For a lot of writers, a new year means establishing writing goals or lists of things we hope to get done by its end (you can check out my goals for 2021 via this link).
Writing-related goals seem to be relatively common for people looking to start writing, whether they're just dabbling in it for the first time or getting back into it after some time away regardless of the genre, how much of a story they have in mind, or experience.
In my case, my 2021 goals come off what was in some respects a rough year for writing, focused primarily on editing and preparing to dive into the querying phase for Bound to the Heart. As a result, my newer project titled Forged in the Salle, fell to the wayside. I got back to working on it around November but found it difficult to jump back in with the same energy I had when I started it in 2019.
2021 is a year I'm intending to devote to Forged in the Salle between finishing its first draft and starting on the editing phase (even though I'll still be sending out Bound to the Heart queries on the side).
Actions speak louder than words, however, and getting words on the page hasn't been easy lately. Now that the holidays are over, I'm starting a new office job, and I've been giving my mental health some long-overdue attention, I'm diving back into writing and blogging.
Given last week's post about why I haven't been writing about writing on the blog recently, I thought sharing some advice for creating a writing routine would be a great way to reestablish my own.
These tips have worked for me in the past, some more than others, but each have been helpful in their own right.
One reason I write blog posts devoted to my annual goals is to hold myself accountable. Making a list of what I want to have accomplished by the end of the year lays it all out in black and white. Having that visual in front of me makes them more tangible. For June, I write a check-in post to see how things are coming along and make changes as needed—which I'll be expanding on in a bit—and then close out the year with something of a self-evaluation and reflection as I'm preparing for the next.
You'll also find me doing this on the blogging side of things. As I'm working on this piece, I have a list next to me of posts I want to write, some for February and other ideas that are just floating around my head and not necessarily set for a specific time. I try to stay a couple of weeks ahead and have content prepared to go live even if something happens. Lists can be a great tool for getting yourself unstuck.
With fiction, for example, having an outline or even a list of just a few scenes you need or want to write can help you determine what to write next.
Goals can be short-term, say writing 750 words per day, or long-term like wanting to complete the first draft of your WIP by the end of the year.
Depending on what you want or need, getting yourself a calendar or agenda book to keep your time-sensitive goals in order could be worth exploring.
A secondary reason for my "goalpost" is making them known not only to myself, but others. Even if they don't get too many views, knowing someone might come across them adds a bit of pressure that isn't crushing but enough to keep me wanting to make progress.
While sharing your goals with others can be a way to hold yourself to them and forge a team to support and check in on you, you don't have to tell absolutely everyone. Pick out a trustworthy friend or two and let them know what you're hoping to do. It can be a simple "Hey, I wanna do this thing" text or a more in-depth conversation over coffee. Knowing you have those people in your corner gives you a way to talk through tough spots and someone to celebrate with when you achieve your goals because they know how hard you've been working towards them.
That said, there are plenty of goals I keep to myself, especially those that aren't writing-related. Sharing your goals isn't a requirement, but at least writing them down is a definite recommendation of mine.
Let's Be Real
We're often told to dream big from childhood. I don't discount that in the slightest, but I do advise being realistic in setting goals.
By this, I mean to take life into consideration.
Here on the blog, I've got a saying: Life finds a way to get in the way.
No matter how experienced you are as a writer or if it's a hobby or a career, things happen. They just do.
Whether it's family obligations, a day job, mishaps, or other things demanding your attention, there is always the chance for even the best-laid plans to go astray.
When setting goals for writing, be sure to make room for life to happen. Because it's going to. Accepting that is one of the best things you can do for yourself when setting up a routine because it can keep you from feeling like you're losing your mind when you don't reach the word count you hoped to hit that day or don't get to finish that chapter as a result of outside influences.
A tangent to the above point, when life gets in the way as it so often does, know there is nothing wrong with changing your goals or routine.
This is one of the reasons behind my aforementioned June Check-In post.
Your circumstances at the beginning of the year might be different come the midway point or sooner, in turn affecting how your plans are panning out. While consistency is key in establishing a good habit, allowing yourself to redirect your course as needed can also help keep you on track.
For example, my retail jobs over the years have made it impossible to set a writing schedule the way I could while in college. In school, my classes were at set times. I had to be here for 3 PM Mondays and Wednesdays or there at 10 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even though the schedule would change from one semester to the next depending on the classes I was enrolled in, there were no instances of one Thursday afternoon looking any different than the Thursday afternoon of the week before or after—save for instances of a class being canceled. If my last class for the day got out around 6 PM, if homework was light, I could be settled in my dorm and working on my WIP by 9 PM. That semester where I didn't have any Friday classes and my only obligation was my office job? An unrivaled blessing.
Working in retail is a different scenario. While each store I was at had its set hours of operation, my shifts would vary depending on what was needed. Having the "Clopening" shift, meaning I'm there when we close up for the night and then back there the next morning to open, isn't uncommon. As such, it's harder to plan writing sessions because I won't know when I'm working until the week before when the schedule goes out for the week.
Factoring this in has made it easier to get myself in a routine. If I'm working later in the day, I'll squeeze in some writing time before leaving the house. Shifts that have me clocking in earlier can have me sitting down at my desk in the afternoon. Accounting for variances can make the act of balancing life with your writing easier.
In changing goals, forgiveness is as important as adaptability. It's easy to feel down when things aren't working out quite as anticipated. In these instances, showing yourself a little bit of grace can go a long way.
While not meeting a certain goal can be disappointing, it's not always a reflection on something you did or didn't do. Sometimes, things happen that are out of your control.
