5. Routine

 

How routine promotes writer’s flow

Creating a routine is crucial to creative writing flow. Just as no Olympic athlete can afford to take time off from training before a competition, so no writer bent on producing fiction can sit idle all day.

Sticking to a routine helps fight writer's block.

Sticking to a routine helps fight writer’s block.

In an old ESL manual I used to give to my students, the author analogized learning a language to eating a month’s worth of food: if you had to eat all of the food for the month in one sitting, not only would you fail, but you would get really sick, as well; instead, bite by bite, meal by meal, you eat in small but regular sittings; and just as the author meant to say that that is how we learn languages—word by word—such is how we learn to tap into our creative energies and learn to write creatively.

Six ways to achieve a writing routine 

A great antidote to writer’s block is disciplining yourself into a writing routine. Here’s how:

1. Schedule a Time and Place:

  • Mark a period of the day when you feel most relaxed and awake.
  • Determine a minimum length of time that you will devote to your writing no matter what.
  • Once you have reserved this period for your daily writing, stick to it unconditionally and your subconscious will reward you with ripe fruit. But if you decide to sleep in and neglect your writing commitments because you went drinking the day before, your subconscious will repay you in kind.

2. Eliminate all Distractions:

  • Turn off all possible distractions—especially social media and cell phones—but if music helps you tune out, then turn it up.
  • Treat your creative writing exercises as if you were working at the office: you must be serious and focused, or else the entire exercise will be in vain.
  • Remind family and friends that creative writing is your priority and that you take it very seriously. Ask them to respect your space.

3. Get Dressed:

  • Take your creative writing exercises seriously. Just as you would not go to the office stinky and disheveled, you should wash the sleep from your eyes and be presentable for your characters before you begin writing about them.
  • A student once told me that he had written his final essay in a dress shirt and tie to inspire confidence during the writing process. You may not need to resort to the tuxedo, but comport yourself in a way that conveys to yourself that this is a serious writing assignment that you highly value.

4. Sit Upright:

  • After years of routine, your body has learned that lying down in bed is synonymous with sleep. Avoid doing work in bed or on a couch in a supine position.
  • If you do train yourself to work in bed, you may be nursing the insomnia that will plague you in weeks to come. Find yourself a workstation, preferably beyond the bedroom, where you can condition yourself like Pavlov’s dog to carry out your daily creative writing exercises.

5. Healthy Body:

  • Promote mental acuity through healthy eating and regular exercise. Your mind needs a healthy body to house it.
  • Get the rest your body needs to keep your mind sharp and focused.
  • If you are experiencing a state of flow, needless to say, don’t stop. In periods of slump, however, healthy breaks and brisk walks can certainly help increase productivity and the thought process.

 6. Discipline:

  • Believe in your cause, and if creative writing is truly what you want to do, you must harness all the discipline you have.
  • You must have control over your own thoughts because you are your own worst enemy. You will certainly feel low self-esteem as you review your work from the day before; or you might feel anxiety over the material that you have unearthed from your mind and dumped onto paper. All the more reason why you should write!

A regular writing routine will help you to slowly but surely get a little bit of work done each and every day, gradually wiping out all of the fears you may have about your own writing.

Exceptions

There is nothing worse than he who takes everything literally. Every single rule but the first can be broken.

In an answer as to whether he truly did write in longhand while standing up, in a 1964 interview with Playboy Nabokov essentially broke every rule listed above, save the first—for routine and discipline are a key ingredient to writing success:

“Yes, I never learned to type. I generally start the day at a lovely old-fashioned lectern I have in my study. Later on, when I feel gravity nibbling at my calves, I settle down in a comfortable armchair alongside an ordinary writing desk; and finally, when gravity begins climbing up my spine, I lie down on a couch in a corner of my small study. It is a pleasant solar routine. But when I was young, in my twenties and early thirties, I would often stay all day in bed, smoking and writing.