I’ve been trying to get on a consistent writing routine and almost every author who gives writing advice provides the simple maxim, “Write Everyday.”

I’d like to add the caveat, “…except when you don’t.”

Days and weeks are busy. If you, like me, work a joe job schlepping for the man, then you’ve got to take care of the time you have with some delicacy. You need to unwind, you need to eat, you need to be (occasionally) social, you need to  read and ingest other forms of media (which is half of what this writing gig’s about). And you need to write.

I myself have been trying to hit a quota of at least four times a week. In my more frantic pushes to finish projects, I’d set aside 4-6 hours at night of non-stop writing action. The results were very productive– I’d get over 20,000 words a week. That’s not always possible but what I learned from that is that it helps to anchor your routine to rituals. My rituals were:

  1. Brew a pot of coffee at 6 PM
  2. Drink coffee, start project, catch up with Twitter
  3. Get a burrito between 7-8 PM
  4. Eat burrito while writing
  5. Brew decaf pot of coffee, see what’s happening on Twitter
  6. Get zoned in on writing until 12:30 AM

It’s probably not the most feasible schedule ever written– I’m not entirely sure I can write off burritos for tax purposes– but that framework of regularity took care of life’s stressful little details such that I could focus on the work. If I got lost along the way, I knew how to click back into the groove (“Oh, I haven’t brewed the decaf yet. I’m on it.”). I also knew when I was going to stop (which is sometimes more of a suggestion if the writing’s hot).

You’ll also notice that I included farting around on social media into the routine. I feel like it’s necessary to distract yourself a little bit to keep the gears in your head properly oiled. Writing emails, chatting a buddy on Facebook, Tweeting, these are all ways to exercise the writing component of your mind, while also exorcising certain ideas that have no place in your fiction (e.g. if I have a joke that’s inappropriate for the book I’m working on, I’ll throw it on Twitter or simply just send it to a friend, instead of trying to jam it crudely into some prose).

These days I’m allowing a little more time to finish projects, I find myself asking myself the question of setting up a word count quota. How much should I get down?  I’ve used quotas in the past and they can be incredibly helpful. In fact, I still use them but I’ve ratcheted it down to ~400 words per session instead of 1,200.

Because I think the more important thing to set up is the time allotted to write instead of a hard number to hit. You ever read a listicle that tried so hard to hit the word count that it strung a sentence along twice the length it needed to be? There are tales of NaNoWriMo cheating their word counts in all sorts of ways– and it misses the point. If you set up a beginning time and a finishing time, you’ll hit your quota. You’ll exceed it beyond your wildest speculations.

I still haven’t created a perfect schedule and I’m still tweaking what works. There are the days where I just squeak by with the minimum 400 and then there are days when I can’t stop and I’ve got 20 more pages compiled. And maybe that’s just what works for me– like a runner training for the big marathon.

So, if this entry has a point it’s this: The big push will yield a big pay off, but so will the accumulation of regular sprints. You just need to make the time.

If you’ve got suggestions, hey, lemme know.

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