2020 is a prime example of that, as I know of several writers including myself who found it challenging to create new material during unprecedented times.
Pandemic upheavals aside, everyday occurrences can shake up your routine and throw you through a loop. You or a member of your household comes down with something and falls ill, you move, your refrigerator bites the dust, you have a wedding to attend, you end up dog-sitting for a cousin—whatever the case may be.
Acknowledging the craziness of life and its role in your writing habits, and being forgiving towards yourself when things don't work out as you initially thought, are things I consider essential in this craft especially when you're settling into a new routine.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Now that I've covered a handful of my tips for setting goals, let's talk about creating your writing routine.
As I said at the top of the post, these tips are things I've found work for me, but that doesn't mean they will work as well for you, or even at all.
Recognizing this is one of the first steps in establishing a writing routine.
There are plenty of articles out there like this one, where the author shares their habits and what's worked for them.
Like writing itself, establishing up a writing routine can be a highly individualistic thing that can take some trial and error to figure out. One size doesn't fit all. The methods of a full-time writer might differ from those of someone writing on the side between shifts of a day job, just as a parent's writing habits will be different from those of someone who doesn't have children.
Additionally, know that your writing routine may change over time. There are some things that worked for me in college that don't work for me as well these days. On the other hand, there are a few things that didn't work for me then that have been helping me so much now.
Having this in the back of your mind and giving yourself time to figure out what works for you and what doesn't is something I cannot emphasize enough.
Play To Your Strengths
When you're in the early phases of creating a writing routine, consider what you know to be your strengths and base your habits around them as possible.
Night owls like me might wait until the sun goes down before firing up their computer or opening their notebooks. Early birds, by comparison, may be more inclined to wake up an hour earlier and dedicate that time to their writing before getting ready for work or sending the kids off to school.
Starting off with your strengths in mind may make it easier to settle into your routine because you're not having to adjust absolutely everything about your everyday habits.
One thing I recommend is designating a space to be your workstation. Many writers dream of having a specific room for this in their home, and it's something I always incorporate in my Sims builds because that is such a dream of mine, but it's not always something available to us.
I'm reminded of an insurance commercial that was airing a few years back featuring a writer converting his home office into a nursery, followed by a montage of the child's room changing throughout the years before the now-older writer is seen moving his desk back in.
Working with what we have may not always be ideal, but making do and making it work for us is often good enough.
Currently, I'm stationed in The Hollow, which is a corner of the laundry room I've converted into a writing nook. I've managed to make the space sufficient for what I need it to be but I also know it won't be the last writing space I'll have.
I'm not planning to move anytime soon, but I do casually browse on Zillow to see what's out there. Apart from my personal requirements like rent and being somewhere that allows cats, one thing I have in the back of my mind is how easily I could turn part of the living room area into a home office for writing. Even if that consists of just a desk and a chair.
Comparatively, I know of writers who set themselves up with a laptop at the kitchen table, type on their phone during their daily subway or bus commute—I'll sometimes bring my tablet and mini QWERTY keyboard to work and sneak some blogging in on my break.
Starting off small, like a corner of your bedroom or living room can be all you need to get going. As long as you're able to claim a space and set up shop, you're good to go (and start pinning ideas for your "Someday Study").
As I'm reacquainting myself with writing routines, one thing I'm trying to get better at is limiting distractions.
This wasn't so much of a problem for me in college. It was actually common to have two windows on my laptop screen, one with Netflix or YouTube videos playing and the other with MS Word and whatever essay I was assigned over the weekend. Having Markiplier or GTLive streams going was especially common.
While there were a few occasions where they were working in unison, such as my paper on Scott Cawthon that had me binging playthroughs of every entry in the Five Nights at Freddy's series for hours on end, but for the most part there was no correlation between what I was writing and what I was watching.
These days, however, that's not something I can do as easily. Shifting away from split screening has been a tricky adjustment, mainly because of the background noise factor.
I've come to prefer music that is either instrumental or in a language I'm not fluent in so I'm not focused on the lyrics. Additionally, I might pop on a background noise video on YouTube, usually rainfall or coffee shop sounds, as complete silence makes it harder for me to focus.
There are days where multitasking can still play a role in my writing life, but this is primarily limited to research days, such as taking notes during a documentary about something relevant to my WIP, and it's not as big of a deal when I'm editing. But for the most part, limiting distractions has helped me make progress with my writing again.
Carving Out A Time
When I was looking for some guidance in reestablishing my writing habits, one tip was fairly consistent. To paraphrase: get in the mindset of making the time instead of finding the time.
Prioritizing your writing when you're settling into a new routine is worthwhile, and making it a point to commit to it by doing something simple like watching one less episode of your latest Netflix binge and devoting that hour-ish to writing is a great first step.
If you can set a schedule for your writing, consider doing so. I'm anything but an early bird, but if getting up at a specific time and starting the day with writing is what works for you, go for it.
Alternatively, you might find a looser schedule to be better suited for you. Saying you're going to write for an hour after coming home from work can still get you in a routine, even if you can't designate a specific time for it.
Stick With It
Even though it can take a bit to settle into a new writing routine, the best thing you can do as you're getting into the groove is to stick with it.
It takes about three weeks at a minimum to develop a new habit, sometimes longer, and writing is no different.
Being patient and persistent are key to maintaining a writing routine.
You don't need to write for hours on end daily or make drastic changes to get started. Rather, focus on making bite-sized strides and settling into your new routine. Go in knowing your strengths, preexisting tendencies as a writer, and what's going on with your life as it currently is, and incorporate those factors.
Once you find what works for you, your writing routine becomes easier to keep to.