Jennifer Dinsmore Editorial
Free Your Words
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(Re)Establishing a Writing Routine

How’s the writing? The holidays always throw a curveball; it’s something we expect and for which we can plan. Then we get excited by the bright, shiny promise of January. This year, we swear, will be different. Whatever the goal—to write more, to write for longer periods of time, to start writing—it seems completely within our grasp.

We may even make headway, marking the first, creamy pages of January with our creativity. But then an appointment comes up, or an old friend invites us for coffee. After all, one night won’t hurt. A morning lost is not a big deal. And it isn’t. In fact, it’s natural to experience periods of productivity followed by inactivity. Yet I know from experience this is the easiest way for my routine to fall apart—and it’s so hard to get back.

Sound familiar? If you too made big plans for the new year only to have them fall far short of your expectations, you’re not alone. Part of the issue lies in setting ourselves up for failure from the start. We somehow expect to go from someone who writes for fifteen minutes a day to one who writes for a full hour. From not having a regular writing routine to showing up every day at a set time and place. It’s unrealistic, and when we start to perceive ourselves as failures it's easy to give up.

My writing routine? The one I promised myself I’d stick to as soon as the clock struck midnight? It’s been non-existent but for a few scribbled pages the first of the month. Even the thought of pulling out my notebook exhausts me. I’ve begun to doubt my abilities. Yet as I do my best to remember, this is normal. Something we all go through at one time or another. I even like to think these times are a good thing, allowing our reserves of creativity to replenish.

So, how can we make this year different? How can we banish doubt and better make room for writing? How can we (re)establish a routine that truly works?

Take Some Time to Reflect

This is something we naturally do at the end of the year, but few take it a step deeper. Pull out your journal or take a long walk. If you're no longer writing, or haven't found joy in it for a while, figure out why that is. What's stopping you from committing to writing for longer periods of time? How do you feel when you do?

When I don’t write I feel a physical lack. I may pass a bookstore window and experience jealousy over curiosity about what lies between the pages. I get impatient with myself for not committing to my routine. I get mad at myself for not making the time. This is a feeling I have become comfortable with, and so not writing has become easier than writing. Yet with this knowledge in hand, after taking the time to look inside and come to this realization, I know I’ll get there.

Take some time for yourself and see what comes up.

Experiment

Is your current routine serving your best interests? If your once easy-to-follow schedule is now a struggle, take some time to experiment.

Write for different lengths, at different times of the day. Start small, and switch after two weeks to see if another length or time works even better. If writing every day is no longer feasible, go down to three or four days a week. Find the time of day in which you are most creative.

Finding what works for you means closely observing your daily routine. Try writing on your lunch break, or on the commute to work. Set your alarm that little bit earlier and pull out your notebook. How much time do you spend watching TV in the evenings? Turn it off a half hour earlier and write before bed. Once you observe your day-to-day habits, you’ll be sure to identify sneaky time-wasters.

Get Comfortable

Now you’ve found what works best for you, go about making it a comfortable part of your day. Do you concentrate better with or without music? What about your writing space? Will you write at a desk or on the couch? Will you go outdoors (weather permitting), or head to the library or coffee shop? Find a place that feels comfortable and welcoming, free of distractions.

I find music too distracting when trying to write; the lyrics crowd out my thoughts and vie for attention. Classical music or nature sounds are much more conducive to my creative process. Sometimes, even white noise or a familiar TV show playing softly in the background work to quiet all other thoughts. When all else fails, there can be much beauty in silence.

Find a Community

Writing can be lonely, but it definitely doesn't have to be. Without a group of like-minded people to support you it's easy to get derailed.

Finding a supportive community can be tricky, and I encourage you to think outside the box. Put up flyers in coffee shops and libraries inviting fellow writers to meet. Join online communities like DIY MFAWell-Storied, or Story is a State of Mind. Take part in Twitter chats like #StorySocial, #WriteChat, or #AmWriting. Anything that makes you feel connected to something larger is perfect. (And those are mere suggestions ... There is so much more out there!)

Your turn! What communities are you a part of? What other tips and tricks do you have for getting back on track? Share in the comments below.

Until next time, friends.

Jennifer Dinsmore. Free Your Words.