Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How to Be a Writer - Part V (Making Routines and Setting Goals)

One of the most common things I hear from people who glamorize the writing lifestyle (oh, yes... It's sooooooooooo glamorous) is "I just don't have time to write" followed by "Where do you come up with all those ideas?" The second one is a whole barrel of monkeys that I'll dive into on another day. But the first one, I have lots of advice for. And, should you find yourself pondering the jet-setting lifestyle of a writer (smell the sarcasm), you might find this blog entry useful.

Pictured: The glamorous writing life...
The best way I've found to manage the whole writer-with-a-day-job thing, as well as just the "writer" thing, is to set routines and goals. Routines are important for many things like muscle memory and mindset. Ever notice how there's a particular room in your house that, whenever you go in there, you feel relaxed? Or there's a particular place at your work that, when you go there, you feel anything but relaxed? How about this... Think about your morning routine.

If you're like me, your morning routine is a thing crafted over years of hard work and efficiency. Actually, it's more like "this is what I do" and I fall into a habit. The habit goes something like this: Wake up. Take care of bathroom necessities (no details here), pour myself a cup of coffee, let my dogs out, and sit on the back porch and drink coffee. I'll do a word puzzle while my dogs do their dog-stuff, then we go in. I fix the dogs their breakfast, then cook my breakfast, wash up, kiss my wife good bye, then go to work. I've been following that same routine every day for more time than I care to recount. It makes it efficient, makes it to where I don't have to think too hard about it, and it just gets done.

So why should your writing be any different?

On weekends, my routine is similar... I get up, drink coffee, let the dogs out, etc, but then I go sit at my computer for a couple of hours and work. That's my routine. It's why I look forward to weekends. So look at your schedule and see where you usually have time. That's your writing time. And don't just make it a "I'm not busy, so I guess I'll write" thing. Make this a "6pm to 8pm MTWThF is Writing Time, dammit!" Like I said, a routine helps put you in the right mindspace. If butt is in chair, fingers are on the keyboard and mind is in writer-land. Obviously, times don't matter. Just when you have a reasonable reliability that this time is your time. Trust me on this one.

Okay, so you've got your routine. So now what?


Pictured: My goals...
Setting goals is one of the easiest and best ways to make sure you, as a writer, are productive. The key is to set realistic goals, and then to stick with them, of course. What do I mean by realistic? Well, one goal I have is to write the great American novel, have it made into a movie, make forty-seven billion dollars off it, and retire to some place where the temperature never gets above 80 degrees. Is that particularly realistic? Not really. I mean, I'm sure stranger things have happened, and I suppose it's technically possible, but it's also highly unlikely. So what you need to do is set realistic, reachable goals. Consider the following:

  • Daily Word Count - When I'm working on a project, I set a word-count goal of 1000 words a day. That's roughly between four and five pages. Some writers (Stephen King) set a word-count goal much higher, but then, he's got all day to fill it. Since a lot of us (me) only have the time after work and weekends, 1000 words seems about right. 
  • Writing Time Goal - If the word-count thing doesn't work for you, maybe try setting a goal of total time spent with butt in chair before the keyboard. 
  • Milestone Goals - Give yourself a week to get a chapter done. Give yourself a specific amount of time to get plotting done, get characters fleshed out, etc. 
  • Deadlines - Get yourself a calendar and mark specific dates at which point you need to have specific things "turned in." 
Now, goals only work if you take them seriously, so make sure you inform those who live with you about what has to be done, and by when. And work your hardest to hit those goals. But then, if you occasionally miss one, go easy on yourself. Also, remember that they are goals, which, by definition, are things that you have to work up to. If you can't hit 1000 words in a day, don't sweat it too hard. Just reset the goal to 500. Once you hit that one, move it up to 750. In no time, you'll be at that 1000 word goal and wonder why you ever thought it was hard. 

That's it for this edition. Next time, we'll talk about something we all have to deal with: Rejection.

Until then, write on!



  1. I’ve tried establishing a routine that includes writing, but there seem to be too many things that interfere. Instead I negotiate with myself. For instance, as soon as I get x and y done, I will go to the library and write the rest of the afternoon. This method has been somewhat successful.

    1. Sounds like you found something that works for you, and that's fantastic! Just goes to show, there's no "correct" way to do this weird profession. If it works, it's good.

  2. I am completely on board with the setting of a routine and having goals to aim for. My day job is an exemplar of how muscle memory creates efficiency. The amount of work you can accomplish within a minute when you do it all the time can be astounding. Great read!