I’m going back to basics this week, focusing on my routine and getting back into the habit of getting shit done. This means being in bed by ten o’clock each night. It means getting by 6:15 every morning, making sure I’m at the keyboard and working before 7:00. It means easing back my words-per-day goal to something easily achievable, probably about 750 words, then scaling things up as the week progresses.
It means taking a few minutes to back-up my work and settle my thoughts before leaving the house, rather than going to work with a head full of story.
It means making my damn bed every morning.
There are writers who can work without routines. I’ve known a couple of them. I’ve pretended to be one myself, from time to time, but I’ve discovered that only works when I’ve been working a dayjob one or two days a week. For me, not having a routine is a luxury that’s only possible when I’ve got an abundance of free time, allowing me to put stuff off and put stuff off, and yet still have enough hours to panic-write at the end.
We talk a lot of bullshit about routine and habits, particularly when it comes to writing. There is the pop-psychology concept that it takes just 21 days to burn in a habit, which sounds easy and inspiring but actually short-changes the average process by a period of months. We talk shit about the 10,000 hours of practice needed to master something, which again, short-changes the process and makes it sound like all practice is created equal. Writers are particularly fond of the you must write every day advice, regardless of whether that actually reflects the working process of real-life writers or not.
But right now, as a writer rocking the part-time writer lifestyle, I need my routine. I need to find the groove and live within it. I need to make things instinct, just so I can be sure things will get done. I need to minimize the drag on my process, ’cause it’s all to easy to step away from the keyboard and do other things instead.
SO WHAT KILLED MY ROUTINE?
Nothing specific. Routines are easy to maintain when everything’s going right, and they’re actually moderately difficult to disrupt, once you’ve built up the habit. They get dragged down under the slow accumulation of things: releasing a new book, which requires more time on email than usual; a problem at work, that follows you home one evening; giving up your morning fiction writing to get a blog post done; a cold or a throat infection, which gives you an excuse to let the process drop.
You hit the end of all those and realise…well, I’ve written nothing. I haven’t blogged. I haven’t written fiction. I’m falling behind on everything.
AND THAT’S FINE, ‘CAUSE MY ROUTINE DID IT’S JOB
I don’t build my routine ’cause it’s useful on the easy days. On the easy days, shit, I want to be doing this. I love the idea of getting up and writing. I’ll make my bed on instinct, just ’cause that’s what happens once I complete my morning ablutions.
I build up a routine ’cause it’s important on the days when it isn’t easy.
My routine kept me moderately productive as the distractions weighed in over the last few weeks. It kept me writing through the week where I could barely get out of bed. I hit my blog deadlines, more or less. I worked on projects, even if the wordcount wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
The habits I’d built up during the good times kept me going through the rough patch. It took a lot of shit before I rolled to a complete stop.
And by the time that happened, I was ready to start building things up again.
Back to basics. 750 words a day. One made bed at a time. Until it feels natural and I no longer notice it. Until the next sick day comes in.