I'm a big believer in the importance of routine. In my limited experience, people are, to batter an old cliché, creatures of habit. Most folks I know take comfort in familiar things, activities, beliefs, and philosophies. Change – especially unexpected change – is upsetting. (Change can be good, I know, but I’m speaking about how we typically respond at a gut level.)
This is what change can look like.
As a teacher, I learned very quickly that establishing routines was essential to foster three important realities in my classroom: safety, comfort, and focus. When students knew what was coming, they felt safe, and safety is essential for building trust in the classroom. Comfort is also key – not having to worry that every class is a frenetic exercise in the unexpected made students feel comfortable, and comfort produces relaxation and ease, which increases creativity. Safety and comfort, when achieved, allowed the students to focus on their work and product rather than on their environment, with excellent results.
In addition to routine being something I appreciate as a person, I’ve also discovered how much I value it as a writer – I have discovered that if I treat myself like I did my students, those three ingredients make for productive and effective writing time. Everyone needs to establish their own routines, of course, but I thought I’d share mine.
My constant: Time. When I write, I need a chunk of time. For me, I need at least an hour to warm up and still have enough time to produce. Some people are good at bursts – my wife, for example, can produce wonderful things in five minutes – so if that’s you, I am envious.
Disclaimer: Even though I am a new writer, I am very blessed to have almost every morning free to write: I realize others don’t have that kind of time.
1. Wake up early, and have breakfast and my first cup of coffee. I need to eat, otherwise I get dopey and grumpy. And I eat something with good fibre – a regular writer is a happy writer.
2. Sit with my wife and chat, read the paper, Facebook, Tweet, etc. I love this time to connect before she leaves for her office. It settles me.
3. Have another cup of coffee. By the way, my recent writer-fuel of choice is Red Hill Coffee Co.’s Sumatran and Columbian.
4. Do my ablutions and dress in something comfortable but presentable. Other writers can write in their PJ’s all day, but I prefer to get clean and dressed – it helps me transition into work-mode and helps me stay focused while I am working.
5. Open all the curtains/blinds in our home to let in the sunlight. I love sunlight.
6. Go into my office – I’ve discovered how much I enjoy having my own writing space – and turn on whatever lights I need. Tidy my desk. (Note that I wrote “tidy,” not “über-clean.”)
7. Check to make sure my coffee is full and I have a cup of water. Make sure my writing surface is (mostly) clear of clutter. Again, this helps me treat the time as work time – I am a professional. (Or I hope to be.)
8. Sit down and write. If I’m feeling energized, I get to work straight away on my current manuscript. If not, I’ll do a warm-up (this blog post is an example of one of those) to get my fingers and brain nimble and ready.
9. I’ll keep writing until my creative juices are leached out of me for the day, or until I have to do something else (I have a part-time job at the local library and I also do the cooking in our house, so sometimes I need to get our and get groceries, run errands, etc.)
10. If I’m not feeling particularly creative, I force myself to work for the available chunk of time. I’ve discovered that I get about three hours of good creative time before my mind gets mushy.
11. I’ll stop and eat lunch, even if I’m still feeling creative. (Like breakfast, if I don’t eat, I get all wobbly and gross.)
12. If I have a whole day at my disposal, after lunch, I’ll either keep going on the manuscript (rare), or work on other writer tasks that don’t require so much creative energy. I’ll update my website or Facebook fan page, tweet, look for and enter contests.
13. Read. I try to read for at least an hour every day. Sometimes I am spoiled and can lie down on the sofa in the afternoon, other times, I read on the bus or on break at work. But I read every day. This is a non-negotiable part of my routine.
14. Make supper and hang out with my wife. I rarely write in the evenings nowadays – I did more of that when I was teaching full time – and try to preserve evening time as family time. Life sometimes intrudes, of course, but Rosalee and I are pretty good about slotting that time for each other if we have it – being a good husband and having an awesome wife makes me a better writer.
15. Sleep. We try to go to bed early and get a good night’s rest. (Note that I said “try”: our paper-thin walls and late-showering neighbours sometimes interfere.)
16. Exercise: I try to get a run, cycle, or walk in every day.This happens at various times, but it’s in there too. I've found that it clears the lungs and the blood, and thus clears my head. I need a clear head.
Did I forget anything? How about you?