Routines tend to get a bad rap. They’re stuffy, uptight, unforgiving, and only for the most anal types who wear suits to work and get huffy when things don’t go exactly as planned. But in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When you design your routine the right way, and take into account your personal style and needs, you can actually boost your creativity and become even more inspired (and say hello to your muse whenever you want).
If your personal brand of writing isn’t creative writing (say, if you’re a copywriter or a journalist), molding your schedule around creativity may seem a bit frivolous. But even the most factual, reality-based writing is still creative at its heart; you need to find a unique, personable way to educate, inform, or reach people using only words, which is an art form in itself.
If you’re a creative writer, you may think that scheduling your creativity is the perfect way to kill it — but that’s true only if you try to force it into a schedule that works against it, not with it. Or you may feel guilty for making getting inspired such a priority. But when writing is your passion (and especially if it’s your career), then your creativity deserves care, focus, and commitment — and the right routine will give it just that.
And as a bonus, most of these creativity-inspiring routine tips will also up your productivity, and what professional writer doesn’t love that? (Or, at least, what professional writer’s editor doesn’t love that?)
As W.H. Auden wrote, “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” And few things are more ambitious than striving for an inspired and consistent creative output.
Curious how to design a writing routine that will get your words flowing without making you feel tied down? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with tips, tricks, and different methods to develop a plan that’s suited especially for you — and that will increase both your creativity and productivity at the same time.
Write During Your Ideal Creative Time
You likely have a particular time of day where your mind feels the most open, your energy is at its peak, and you are your most productive and focused — a time when you are the best writer you can be. It may be at the crack of dawn, in the brightness of midday, in the late afternoon, or at 3 a.m. As long as it works for you, it doesn’t matter when it is.
If you’re lucky enough to have a flexible schedule as a professional writer, you may as well take advantage of it and build your schedule around the time when your mind most wants to create. Sometimes, we can get hung up on feeling lazy if we sleep till the afternoon after we were up working until long after midnight, but if that’s what makes you the most productive, it’s anything but lazy.
Of course, there may be external factors that prevent you from working during your absolutely, most ideal time; in that case, experiment and find the time that works best for you out of what is available. For example, I’m naturally a night owl, but my live-in partner works a nine-to-five job. Because he gets up so early, it’s impossible for me to sleep through his morning ritual. Which makes my all-night writing sessions no longer a practicality.
But I played around and found that getting up at 6 a.m. — an hour I would never have even considered before — granted me a time to write with a similar set of qualities to writing at two in the morning: a calm house, cozy lighting, no distractions, and a slightly sleepy (and less judgmental) mindset. (And I’m not alone; in his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey found that nearly a third of the artists he researched got up before 7 a.m.)
If you know the time of day that works best for you and it’s feasible, schedule your writing time during that period; if you don’t, or if your ideal time is impractical, experiment until you find that sweet spot of creative openness and practicality.
Schedule Breaks (or Even a Nap) for Yourself
If your goal as a writer is to become more productive and churn out a hefty, consistent word count, taking time for a break (or multiple breaks) may seem like the worst idea ever.
Thankfully, it’s totally the opposite.
When you’re trying to generate unique ideas or solve problems in a creative way (anything from coming up with your next novel idea to figuring out what to title your recent blog post), stepping away from your task and doing something completely different can break you out of a mental rut and get you thinking in a new way.
Schedule your breaks the same way you would any other important errand you have to attend to; you’d step away from your writing to pick up your kid from dance class or collect a package at the post office — your creativity deserves the same attention. Let yourself relax, recharge, and just breathe for a few moments.
It doesn’t have to be a full-on, restful break, either (at least not every break); it just has to be a break from your current task. You can still be extremely productive while stepping away from your writing: Reply to your emails, call and schedule any appointments you have to, do the dishes, organize your desk, etc.
Just do something different to give your mind a chance to refresh and for brand new creative ideas to emerge.
Or, if you wanna take the break idea to a whole extra level, up your creativity by settling in for a cozy nap.
That’s right; taking a nap can give your mind a chance to renew itself while also increasing your productivity by a massive amount: In fact, a NASA study found that taking a short nap (26 minutes) can increase your productivity by as much as 34 percent (and up your alertness by a stunning 54 percent).
So grab a little shut-eye and know you’re improving your writing game and productivity at the same time. (See? Told ya writing routines didn’t have to be stuffy and uptight.)
Give the Pomodoro Technique a Shot
I know, I know, everyone and their dog has waxed on and on about the productivity-boosting powers of the Pomodoro Technique. But if you haven’t tried it yet, it’s absolutely worth giving it a go — especially as a writer.
