Finding a New Writing Routine
One of the most popular questions I receive as an author is "What's your writing routine?"
I love asking that question too! Just because I'm published doesn't mean I have all the answers; in fact, this post is about how I don't. It's interesting to hear about other writer's processes, and learn new approaches I can take. (Secretly, I wonder if I've actually been doing it wrong all this time, but I've been lucky.) I know every writer and every project is different, but I think one way of avoiding writer's block is to just try writing another way.
My answer to the question has become more and more complicated over the years. Sometimes I make a distinction between my ideal writing schedule and the one life often allows, or I explain how much my routine varies over the course of a week. "If it's a weekday, then I write on my lunch break and before I go to bed. If it's a weekend, and I don't have any family obligations, I hole up in a coffee shop for 14 hours a day." That isn't exactly a routine. For the past year, I was just writing as much as I could, as quickly as I could, wherever and whenever I could. Then again, that's probably how most of us do it, right?
After five novels (three published) and dozens and dozens of short stories, as well as a lot of blog posts, I've built up a good enough discipline as a writer to finish what I start and generally meet deadlines — two major contributors to success. The way most writers develop discipline is by establishing writing as a habit, and that comes from sticking to a routine. I may not "need" to write everyday anymore, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to.
I may have to write as often as possible, but at least I can usually predict when that time will be available: 45 minutes at lunch, an hour or two at night, half an hour before work, 14 hours on Saturday, and so on. The tricky thing is that life has a way of changing, especially when you're getting comfortable. So let's switch the previous sentence to the past tense...
In the last five years, I had some pretty big life changes: I moved to a new city, got a new job, got married. I went from writing just before work to writing at night, to writing really early in the morning and at night. Consequently, I have written every one of my novels differently, on a different schedule. Most recently, my wife and I had our first baby — and just like that, everything has changed again! Those two uninterrupted weekend days? Poof! Gone. [Note: I was just interrupted by a wailing baby. Changed a diaper, but it looks like he just wants to sit with me. Say hi, Spud!]
So that's where I am now. I haven't written fiction in the three months since the kid was born, and now I need a new routine to get back into it. The trouble is, I can no longer predict when I will have time, so I guess have to be a little more nimble and motivated. My plan so far involves a few tactics:
I picked up an Alphasmart Neo word processor, inspired by author Aliette de Bodard's process for writing with a baby. Even my netbook takes too long to start up these days; by the time I can open Scrivener, my three minutes of peace and quiet could be over. This will really only work for writing a first draft, but I'm willing to give it a try and will blog about the experience.
I hate to say it, but I need to limit my use of social media. I've notice that I've been filling small pockets of free time with Twitter and Facebook — time that could be better spent on my next novel! But of course, I do need those small social interactions, so I'll have to figure out a good balance.
[The Spud is wiggling around in my lap — and is he pooping?! — this is kind of distracting]
[Just gave him a pacifier and he calmed down. Whew.]
Coordinate with my wife for bigger blocks of time to write — challenging because she works more hours than I do.
Set goals and personal deadlines to meet the professional deadlines. Maybe I should get one of those calendars and put stars on it, like people do?
Cut back on TV — again. After just a few months with a baby, I'm more caught up on shows than I have been in a decade! Reading, not so much.
Sleep less? (That may not actually be possible. I'm already more exhausted than I've ever been.)
Ask for help...
This is me asking for help. What's your writing routine? I would especially like to hear from writers juggling day jobs and babies, but I'm happy to hear any advice because you're all busy people who still make the words happen. How do you stay-at-home parents manage? In the comments, tell me what works for you, point me to helpful articles, trade tips with each other.
[And... The Spud is sleeping! Of course he is, because this post is done and now I have to try to move him to his crib.]