8 steps to finding a writing routine that works for you

2000px-Traffic_lights_3_states.svgYou’re desperate to write but your life is crammed full of things you want to do – plus a bunch of tedious tasks you have to do. So how do you find the time and what else is going to give? According to science, the answer is to plan your writing time and make it a non-negotiable fixture in your diary – it’s only then that you’ll start to write unthinkingly.

Psychologist, writer and thinker Dr Robert Boice studied writers for decades and in his 1996 book Procrastination and Blocking: A Novel Approach found that the most productive writers are also the most efficient schedulers and planners.

He discovered that writers become less likely to procrastinate when they find a regular slot in their diary – and commit to writing without fail in that slot.  He concluded that giving yourself a specific time has a number of advantages.

Practically, it means that you don’t have to spend the mental energy ‘finding the time to write’ every time you want to do it. You don’t need to think about when to write – you just write.

Also, making writing a non-negotiable fixture in your weekly schedule means that you are more likely to develop a habit of writing – it becomes something you do unthinkingly.

But perhaps most importantly, scheduling some fixed writing time into your week communicates a clear message to both yourself and to others that writing is something you do, and that it should be taken seriously. That means you’ll be interrupted less and you’ll achieve more.

However, any writing regime needs to be sustainable and realistic. It needs to be balanced against all the other priorities in your life – otherwise you’ll never continue. So, before you dive in and start crossing out all those parties on your social calendar work through our 8 step guide to getting a writing regime that works:

Step 1: Decide how much writing is a priority

First things first, ask yourself how important writing is relative to other activities in your life? And be honest! Is writing more or less important to you than having a clean and tidy house? Is it less important than socializing or watching your favourite TV show? You’re the one who wants to write so only you can say what’s going to give.

Step 2: Write down how important it is – then tell others

Once you’ve decided writing is more important than say, housework – commit it to paper! Write down that you’re going to let the house get a little more dirty or that you’re not going to go out every night to that bar (you probably shouldn’t be doing that anyway). An important tip here is to tell others about your writing goals – you might surprised how supportive they are.

Step 3: Get to know your writing style – keep a diary

If time is in short supply, there’s no point struggling to write at times when you’re not productive. So, in addition to keeping a diary with your schedule of appointments, make sure you keep a record of when you feel most and least productive and when feels easy and hard for you. You might think you are a night owl when in reality you’re an early bird so keep a diary and find out for sure.

Step 4: Find out your ‘red’ times

An important part of knowing when you can write is knowing when you can’t. So be realistic, go through your week and check off the times and appointments you absolutely can’t give up. Those times when you’ll be at work or school, running an urgent errand or just way too exhausted. Then, stop beating yourself up for not writing at those times. You’ll never be productive at those times so stop trying.

Step 5: Find your ‘amber’ times

Next, check through your diary for time slots that you might be able to use to write or slots that you might be willing to give up. These are your amber time. These slots won’t be ideal – you might have distractions or you might be feeling a little tired – but you can still do some useful work at those times.  For example, it could be that full on creative might be tough but perhaps you can do some freewriting, some thinking or some editing. The key is being realistic about what you can achieve in those times.

Step 6: Find your ‘green’ times

Then, go through your diary again and highlight the most obvious times in your week when you definitely can write. These are times when you won’t have any distractions and when you’re feeling on top form. Now it’s your job to guard these green times like a hawk as this is your sacred writing time. Protect these writing opportunities at all costs.

Step 7: Make a promise and write it down

Once you’ve identified times in your week that you can, can’t and might be able to use (think green, red and amber) it’s time to make a promise to yourself to write at these times. Once again, write these promises down somewhere and if at all possible, tell someone else so they hold you to account.

Step 8: Track your progress

Keeping a diary of your writing practice is a great way to monitor over time how you are progressing and where the high points and low points are. By keeping track of not just the quantity of writing but your energy, focus and concentration levels will help you learn more about your best time to write and most productive length of session.

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.