The lack of distractions, the focused bursts of work, and the consistent breaks to come up for air and refocus all lend themselves beautifully to creative work. It encourages a focused, uninterrupted flow, which is something most writers are constantly chasing after. It’s also incredibly useful when you have a packed schedule and only so much time you can dedicate to your writing.
One of the wonderful things about this technique is how easy it is to implement; you don’t need any fancy gadgets or equipment. Your phone, or even a simple kitchen timer, will do.
If you aren’t familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, the basic method is this:
- Decide on a task to focus on. (Focus on one task at a time; you can move on to a second one when you’ve reached your goal in the first.)
- Set your timer to 25 minutes (each 25-minute round is called a “Pomodoro”).
- Work exclusively and consistently on your task until the timer goes off.
- Set the timer for five minutes and take a break until it goes off.
- Every four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).
This may sound deceptively simple, but for many people, it works. I myself am a committed convert to the method; thanks to it, I now typically write between 750 and 1,110 words in each 25-minute Pomodoro, as opposed to squeezing out that amount in two hours that are primarily made up of me browsing Instagram or Googling Harry Potter trivia. (Now I save that for my five-minute breaks — I even waste time more productively.)
Set a Page or Word Count
Again, everyone is different, and a schedule — or any other routine — won’t work for every writer. If the idea of having any sort of a set schedule feels completely suffocating to you, there are other daily routines you can set for yourself that may feel more flexible.
Setting a daily page or word count can be a flexible, motivating way to ensure a consistent output of work — and to keep your creativity continually reigniting.
It can also be a way to be sure that you’re not missing any deadlines (whether self-appointed or assigned by your editor or publisher). If you have to turn in a 3,000-word draft every Friday, schedule yourself to write 600 words every weekday. This way, you can be sure you’re working at the pace you need to be working at (and can focus more on the writing itself, rather than stressing about whether or not you’ll hit your deadline).
I got addicted to this method thanks to participating in National Novel Writing Month, where you commit to writing 50,000 words of a new novel throughout the month of October, which equals out to 1,667 words a day.
Having a set word count ended up unleashing my creativity more than almost any other method ever has — in large part due to silencing my self-critic. I’m naturally one of those writers who is prone to wasting time during a writing session by staring at the last line I wrote as if it personally betrayed me.
But when I have a specific, concrete word count that I’m committed to meeting? I get so focused on trying to squeeze out that number that I don’t give myself the time to second-guess what I’m doing. (If I do spend time second-guessing myself, it’ll take me all day to reach my word count — which is something I realized very quickly.) And once that nagging self-doubt is pushed aside, it’s like my muse shouts out, “FINALLY!” and agrees to actually show up. (Which isn’t surprising; no one’s in a rush to show their vulnerable, creative side to someone who does nothing but attack it — even if the one doing the attacking is yourself.)
If I tell myself I simply have to write every day without any set goal, I can just write a sentence or two, change around a few words, and glare at my screen morosely for a few hours and decide that’s good enough.
A specific goal makes it far easier for me to see when I’m making progress, and when I’m just being so hard on myself (or becoming so distracted) that I end up not actually getting anything done. It also has become increasingly easier as I keep at it (regardless of mood, how busy I am, or how “inspired” I’m feeling); I’ve been writing 1,667 words a day for several months now, and what used to feel impossible I can routinely knock out in less than an hour.
Part of the reason it’s gotten easier is that now I know I can do it — because I’ve done it before, on good and bad days, no matter how much I felt like not writing. When you consistently show yourself you can do what seems impossible, the impossible starts to seem anything but.
Write Every Day, at the Same Time
The hardest part of a new writing routine (or any other habit)? Starting it.
So why force yourself to start it over and over again?
Listen to Shia: If you want writing consistently to be easier (and to make being creative and productive a steady habit), make it a point to write every day (or every working day). Don’t put yourself through the difficulty of starting over every few days, after giving up on your routine yet again.
Take your writing seriously as work, as a job — and again, this doesn’t have to be the same as dragging yourself to an office to work from nine-to-five (if you’re fortunate enough to have control of your own schedule). You can write whenever works for you, whenever it feels right.
But once you’ve found the time that works best, stick to it. (Side note: If you don’t have a say on when you write, focus on applying the scheduling tips, like taking breaks or using Pomodoros, every day to increase your productivity and to control as much of your creative inspiration as you can. Every habit likes repetition; once you’ve chosen to incorporate new ones into your professional writing life, commit to them.)
