5 Tricks To Establish The Writing Routine Of Your Dreams: Part 1

pablo (3)Part 1: Why Write In The First Place?

Are you a writer who just can’t get a regular writing routine established? Do you want to write, but struggle to find the time for it or to beat distractions? If you’re ready to write more frequently, but just don’t know how to make it happen, this 5-part series can help.

I’ll share with you the exact steps I’ve taken over the last year and a half to create a daily writing practice that helped me write a 98,000-word novel. No shortcuts, no outlandish schemes, nothing you can’t do around your busy day-to-day life.

Just practical, real tricks to finally turn your dream of writing into your daily reality.

Why write in the first place?

This was the question I had to ask myself in August of 2014 when months of not writing started to weigh on me.

I’d been down that road before – after graduating from my MFA program in early 2011, I didn’t write for about a year. If you’ve ever felt the frustration of wanting to write but not being able to write, you’ll know what I mean.

Your better logic is telling you to do it: it’s what you want to do, you have ideas, important things to say, characters to create. It’s all you can think about. But the minute you sit down, you freeze. Or every word you type is awful. Or you can’t focus for more than a few minutes before it all just feels too hard and you’d rather do anything else – truly anything else: are there any week-old dishes I can wash? Anyone with a small child need help changing diapers?! Please. Let me scrub your bathroom grout. I’ll even clean out your garbage disposal for you. Otherwise, I might have to write.

I was sick in 2014. I have an autoimmune disease that flared up worse than it ever had before. I was so fatigued that spring and summer, I could barely stay awake past 7pm. After a full day of work, writing just wasn’t going to happen. So it didn’t. For months.

I reassessed my relationship with writing when I started to feel better towards the end of the summer. I wanted to write, but it felt impossible. Insurmountable.

Maybe you can relate to this: the hardest part of ANY creative project is starting. It’s the worst part for me, and I know it’s the same for a lot of other writers, too.

All I wanted, really, was a writing routine. I wanted to write regularly again and I wanted it to be easy. I didn’t want to battle with myself about it every single day. I just wanted it to be something I did without struggling.

But how?? Establishing a regular writing routine is one of the hardest things for some writers to do. How was I supposed to do it?

I started with this simple question to myself: Why?

Why write in the first place? Why do I want a writing practice? Why isn’t it enough for me to just write once in a while when I feel “inspired?” What do I want to get out of it?

These are all questions you should ask yourself as this point, too.

My answer was simple: I want to write again because being sick took it away from me. And I’m not myself if I’m not writing. All I want to get out of it is a minimum of one creative sentence a day. Just enough to say I did it.

And that’s where it started.

I challenged myself to 100 straight days of writing. It was on a whim, so I didn’t have much time to think about it or back out.

Here were the guidelines: Have zero expectations for any of it. Write something creative every single day. Bare minimum is one sentence. Just show up.

It could be written by hand, on the computer, or typed into an email draft on my phone as I fall asleep. Work, social media, lists – none of that counted. It had to be something that could possibly be fodder for a story. That’s it.

Some days I wrote for an hour, but most of the time, I wrote for 15 minutes by hand using a prompt. Occasionally there were whole weekend afternoons I spent at the coffee shop with pen in hand. Some nights I really did type a sentence or two into my phone as I was falling asleep.

I couldn’t skip a day, though. That was the deal I’d made with myself.

A year and a half later, I can tell you this – the writing routine of your dreams start with understanding why you want to write in the first place.

Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, before you start plotting out the novel or memoir or screenplay you’ll create, before you block a single hour in your calendar to write… answer these questions:

What do you want to get out of writing regularly? Is it that you want to free write more often and see what comes up? (That was my main reason.) To play? To churn out words on an existing project? To get started on a new project? There’s no right or wrong here.

What excites you about getting into a writing practice? What’s the appeal? What do you hope it does for you?

And deeper than that – why write at all? What’s in it for you, on a personal, human level?

What makes you want to write, anyway? 

I promise that figuring this out is really the key to doing anything worthwhile. And listen, if you can’t come up with a good reason to do it, can you then let yourself off the hook entirely? Can you stop feeling bad about not writing? Maybe it’s not your thing.

On the flip side, though, if you know you have to write, that NOT writing is simply not an option, can you at least agree that it’s important enough to start doing regularly?

I would love to hear why you want to write. Share it below – it might make it even more real for you to put it out there!

And if you found this tip helpful, share it with other writers who might need it too.

