for yourself in places that you’ll look.
I keep visual reminders all around my desk. I have a dry-erase board, a calendar, post-its on the wall, organized folders and a filing cabinet to keep everything in order. But hey, what works for me might not work for you and that’s ok. Find out what does and go with it!
3. Having a plan. There is a movie that came out in the 80’s with John Cusack and Demi Moore called One Crazy Summer. One of the characters comes from a military family and often says something along the lines of, “Without a plan there is no attack. Without attack there is no victory.” That being said, you won’t get very far without something to drive towards. I’m not saying you have to outline your novel. I’m saying you need to have goals. Perhaps that goal is 2 hours of writing a day. Perhaps that goal is 2,000 words of writing a day. Or maybe a chapter? Or a scene? Either way it’s important to have goals. It’s difficult to establish routine when every time you sit down you have no idea what you’re supposed to accomplish.
That being said, staying organized can’t hurt. It’s one thing to formulate a plan in your head, it’s another to write it down but that is another post entirely!
I hope this post has helped guide you in some way towards your own path of success. I’ll be sure to let you all know how my organization pans out over the course of my writing career – what worked and what didn’t. Until then…
Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.