“What’s your writing routine?”
Have you ever noticed that writers get asked this question like, a lot? Particularly successful writers, but also those just starting out, those who seem to write a lot, and those who seem really good at it on Instagram.
It’s always one of the first questions asked in any sort of interview. It’s the question burning a hole in the back of another writer’s mind when they meet a new writer. And it’s the questions all aspiring writers are dying to ask the most successful writers.
It’s as though by knowing and emulating their routine, matching it to a tee, doing the same things they do in the same order at the same time of day, those striving to do what they do will be able to find the same kind of success. But c’mon. Writers may live in fantasy worlds most of the time but we’re pragmatic enough to know that’s not true, right? Right?
Well, whether we acknowledge that stealing another writer’s routine will help us mirror their success is a myth or not, we still like to know what their routines are and we will continue to ask and get asked this question. And since I get asked it a lot, I figured I would answer it here. I do so not because I think my routine is something you should copy but because it’s the perfect example of, “What works for me may not work for you.” And also of, “What works for me one day might not work the next.”
So, what’s my writing routine? It’s three steps. Three steps that I’ve used year after year to produce story after story, whether I realized I was doing it or not. But first…
Writing Process Vs. Writing Routine
I would just like to point out what I see as the differences between a writing process and a writing routine. The writing process is what you use to take an initial idea into a final product. These are the steps from the first brainstorm to editing to more editing to a beta read to final draft. These steps are also different for everyone but are not what I’m going to talk about.
The writing routine is what you do every day to make sure you are getting the words on the page. The habits you form to make sure you can even start the writing process.
So, without further ado, my writing routine.
Writing Routine Step 1: Brain Dump
This is the part where I get my idea onto paper (or at least out of your head). How and where you get your ideas is part of the writing process and probably another post entirely, but I like using prompts. So, we’ll assume at this point I’ve used a prompt to get my wheels turning and I have some ideas floating around. I write them down. Yes, most likely write. Not type. In the initial brainstorm phase, I like to handwrite (even if that means using the pen on my iPad). I just start writing down anything that comes to mind when I hear the prompt. Words, dialogue, sentences, places, scenes, characters. It doesn’t have to be complete sentences, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to get out of my head onto my preferred medium.
If, at this point, you are blessed with a brain that will immediately take those initial ideas and turn them into fully formed sentences and then paragraphs, by all means, keep going. My brain, however, does not usually work like that.
Writing Routine Step 2: Don’t Write
This is the part of my writing routine where not a lot of writing gets done. This is also a crucial step. I can’t stare at a blank screen if nothing is coming. I know a lot of writers subscribe to the whole, “butt in seat no matter what,” “you have to force inspiration,” “ just write the words,” school of thought. And there’s some truth to all of this. But the bulk of my writing gets done when my butt is not in the seat. After step 1, if the words don’t start to flow, I get up. I don’t GIVE up, I GET up.
Here is a list of all the things I do during Step 2 of my writing process. This list is not comprehensive and could include any number of things:
- The dishes
- Walk the dog
- Clean the bathrooms
- Organize my desk
- Rearrange my furniture
I know a lot of other writers are reading this and nodding. “Yes, yes, I do all these things when I procrastinate, too.” But I don’t do these things to procrastinate. I do them to process. Maybe they were procrastination techniques at one point, but they have since become an integral part of my writing routine. I need that time spent on a mindless activity to let my ideas marinate…roll around in my mind…start as a flicker and then grow into a flame.
I might stop to write something down, play with an idea, and if it doesn’t pan out, go back to what I was doing. But I always, without fail, need to step away from the words. I think this is important and I will die on this hill.
Writing Routine Step 3: Write (AKA: Point of No Return):
There comes a time in the writing process when one must actually do the thing one set out to do…write. This is that point. After I’ve procrastinated…I mean processed, long enough, I actually need to do some writing. This is where I put all the marinating and the scribbling and the brainstorming, into practice. This is the part where I actually have to show some discipline and keep my butt in the seat.
The lengths of Step 1 and Step 2 will depend on my deadline but at some point, I will actually have to write and trust me, once the fingers get flying, it feels good. In the actual writing is where you know whether ideas from Step 1 will actually turn into something good or flop.
Tip: If you start writing and one of the ideas from Step 1 doesn’t work, you may start the process over (depending on your deadline, of course).
There are different parts of the writing process that come into play here but mostly this is the part where you get the bulk of the thing done. I write short stories so I can usually finish a story by going through this routine once or twice. A novel would take longer. Besides, this is my routine, not a novelist’s routine.
I developed this routine while writing many of the stories found in my two books of flash fiction “Flash in the Dark” and “The Problem With Humans.” It works for me. It might not work for you. Part of it might work for you and if you want to borrow a bit of it, you have my permission. If I could recommend trying just one part? Step away from the words. If they’re not coming, DON’T force it. There’s a lot of advice out there that says you should, but I don’t always listen to writing advice.
For better or worse, this is my writing routine. Now you know.
If you try it and you love it, let me know. If you try it and hate it, try something else. Just keep doing what works for you.
Like this post and hungry for more stuff like it? Sign up for my newsletter to get Snackable Fiction delivered right to your inbox!