Check out the rest of this series here:

Part 2: Make Your New Writing Routine Absolutely Foolproof

Part 3: Why Writing For 100 Days Straight Changes EVERYTHING

Part 4: How To Create A Trigger That Saves You Time And Energy – And Gets You Writing

Part 5: Exactly What It Is That Makes Writing “Hard” – And How To Beat It

What It Means To Start

Up in the treetops

Over the summer, I enrolled in Sarah Selecky’s course, Story is a State of Mind. I was part of the Summer School intensive, which meant I was going through the course in real-time with my classmates, and was accountable each Monday to post my assignment to our Wiki group, comment on the readings, and give my classmates feedback.

For me, it’s easier to start writing something when I’m accountable to someone else. I think it feeds into my desire to meet other people’s expectations of me, but that’s a psychoanalysis for another blog post.

Ever since the course ended in early September, I’ve been sitting on this draft of a story that I started during the program.

I think about the story and the main character all the time. I actually feel a little bit haunted by one line in particular that I wrote. I don’t know where it came from, but it startles me. And I know that’s good writing.

But getting started with the next step of the process is sort of killing me. The story needs to be finished, first of all. And then it needs revising and polishing. And another set of eyes on it for good measure.

But again– starting is killing me.

This is nothing new to you writers and artists out there. I’m sure this form of resistance is an old song and dance for many creatives.

It’s the same feeling I had when I went zip lining for the first time this summer. I was in New Hampshire with my husband and my family. We went to this aerial adventure course in the treetops of Loon Mountain. There were multiple zip lines throughout the course, ranging in length and height off the ground.

On the first line, I felt resistance. I hooked in my harness the way the instructor showed us. I had my hand in the right position to keep my body facing forward as I zipped through the trees. The prep work was done, but I physically couldn’t get off the platform. Every inch of my being resisted stepping off.

Someone recommended leaning back into my butt, where the harness basically cradles your entire body. When you feel that support, you know you can let go and be safe.

They were right. Once I leaned back just a touch and felt the support o the harness, I knew I could push past the physical resistance and just let go. So I did. And you know what? It was freaking great! Zip lines make you feel like a badass.

How does this relate to writing? Well, I’m standing on the platform with this story. I’m harnessed in. I can sort of see the other side. I just need to start the process and get back into the story. I need to lean into the harness and trust. And the harness is there, in so many forms– an MFA, feedback from other writers, encouragement from writer friends, a general sense of knowing this can be done because I’ve done it before, after all.

Why is it so hard to start? Because of what it means.

To start means to surrender, to have faith, to risk it all. To take the chance that the harness might snap mid-line, but to do it anyway.

Yet to start also means to take the chance that the harness will hold you until you get to the end of the line, that it’ll cradle your efforts the entire way, and release you safely on the other side. And then you’ll have to accept the fact that you did it. Even if your work never gets published, or earns you thirty rejection letters, or ends up spending the rest of its life on an external hard drive collecting dust, you did it.

What it means to start is this: letting go, and giving yourself a chance to see what you’re made of.

That’s me on the zip line!

Write Despite… Being Away From The Page For A While

When you come back to the page after too long away, you might feel stiff.

You haven’t been here in a while, so the first words will be the most difficult. And they’ll look the worst.

You’ll judge them for being wrong, for looking stupid together, for not living up to the potential they had in your mind.

Being away from the page for a while is ok. Coming back is what matters. Putting word after word, sentence after sentence until you’ve climbed your way out is what matters.

So write despite feeling rusty and out of practice. Write despite the distance that’s grown between you and your writing. If it calls to you, just start where you are.

Meet yourself here, in this moment, and begin again.

Where Writers Write: Christine Bagley

This week we welcome my good friend, former MFA classmate, and fiction writer Christine Bagley to the Where Writers Write series. We met at Lesley University and have been close writing friends since. Remember– if you want to be featured in the Where Writers Write series, email me at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com!

What is your writing space like?

In a room that’s shaped like a large shoebox (13’ X 6’), I sit at my desk where four windows provide me a view of a 63-acre private estate. A stone wall separates the estate from my property where wild turkeys, deer, fox, coyotes, rabbits, and woodchucks roam the woods. This view of Mother Nature allows my mottled mind to relax then wander, so it’s free to create unforgettable characters, in-depth storylines, and transport my readers to a place they’ve never been before. I often daydream about knights on horseback and animals that transform themselves into humans, like the dark turkeys that gather on my lawn remind me of a witches’ coven.

I listen to Cinemix on my computer, a station that features movie soundtracks like Gladiator, Russia House, Braveheart, Tuck Everlasting, and The Last of The Mohicans. Soundtracks set a mood for me and I find them inspirational and thought provoking.

