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: Dave Ursillo

This week’s Where Writer’s Write post comes to us from Dave Ursillo, a fellow Rhode Island native &  writer. If you have a rockin’ writing space you’d like to share with us, email me at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com.

I love to write on a subject I call, “alternative leadership.”

Alternative leadership is at the crossroads of self-realization (beyond the stigmas of self-help, not personal development, but genuinely realizing the power and beauty and limitless capabilities we all possess) and leadership (redefining what it means to be a leader and helping people reclaim the title of leadership for themselves, in any walk of life, to genuinely help people).

My writing tends to take a very personal tone, sometimes drifts into either a very poetic/prose form or, conversely, can take up a strong edginess. It evokes a lot of emotion in readers, and often treats topics of social behavior, group interactions, and how we lead our lives.

What is your writing space like?

Simple, practical. Peaceful, zen, ohm. Whether at home or on the road, at my desk or in a coffee shop, I always seek out a writing space that is an environment that serves my writing frame of mind: giving, open, sharp, poetic, creative, valuable. 
At home, I like to keep sparse reminders within eye-shot like notes-to-self (currently notes like, “Feeling precedes, then facilitates, action.” and “Serve strengths, measure in ease, simplicity, joy.”) and inspiring books (poetry from Hafiz and Rumi, Emerson and Thoreau, works from the Dalai Lama and more), which always litter my desk. I like to have brilliant words surround me. They serve as great queues for my writing: pushing myself to up the ante and truly serve others with the words I write.
 

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

I keep a very strict routine of keeping no writing routine at all. Like Orwell’s 6th rule of writing, break any of your own rules when they don’t serve you. Routines make me feel boxed in, and with an art form like writing I believe that you need to go when the flow strikes. 
I try to write every day, but often there are stretches when I don’t write for a few days. I really enjoy writing when I feel it, instead of trying to “will” it. I don’t subscribe to the tortured artist routine or believe in writer’s block — writers tend to keep to many self-imposed rules, restrictions, preconceived notions about their craft which only complicates things. Just be open, clear your mind, and flow.
 

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

Today my writing space is pretty make-shift and made to travel: to move, to breathe in new scenes, to experience new faces and see life being lived. That fuels my writing. I’m a nonfiction writer so experiencing people and regular, ordinary living situations serves as incredible and endless inspiration to me.
  

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

Writing overlooking the water — or any scene that screams “life.” A New York City street currently screams life to me when I write these days. I love the scene of a quiet beach just as much — different views, but they all serve my writing purpose: give, give, give.
Dave Ursillo is a former politico insider turned alternative leadership writer, author and speaker. His debut nonfiction title, Lead Without Followers, is a personal tale and political analysis of what it means to be a leader in today’s desperate world. He speaks, offers 1-on-1 leadership coaching and blogs at DaveUrsillo.com.

Where Writers Write: Ollin Morales

This week’s Where Writer’s Write post comes to us from Ollin Morales, a writer with a very unique take on writing spaces. If you have a rockin’ writing space you’d like to share with us, email me at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com.

I started a blog about two years ago (Courage 2 Create) chronicling the process of writing my first novel. I had no idea that people would read the blog, but not only did people start reading it, they liked it. They really liked it. The blog has become so much bigger than my own private little journey and me: it’s gone on to inspire others to follow their own passions.

The blog seeks to inspire people to create the kind of artistic work they want, and create the kind of life they want. When I began, I was writing the blog for myself. My intention was to get myself to write my novel (I had been postponing it for about two years). That really was how I started.

No grand dreams. I thought that maybe, in 5-10 years I’d get someone besides my sister to read it. But other than that, I really didn’t think anything would come of it.

But, as the blog grew, I began to commit myself more and more to helping people do what I had done, because I realized that me and my readers were both on similar journeys. I realized that my personal struggles weren’t personal at all. They were universal.

What is your writing space like?

There is no better “space” to write than the space I currently inhabit. It doesn’t matter where it is.

If the” space” where I write were to matter to me, and then I wouldn’t get any writing done. I would place too many qualifiers on my writing routine that way.

