There is no shortage of articles out there that detail the routines of famous and successful writers. These masters of their craft do not wait for inspiration to strike them, rather they approach writing like a habit by having a solid routine that primes them for the moment of truth: the moment where pen needs to touch paper and the thoughts need to flow.
You, too, can also reach a level of mastery with your craft with the Five Easy Steps Toward a Writing Routine I will share with you today. Each of these steps are basic frameworks that anybody can do, but the details are completely up to you. There is no one size fits all routine since everybody works differently, so take the following tips as a template rather than a step by step manual.
By the end of this blog post, you have had gathered ideas as to what things you can do to prime yourself for every writing session so that you can write daily or to whatever level of consistency you desire. The bottom line here is to no longer rely on those random flashes of inspiration in order to write, and instead develop the discipline to transform your writing into a consistently conscious decision.
As I’ve mentioned in Productive Procrastination, not writing can actually help your unconscious mind conjure up some ideas for you in the background while you focus your consciousness on something else entirely. Which is why writers often report coming up with their best ideas in the shower, during a car ride, or even right before they are about to fall asleep.
To take that a whole step further, you should also find and develop an exercise routine to incorporate into your daily life. Not only will it help you live a healthier life, but to tie it into writing, exercise is important for us writers because it gets us out of our heads and into our bodies.
A lot of us spend a tremendous amount of time thinking and a lot of that can actually constrain us from expressing ourselves to the best of our ability because our brains can get overworked, and end up needing some time to rest and recharge. And what better way to recharge than to increase the blood flow back into your brain?
On top of that, being a writer requires you do a whole lot of sitting around, so it’s not a bad idea to get your limbs stretched out a bit as to not feel all cramped and cooped up in your chair after long sessions of writing.
I personally like to do yoga first thing in the morning because if I’m gonna be spending a lot of time sitting down, I wouldn’t want to develop a hunch back and crushed hips, so I opt for hip opening poses and other stretches that allow my spine a wide range of motion beyond being hunched over my desk. I also like to go out for walks while listening to music and do a mish mash of thinking about the next thing to write, and then focusing on the music to let my unconscious figure out the rest as I continue my walk.
But whatever you choose to do is completely up to you. Maybe you prefer to do some running, jump rope, or weight lifting etc. Whatever it is, make sure it’s manageable for your physique and that you give yourself a reasonable amount of reps or amount of time to exercise that you can do on a daily basis. You want to challenge yourself physically enough to get your heart rate up, but not so much that it also tires you out, thus rendering you even less able to write at all.
Bottom line is that you don’t want your blood vessels and muscles to stiffen, so get some exercise in order to increase the blood flow through your body and not develop any cramps from sitting too long.
2. Physical and Mental Nourishment
Now that you’ve got your body moving and blood flowing back to your brain, it’s time to nourish your body and mind with some good food and drink to replenish some of the energy you spent exercising. And since your organs will be more active, the food and drink you eat will digest faster and provide you with much needed energy to write. Take care of the body, you’ll take care of the mind.
I’m not a dietician so I can’t really suggest anything specifically healthy for writers in particular, though we all have some rough idea of what constitutes as “healthy food,” so use your best judgement. You know, your fruits and vegetables, your whole grains, and so on.
I personally like to eat buttered peanut butter toast after yoga and have a hot steaming mug of black coffee to wash it down with. Coffee is a writer’s bestfriend, after all!
I’ve loved peanut butter since I was a kid and it also just so happens to help with improving memory, cognitive function and concentration; brain functions that writers benefit greatly from. You want to remember intricate details about your work, choose the right words and passages to incorporate them, and be able to do so with the focus required to weave it all together in a compelling and comprehensible way.
And, of course, who can deny the wonderful jolt of energy coffee can bring when you most need it? Not to mention it’s quite soothing to take sips every few paragraphs of writing, or whenever you need a moment to pause and think about what to write next.
On top of the physical nourishment you can provide for yourself, there’s also the mental nourishment beyond the benefits of peanut butter and coffee. This can come in the form of reading other books or watching a TV show, or consuming any other art form that inspires or even informs your writing.
