How to Establish A Writing Routine—and make it stick

book writing Sep 16, 2020

I’ve committed to writing a blog post every week in addition to my full-time job where I do a lot of writing. If you’re a full-time writer or make your living by writing, what I do probably sounds really simple and you could do it in your sleep, and I can’t imagine how it must be to know that I have to force myself to write (other than emails, book reviews, social media posts) every single day and that paying my bills depends on that writing. I am in awe of you.

BUT, I also have to imagine that the concept of creating a routine is the same for you pros as it is for us amateurs. In this time of quarantine and working from home, all kinds of routines have been turned upside down or abandoned.

I’m so easily distracted that if I don’t have a routine and if I haven’t established a cadence of accountability to myself and to my support team, I simply won’t get it done, I’ll procrastinate. I can always come up with excuses—I’ll do it tomorrow, I’m too tired, I have to finish this project before I can start a new one, and on and on. This routine doesn’t just apply to writing but also to exercise and going to bed early and going to work and to absolutely everything we do that we want to be successful at. I find that I’m using the word routine but it seems to be synonymous here with the word discipline.

Here are a few things I do to keep myself on task and committed to my deadlines. It isn’t one size fits all but these are some simple tips that you can adjust to create your success.

1.       First thing, I set myself a goal.  My twenty plus years of 7 Habits teaching and training has me committed to goal setting and to the formula of X to Y by When. Check out my previous blog post about SMART goals. If you’re not in the habit of setting goals, start small and work your way up to the big things. For instance, if you’re an amateur writer like me, set a small goal of sitting at your writing station and writing for just 10 minutes every day. It could be anything—a shopping list, a book review, a thank you letter, a journal entry. Then when you’ve achieved that for a month, move on to a bigger goal. Celebrate your small victories. Making and achieving small goals makes it easier to make and achieve bigger victories because you have grown and strengthened your goal muscle.

Set a goal so small that you can’t NOT achieve it.

2.       Find your peak and trough times of day for you. Your peak time is when you’re fresh and alert, it’s the time you can most easily tap into your flow. I know me, my peak time is early morning. I rise at 5:15, exercise for an hour, and then I get into the groove. For a week, track your energy level--there are apps for that, or simply note on your calendar your high and low times. You probably already instinctively know it. Use your peak time for writing--keep that commitment to yourself to write during your peak. 

The trouble is that often we often don’t do the right tasks at the right time. We think questions of “when” are less important than questions of “what,” “how,” and “who.” So we squander our peak answering email, then try—often unsuccessfully—do our deep work during the afternoon. That’s a mistake. Research shows that time of day explains 20 percent of the variance on human performance on cognitive tasks.

–Daniel Pink

3.       Write it in your planner and keep that time sacred. Adopt the mindset of “making time not finding time.” If your writing is important to you, you’ll make it a Big Rock. Stephen Covey popularized the idea of the Big Rocks object lesson of prioritization which requires us to decide what to add first. The object lesson is to have a jar, larger rocks that will fit into the jar, and gravel. If done right, it should all it into the jar. 

The jar represents the hours in your day, week, month, and year.  

The Big Rocks represent the important priorities that our roles play in our lives – time spent on key relationships and responsibilities, important projects such as writing, building an author platform, and so forth. 

The Big Rocks are in contrast to the gravel, which represents all the little things that fill up our lives – email, calls, laundry, less important priorities, and so on.  If you don’t put the larger rocks in the jar before the gravel, then the gravel consumes the space leaving no room for the Big Rocks, the important priorities. When you put in the Big Rocks first, the gravel fills in the space. 

I often forget this lesson, filling my schedule with the minutia--it makes me feel like I’ve done a lot and that I’ve been productive but in actuality, I was counterproductive because I didn’t work on my priorities--for me and you that jeopardizes writing and promotion goals.

Remember: big rocks come first. Then, fill in only the smaller items that support the Big Rocks, the larger objectives.

4.       Create a dedicated workspace. I have an established place and time where I can focus on the task at hand. I have the tools I need, and even the tools I might need so that I’m not distracted with excuses to go find a pencil, a sweater, a tissue, a drink, or even a pain reliever. 

In this space, my mind knows that this space is for writing work. I try to not let other distractions such as games, Hulu, books, etc. enter this space. This space is for creativity and thinking and brainstorming. 

During quarantine, I struggled to maintain my writing routine--my writing space became mentally and emotionally contaminated. I had to mentally force myself back into keeping my space and time sacred--I had to relearn these tips. 

5.       Make your goals public. Share your goals with people you trust, people who have your best interests at heart, and those who will support you. Commit to them publicly. I have used this method for breaking poor eating habits and establishing good workout habits. 

For example, I have announced to my family and my work colleagues that doughnuts are evil, I say “you might as well shoot lard straight into your veins,” and that public announcement has kept me from eating doughnuts for probably 10 years and still going strong. I know it seems extreme but it works for me.

ASTD did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed to, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.

6.       Be disciplined. It hurts, it’s hard, it’s a principle of life. It’s like starting a new exercise routine--it hurts at first, but over time, it gets easier. When it does get easier, up your discipline game. Add something that requires even MORE discipline like extend your writing and/or research time, try writing in a cooler room, try dictation while you walk. Just keep pushing yourself and keep strengthening that discipline muscle.

Great leaders always have self-discipline without exception.

—John Maxwell

7.       Just write. Some people use writing prompts or speed writing methods or an outline. I like the outline method. I jot down the main ideas—oftentimes my main ideas are created as a list, but you can probably tell that from my previous blog posts—and then I go back and fill in.

Wherever you are in your writing career, these are good habits you don’t ever want to lose. 

All of these tips also apply to launch your finished book or writing project. Apply what you’ve learned here as you focus on building your social media and author platform and on promoting yourself and your book. I urge you to either get started or re-engage, just make it a routine and I guarantee you’ll find great success. 



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