In a similar way that creating in the same physical space can spur your inspiration when you enter that area, writing at the same time every day can start to train your brain to feel like writing during those hours. (This works just like when you go to bed at 11:00 every night; eventually, you’ll find yourself yawning by 10:30, even if you want to stay awake. As evidenced by me on New Year’s Eve.)
Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to work 40 hours a week, eight hours a day (unless your editor/boss requests that) — or at least not in a solid block of hours. You can split up your workload the way that makes the most sense to you, for example: writing from 6 to 8 a.m., then taking a few hours for morning errands or exercising, then writing again from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then maybe from 4 to 6 p.m.
Also, once you start incorporating more productivity- and creativity-boosting habits into your life, you may find yourself getting more done while spending less time writing. You may be able to knock out more words in a solid, focused three-hour sprint every morning than you used to when writing in a less-focused way throughout the entire day.
This leaves you with more time to spend on other aspects of your life or to spend seeking out inspiration for your writing (or working on your own creative writing pet projects, instead of your assigned work). For example, Kurt Vonnegut wrote for a few hours first thing in the morning, and then was able to spend the rest of the day teaching, listening to music, and exercising (and over-indulging in Scotch, so maybe don’t follow his example exactly).
When done right, a writing schedule won’t necessarily tie you down; it may end up setting you — and your creativity — free.
As you seek out and perfect the writing routine that will bring the most creativity, productivity, and motivation to your life, keep these tips in mind to make sure you don’t burn out or let your routine turn into a rut:
- Don’t be afraid to mix and match routines. You may find that some methods, goals, or schedules complement each other in a way that really speaks to you and gets your fingers flying and your mind percolating. For instance, I personally use Pomodoros while writing at my peak creative time, until I reach my standard daily word goal; that mix works for me far better than any single method ever has. Personalize your routine with however many tricks and methods speak to you.
- Be willing to try a new routine or method and see if it works — and be willing to let it go if it doesn’t. Sometimes, you can tell quickly that a particular routine is not the one for you (for instance, if you get anxious every time your timer goes off, you’re probably going to hate Pomodoros right away), but sometimes it can take a little longer to see that it’s not increasing your inspiration or your productivity. Be mindful that sometimes adjusting to something new can be difficult, but if you give it an honest go and it’s just not for you, don’t feel guilty for giving it up and switching to another technique.
- Certain projects may demand different routines; try and be flexible if you realize that your standard routine isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for you. For example, you may love writing fiction late at night when you feel dreamlike and relaxed, but end up needing brisk morning air and bright sunshine to write website copy or an in-depth article. I personally have a specific routine for a writing assignment with a strict, external deadline: I write those outside of the house, in a public space, and I won’t let myself go home until I’ve finished my writing goal for the day (perfect motivation for an introvert — nothing is more rewarding than escaping the threat of small talk and retreating back to a blanket fort). You may also find yourself craving different routines depending on how busy your personal life is, how many projects you have going on, or even what season it is. Listen to yourself and your needs for every given project, and let that steer you.
- While routines become routines through us doing them on good or bad days, some days are just … too much. It’s inevitable. Whether you get overwhelmed by a plumbing emergency, the neighbor has a new dog that will not stop barking no matter how hard you throw your shoe against the wall, you’re ill, your depression is acting up, or you just can’t motivate yourself for no discernible reason no matter what you do, realize that it’s okay. Life happens, moods fluctuate, and no one can be perfect all of the time. A tip that has helped me not to spiral on a bad day is to really allow myself that bad day — but just the one day. I may mope and wallow and blast emo music or play Sims for nine hours, but the next day, I do my best to return to my chosen routines and get back at it again. One bad day is just a bad day; two bad days can be the start of a new habit (or the unraveling of an established one).
With the Right Routine, You’ll Be Unstoppable
There are as many different writing routines as there are types of writers, and when you personalize your own to suit your needs and personality, it’s astounding what the results can be. Even if you already have a stellar, consistent writing output, committing to a specialized writing routine can turn you from a good writer to a great writer, or from a great writer to an exceptional one.
Don’t buy into the myth that routines, schedules, and daily goals are for uptight, rigid people and that creative or artistic minds will necessarily grow stifled and limited by adhering to a solid plan. When you give your creativity a set time to work, a specific goal, or your undivided attention, you can find it flourishing in a way that is beyond inspiring — and see your productivity rise as a result.
So analyze when you feel most inspired, try out some new techniques, and play around until you find a routine that makes you feel more devoted to producing great output and more capable of achieving anything you set your mind to.
Your muse is always inside of you, ready to come out and guide you; tell her when to show up, and she’ll emerge, ready to help you accomplish your writing goals, no matter how lofty they are.
Let your routine inspire you, and then let your words inspire the world.