 I’d say, for instance: “I can’t write today because I’m not in my favorite coffee shop, or at my home office, or its raining, or I’m tired, or I’m in a bad mood, or I’m missing my favorite red pillow that I like to sit on, etc.”

Those qualifiers are blocks–ways in which I make excuses and put off the writing.

So, the best “space” to write for me is “no space.” Which is another way to say “every space.” Or “all space.”

Basically, I know that wherever I am, I can create the perfect conditions to write. I don’t need a specific space. I can always create the ideal space to write in. (You can do this, too.)

In a way, I am the perfect space to write in.

Thus, in order to get my writing done, I try to inhabit the space of “me” at all times. That “space” is a space of openness, honesty, patience, non-attachment and being.

You might call this response “overly philosophical,” or even “cryptic,” but I call it “incredibly practical.”

No matter where you are, if you ask yourself to be open, honest, patient, and if you ask yourself to not grasp at anything and simply be yourself, then you’ll find that you’ll get a whole lot of writing done that way.

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

My true writing routine is “flexibility.” That’s the best routine.

I’ve had times when I was writing 20 hours a week, times when I wrote only 4 hours a week, and times when I didn’t write a single word. I don’t ask myself to conform to my writing routine, I ask my writing routine to conform to me and my current situation. This gets rid of a lot of stress on my part. Because my work life and social life are always in constant flux–always changing–a rigid writing routine would have me in chaos pretty much every day of my life.

So, I don’t have a rigid routine. I keep it flexible.

Sometimes I’m just too busy to write, so my routine adapts accordingly.

Sometimes, I have plenty of time to write, so my routine adapts accordingly.

 I recommend creating a routine that adapts to you and your schedule. Not the other way around.

If you do this, I will promise you that you will write with greater ease and peace.

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

That it’s nearly impossible to describe, and even harder to implement, but that once implemented, it creates miraculous results.

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

I don’t strive for any writing space other than the one I currently inhabit. (The space of “me” that I talked about previously.) To ask for a better one would be to fall into the fatal trap of grasping and attachment. It would mean that I would have to wait for a “the ideal writing space,” and would always be dissatisfied with the writing space I currently have, because it’s not the “ideal space” I have pictured in my head.

There is no writing space that is totally perfect, anyway. A writing space will always have its shortcomings.

The writing space I currently inhabit is the only one I have at the moment. So it is the best writing space I could ever have.

Why would I want anything more?

Ollin Morales is a fiction writer, blogger, freelancer, and ghostwriter. His blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first fiction novel. His blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s tough challenges. His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers by WriteToDone two years in a row (2011, 2012).

Where Writers Write: Tiffany Clarke Harrison

This week’s post comes to us from Tiffany Clarke Harrison, a copywriting fiction-lover. If you’d love to share your rockin’ writing space with us, shoot me an email at KristinOffilerwrites@gmail.com or holler at me on Twitter.

Fiction is my first love.  We’re in a seriously committed relationship only rivaled by my marriage.  Luckily, neither my husband nor my words are the jealous type.

I also rock web copy for creative women entrepreneurs, helping them celebrate their delicious talents with content that doesn’t bore readers to death.  People can’t hire you if they’re dead, right?  Totally.

My writing space is the 4×3 corner of my bedroom that inhabits the simplest Ikea desk and a glorious garage sale find of a weathered, farmhouse chair.  It is the one spot of my room where unfolded laundry is not permitted, and layers of hot pink, green, Coldplay lyrics and house music are encouraged.
Or, at times, a blank surface and silence water my words with the greatest inspiration-it gives them room to breathe and come alive on the page.
 

What is your writing space like?

 It is uniquely me, depending on what I need that day. If I need a burst of color or a particular sound to help set the tone for my work that day, I add it.  If not, I take it away.  It is uncluttered; a space where I can keep my mind on my work and not fiddle with, say, bills sitting on the corner of my desk.  My go to inspiration books and creative cues are always around (e.g. After You’d Goneand The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and help me through the rough spots.

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

I keep a writing routine for work-I generally write on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings and edit on those evenings.  My fiction happens when it happens.  (I wish it happened more often.)  I plan on carving out time twice a week for it as well.