Once again, choose your own adventure. As of this blog post, my pre-writing mental nourishment is reading about Stoicism for an hour so that I can steel my mind and feel inspired by these great and ancient intellectuals—who I’m now learning bestowed a ton of wisdom on us that the world now views as commonplace, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Feed your body and mind with good food and good art, you’ll need the energy and inspiration.
3. Warm Up Writing
After taking good care of yourself, it is finally time to do some warm up writing. Whether you consider it “actual” writing or not, it’s a very useful practice that can help ease you into focus. It can also help combat your inner editor and possible perfectionism.
Just like how a singer will do silly sounding warm up exercises before a performance, a writer, too, must do silly writing exercises to be okay with making mistakes and imperfect prose. You get that out of your system, then you’re more likely to feel comfortable with the “actual” writing you want to do, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, or anything else in between.
I’ve written several blog posts in the past about different forms of free writing you can do, often suggesting that depending on how “stuck” you feel, the longer you will want to free write. On a good day, I give myself only five minutes to free write before I sit down to work on a project, otherwise when I’m feeling a ton of resistance, my free writing can go from 10-20 minutes depending on how stuck I feel.
Here are the three types of journals I’ve written about before that you can potentially use for your own warm up writing exercise:
- The Personal Journal – I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to start journaling because it helps you understand yourself tremendously when you pour your heart out onto the page about your true thoughts and feelings about your life. As of this blog post, journaling for an hour is my personal writing warm up exercise because 2021 was an eventful year for me and I’m still processing some of the things that happened in it for me.
- The Free Fall Journal – One of the first things I learned in Creative Writing class was to free write for about 10-20 minutes about anything. And when I say anything, I mean anything. You can write lyrics, a loose outline of your novel’s next chapter, or you can even write a whole ton of gibberish, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re warming up your mind to get any sort of thoughts out onto the page and get your hands moving, that’s what’s important.
- The Shadow Journal – For the really resistant writers, this kind of journal could help you contend with your own dark side. You know the one. Your ego. The thing that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough and that you shouldn’t even bother writing today, it’s a waste of time. Or it’s too hard, so why bother? Writing a Shadow Journal is a deep and intense discussion with your own dark side, arguing as to why you are capable of writing. Not just today, but in general. You give your inner critic a voice and listen to what it has to say, but then you squash it with counter arguments that restore your belief in yourself. If you so dare, of course. This type of journal is risky, so proceed with caution!
There’s also a variety of writing prompts you can do that are out there if you are looking to do something a little lighter than full out journal entries like I’ve suggested. Looking at this list now, I’m surprised how I haven’t even written about The Progress Journal, so make sure to follow the blog in order to get notified when that post gets published!
The bottom line is: warm up writing is like a singer doing vocal warm ups, and you can think of writing your actual project as showtime!
Speaking of which…
4. The Actual Writing
Now it’s time to do some actual writing!
Hoping that you’ve nourished your body and mind properly, and warmed up your writer’s mind, it is time to finally write what you’ve probably been thinking about writing for a long time.
If it’s a big project like a full length novel or movie script, which require a huge time and energy commitment, it is that much more important to have these pre-writing routines set in place so your body and mind can associate this sequence of actions to serve your ultimate purpose: creative self expression.
This purpose can often get stifled when we do not build healthy habits that integrate writing into the rest of our daily lives. Since writing a huge project can take so much time and energy, it’ll only be natural to not feel like it on certain days. For many people, myself included, it could be several days where we feel the resistance. But if you develop and stick to your routine, you can make it a lot easier for yourself to sit down and write when you know you need to.
This part is self explanatory so we won’t linger on it for too long.
You know what to do, just do it!
And then of course…
5. Reward Yourself
Last, but certainly not least, you should have a reward in place for all your writing troubles. I personally like to play some video games and produce music after a long and hard writing session.
Once again, whatever you choose is entirely up to you!
The idea is to have something to look forward to after each writing session, especially on the days in which the writing itself isn’t the thing you’re looking forward to doing. And understandably so because not only is writing difficult, so is the simple act of getting your self started. In fact, I would argue that getting started is actually way more difficult than the writing itself. If it wasn’t difficult, posts like this wouldn’t even exist to help people with a very common problem.
I will write more in the future about how you can reignite the flame that initially inspired you if it happens to be flickering out later in the project’s lifespan. But for now, give these tips a try and let me know how it goes!