Lesson 3 – Establishing a Great Writing Routine

Do you write best in the mornings or the afternoons? Do you prefer to have long writing sessions or work for short bursts interspersed with breaks? Do you lose momentum if you don’t write every day, or do you do best with weekends off?

You might not know the answers – that’s okay. This lesson is all about figuring out what works for you so that you can get into great habits.

Morning Lark or Night Owl?

Some writers – me included – do their best work in the mornings. We might be a little groggy when we first wake up, but after an hour, we hit our stride.

Others work best in the evenings, perhaps once their kids are in bed, or once other duties have been done. They’re awake and focused.

And, of course, some folks are neither morning nor evening people but work best between lunch and dinner.

You might already have a sense of when you do your best work, but I’d highly recommend experimenting with some different times of day. You may just confirm what you already know, or you may find that you have a second “peak” of energy.

One of the best tools I know for this is Charlie Gilkey’s heatmap – see How Heatmapping Your Productivity Can Make You More Productive.

Once you know your peak times, do everything that you can to protect them.

  • Deal with administrative tasks in a non-peak time – emails, updating social media profiles, sending invoices, etc. Save your best times purely for writing.
  • Avoid scheduling appointments during your peak times.
  • Make sure your personal routine lends itself to productivity at your best times. For instance, if you know that you write best between 6am and 10am, you’ll want to be in bed and asleep well before midnight.
  • Let other people know your writing times. Tell your family or housemates, and consider being clear about your “work hours” to friends who might call on you and even clients who may expect a swift response to emails.

Short or Long Writing Sessions?

Some writers work best in short bursts, racing through hundreds of words in half an hour before taking a break to do something different. Others work best in longer sessions, slowly hitting their stride but carrying on for three or four hours before stopping.

If you feel like writing always comes as a struggle, try writing for half an hour – or for three hours – instead of your usual hour. What feels most comfortable for you?

Once you have a good idea, work your schedule around your writing:

  • Block out time to just write, whether for long or short sessions.
  • If you write best in short bursts, break those up with administrative tasks – like uploading content into your client’s CMS, or sending invoices.
  • If you write best during long sessions, make good use of short pockets of time for admin.
  • Plan ahead, particularly if you work best in longer sessions. Look for chunks of time to spend on your writing.

Where You Write

Just as important as when you write is where you write. If your location is actively working against you – perhaps there’s a lot of noise or other distractions – then it’s going to be tough for you to keep up your productivity.

Some writers work best when they’re absolutely alone, with the door shut: they can block out the world and concentrate. Other writers love the buzz of a cafe, and write well when don’t have the distractions of home nearby.

The main criteria are that your location is comfortable – you’ll want a good chair, for instance – and that you can concentrate well there. You’ll also, obviously, need to make sure that you can use your computer easily and efficiently. That probably means having access to a power outlet, a broadband connection and maybe a printer.

What works for you? If you’re not sure, try out a few different locations, like:

  • Your local library (great if you like quiet but struggle to work at home)
  • Coffee shops or even a bar (can make writing feel like a treat, rather than work!)
  • A home office (you don’t need to spend loads of money – you just need a good chair and a desk to put your computer on)
  • The sofa (it may end up being less distracting to be in the same room as your family, if you get a lot of interruptions otherwise)

Starting and Ending Your Writing Sessions

An important part of your writing routine is how you start and end a session. Again, different things work for different writers.

Generally, you want to start a session strongly – rather than spend half an hour surfing the net before settling down to work. You might choose to have a particular signal that it’s work time (like turning off your internet, making a mug of tea, or opening up a particular program on the computer).

You might be tempted to just stop as soon as you’ve finished a particular article, or as soon as you’ve been writing for an hour. But stopping suddenly – or in the wrong place – can make it really difficult to pick up again next time.

To get into a good starting and ending routine, try:

  • Start off with a quick “warm up” if you’re struggling to write – just like you’d warm up before an exercise session. Write for five or ten minutes without stopping, on any topic you like (you could use a list of writing prompts or pick a random word, object or idea). The idea isn’t to produce great prose – you’re just trying to get your writing muscles moving!
  • End in the middle of something – perhaps part-way through a chapter of an ebook you’re working on, or with the outline of a blog post completed. Many writers find that it’s easiest to get going again when they have something to go back to.
  • But … don’t stop too abruptly. Make a few quick notes to remind you where you left off. You might, for instance, jot down bullet points for the next paragraphs that you want to write.

It takes time to get into a comfortable routine, so experiment a bit – and don’t get frustrated if you’re not quite there yet. If you’re struggling, though, feel free to post in the forums so that we can help.