What’s something unique and interesting about your writing space? / If you could have any writing space in the world, what would it look like and why?

In this writing refuge, I’m surrounded by manuscripts, three bookcases, and a bulletin board filled with post its of inspiration. Lucky charms and statuettes like the Angel of Patience and my grandfather’s pipe, sit on the windowsill. Only one more thing would make my literary haven perfection; the sight and sound of a mighty ocean with frothy waves that peak and splash over the stone wall.

Do you keep a writing routine? If so, what is your routine?

I try to write most Wednesday and Friday afternoons, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and on the train from Andover to Boston three days a week. My weekend mornings often stretch out until late afternoon after which I need a nap because my head is so full of scenes and dialogue and vivid descriptions. I work on two to three projects at a time to allow myself the perspective I need.

Christine Bagley is a fiction writer from Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and teaches English composition to foreign national students. In her writing, she’s particularly interested in serious, often tragic subjects injected with wry humor. At this time, she has five stories in submission. 

Where Writers Write: Tracie Banister

This week we welcome novelist Tracie Banister to the Where Writers Write series. Remember– if you want to be featured in the Where Writers Write series, email me at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com!

Hi!  My name is Tracie Banister, and I’m a novelist who likes to write books for women, about women.  My stories are pure escapism with lots of humor and romance, the kind of thing you’d read at the beach then pass along to your girlfriends.  I recently released my debut Chick Lit novel, Blame It on the Fame, and hope to publish a second book this summer.

I want to thank Kristin for allowing me to participate in this wonderful series about writers and their creative spaces.  I’m always fascinated to read what inspires and drives an artist, what his/her process is like, and what little quirks are a part of it.  I am a creature of habit and have been writing at the same small, beat-up desk since I started work on my very first novel (about 7 years ago.)

What is your writing space like?

I do my writing in my office/TV room.  It’s a place of comfort, solitude, and creativity.  The walls are painted a beautiful shade of moss green, a color I’ve always found very soothing.  When I’m writing and feel stuck or frustrated, I can just look straight ahead at the bare green wall behind my desk and my mind instantly clears.

In most areas of my life, I’m very organized, but not so with my desk.  I have an addiction to post-its and use them liberally, scribbling character names, plot ideas, research info, bits of dialogue, etc. on them.  So, those are always piled up messily on my desk, along with memo pads where I write a lot of notes for my different writing projects.  I, also, have multi-colored post-its plastered all over my plotting board, which sits on the floor next to my desk for easy access and reference.  I keep a couple of motivational and creativity-inspiring items on the right side of my desk – a Shakespeare paperweight that my brother picked up for me in Stratford-on-Avon when he was studying abroad. Hanging from The Bard’s neck is a silver pendant given to me by one of my dearest friends.  The inscription on the pendant says, “Never give up.”  I touch the top of Shakespeare’s head and the pendant every morning before I begin work on my computer.

Do you keep a writing routine? If so, what is your routine?

My brain really works best when it’s fresh, so I do most of my writing in the late morning/early afternoon.  I have a writing ritual – I pour myself a glass of Lemon La Croix Water, rub on some Origins hand cream (which has bergamot in it, so it smells like my beloved Earl Grey tea), and don my writing sweater (a comfy black cardigan.)  I work for a few hours in the morning then I take a break to exercise, eat lunch, and do a couple of crosswords (these always stimulate my brain and put me in the proper frame of mind to write.)  I go back to my WIP for a few more hours in the afternoon and usually end my day by rereading what I’ve written and making notes for the next scene or chapter.

What’s something unique and interesting about your writing space?

I have framed posters from Broadway shows on several of the walls in my office.  I am a big lover of the theatre and try to get to New York once a year to see as many plays and musicals as I can.  All art inspires and motivates me, so having these posters in my creative space reminds me not only of wonderful experiences, but what can be accomplished when you follow your dreams.

If you could have any writing space in the world, what would it look like and why?

I’ve often fantasized about having a cottage in the English countryside, something really quaint and cozy. In my cottage, I would have an office where the walls were lined with shelves of books so that I’d be surrounded by the creative genius of all the literary greats – Austen, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, the Brontes – and I’d put my desk in front of a big picture window that looked out onto a lovely English country garden teeming with flowers and greenery. I imagine myself sitting at that desk gazing out at that abundance of beauty and color and being very inspired.

Tracie Banister lives and writes in Atlanta. She blogs about her books and other fun stuff at http://traciebanister.blogspot.com/ and tweets at @traciebanister.

A big thank you to Tracie for sharing her space with us this week! What do you guys think? Would your dream writing space look like Tracie’s English countryside retreat?