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

It’s mine!  I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and was so inspired to claim a space to write and make it mine.  My home is small and this corner of my bedroom by the window is just perfect.  The scenery is lovely year round.

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

I actually have 2 ideal spaces.  The first is so cliché, but Diane Keaton’s home in the movie Something’s Gotta Give.  A place on a quiet beach, lots of windows and light.  It’s perfect.  The second is probably equally cliché: a small apartment in New York City full of the eclectic industrial vibe.  There’s just so much to draw from creatively in that city.

Tiffany Clarke Harrison is a purveyor of prose and web copy rocker at blahcubed.org. She believes that ladies rock this world with soul-shifting vision, and delicious talents that seduce your face off, and writes to help aspiring women entrepreneurs turn creative hobbies into creative businesses with fun and engaging web content. You can connect with Tiffany on Twitter: @blah_cubed.

Where Writers Write: Olivia Bowen

This week’s post comes to us from brand and copy editor, Olivia Bowen, a super-talented writer I was lucky enough to meet via Twitter (where else, right?). If you have a writing space you’d love to share with us, shoot me an email at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com.

 While writing is certainly part of my work, I actually do more editing for clients, which I love. A rather unsuccessful college creative writing class helped me realize that making up stories is not where my talent lies; I am, however, skilled at helping others refine their ideas and expression so that what ends up on the screen or on the page is exactly what the author had in mind—only even clearer and with more sizzle.

As an editor who writes, my space needs to be part resource center, part inspiration hub, and comfortable enough so I can be there for hours on end, but not so comfy that I forget I have work to do. Here’s what I’ve come up with to meet those needs.

What is your writing space like?

I work from home, so I was able to create a writing and editing space that meets my specific needs. My husband recently helped me revamp the office to be more ergonomic—with all the time I spend working at my desk, having a setup that’s kind to my back and neck was a priority.

Because working with language is such a synthesis of heart and mind, I’ve filled my office with objects and resources that speak to both. I’m a sucker for reference books and probably have more volumes on grammar than many classrooms do, but I also keep more spiritual touchstones at hand: a framed picture I took of a Buddha statue in Tokyo, a daruma doll that reminds me to have patience but stay focused on my goals, photos of my family, and a vase crafted by a talented Philly-based potter that I fill with flowers or herbs whenever I can.

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

I’ve tried to establish a routine in the past, but finally accepted that one of the things I like most about working for myself is having the freedom to write and edit when the mood (or deadline) strikes. A typical day starts around 9:30, but I don’t really “warm up” until at least 11. Editing projects require me to be really sharp, so I try to work on those from between 11 a.m. until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

Then I’ll take a long break and go to yoga, make dinner, or just give my brain a rest and watch some Law & Order. I’ll usually get back to my computer for writing projects around 8 or 9, when my creativity peaks, and will work until around midnight if the words are flowing.

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

Before I decided on a language-based career, I strongly considered a PhD in art history. Now the art is pure passion, so my office has some gorgeous original artwork and prints. A dear friend recently painted an East of Eden-inspired piece for me (two, actually, but only one is in my office); my aunt created a rich watercolor as a wedding gift; I have a print of Lucca (an enchanting Tuscan town about which my dad is a leading expert) that was also a wedding gift; and a framed print of the Pantheon, my favorite building in the world, that I got when I was studying in Rome.

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

It would look an awful lot like mine right now—but with a view of the Eiffel Tower, more bookshelves, and a really cozy reading chair. I’ve deliberately created a location-independent business, so I hope that in a few years my husband and I can relocate to Paris for a year or two. I imagine that walks along the Seine, easy access to macarons, weekend trips to Bordeaux, and the spirits of the artists who’ve worked in the city over the centuries could only help my craft, right?

Olivia Bowen is a brand and copy editor. She runs Olivia Bowen Communications, which focuses on helping holistic and creative entrepreneurs refine the language for their web presence—from crafting irresistible bios to proofreading websites to make sure they’re flawless. A nomad at heart, she and her novelist/educator husband live in San Diego—for now. You can connect with her on Twitter @LivBowen or join the community of logophiles and entrepreneurs on Facebook.