Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of Routine

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

You know the drill.

No questions required.

You have done or seen this many times.

You know what comes next.

You know what to do.

That kind of knowledge creates the ease that comes from having a routine. It makes hard things second nature.

The word "routine" is a French derivative of the word route. A routine helps you know the way to get somewhere or achieve something.


routine [roo-teen]

- a customary or regular course of procedure.
- commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typical or everyday activity.
- regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure.
- an unvarying and constantly repeated formula, as of speech or action, repetitious.

- of the nature of, proceeding by, or adhering to routine: routine duties.

Did you know that your mood, resilience, and performance are greatly determined by your daily actions? How you spend your time can affect your entire day. The choices you make when you sit down to write are a big deal.

If you start by procrastinating, by the time you finally do get to work, you're often working with an underlining tension. You know you're behind, so you feel anxious when you should be in the zone! And this anxiousness often makes it more difficult to get into the zone. So you've not only sabotaged yourself, but now you're struggling to get the job done as well.

It can be really difficult to reach your daily word count goals when you first have to overcome obstacles, distractions, and all kinds of random "surprises" that interrupt you from your work. Wouldn't it be best to at least try to set yourself up to succeed?

I'd like to suggest coming up with a work routine. Once you have a routine, if you repeat these actions each time you sit down to write, they should help you get into the zone and be more productive. The routine will train your brain to focus more quickly. It should keep you from getting sidetracked and help to make your work become second nature. A habit.

You might be thrown off by some of the words in the definition above. Words like: unimaginative, repetitious, or rote procedure. I in no way mean to imply that your writing craft should be these things. Not at all. I am suggesting that you create a routine to set yourself up to do your best work.

Charles Duhigg says in his book The Power of Habit, that once you're in a routine, "the brain can almost completely shut down [and you'll] have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else."

That would be creating a wonderful work of fiction.

The goal is to move on autopilot. Remove all distractions, get to your writing space, sit down, and start creating. This will likely involve some trial and error. Some things will work for you, others won't.

Here is what my current routine looks like. I'm still perfecting it. But I think this will be very helpful.

1. (Ahem.) Visit bathroom so I have no reason to get up from the chair once I sit down.
2. Gather my necessaries. (Full water bottle, map from story, any notes I need for the scene, etc.)
3. Put cell phone of vibrate and leave it in the living room where I cannot hear it. (I will get up to walk the house at least once an hour to stretch my legs and arms, so I can peek at the phone then for emergencies.)
4. Remove all snacks and candy from my desk. (Snacking keeps my fingers busy not writing, so I instead choose to bribe myself with food. When I complete my first writing goal, I may have X. Second writing goal? I may have lunch, etc. I sometimes even set the snack on the other side of the room where I can see it. Ex: A Cadbury Creme Egg, glimmering on the distant dining room table, can be a great motivator.)
5. Close the internet--or at least close out of Facebook and email. Turn off that Facebook notification that pops up on my computer even when I'm not on Facebook to tell me someone did something. (Talk about a distraction . . . )
6. Read through my plan for the scene I'm about to write/edit.
7. Walk laps around the inside of my house until I come up with the first sentence I want to write.
8. Sit down and write that first sentence, then keep on going for a thirty-minute word war with myself. The "time race" will help me keep on task (and hopefully also keep me from biting my fingernails, another thing that keeps my fingers busy not writing.)
9. When I finish the word war, I may get up (if I want to) and walk a lap around the house to stretch. But if I'm into the scene, I can go another thirty minutes.
10. Every hour I must get up and walk a lap around the house (and stretch my arms) to keep me healthy. If I'm in the middle of a scene, I'll work on the next line in my head so that when I sit back down, I'm ready to type.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, share in the comments. If not, do you see how one might be helpful?


  1. I was just thinking how I needed to get in routine again, after life pushed out the norm for a bit.

    A routine brings direction and purpose--something I desperately require. Thanks, this was just the nudge I needed. Signing off to plan my new schedule!


    1. I hope you find the perfect routine for you, Ann!

  2. I need a routine. I've been procrastinating BIG TIME. It's driving me nuts. My stress level's at 10.
    Sometimes, I'm in the middle of writing and a notification of a new email pops up on my laptop screen. Me, my silly self, goes and checks it. Then, I get caught up with checking other blogs and other sites, and then I quit writing. I QUIT WRITING!!!!! Eek. I need to do what you do.
    -turn ALL things that will distract me off (if that includes going in other room to get away from Tv screens, then do so.)
    -visit bathroom, so that I won't be interrupted if I'm in the middle of a flow.
    -just write.
    -stretch every hour (VERY good idea)
    That's all I have so far...but I'm sure more will come. Thank you for the shove in the right direction! ^ _^

    1. You've got a great start! We need to help ourselves, and it looks like you know some big trouble areas for you to work on. Good job!

    2. Thanks! We've all gotta start somewhere. :)

    3. Ugg, I have that same problem... Cant figure out what my characters will do next? Check Go Teen Writers. Check the Online Writing Club my school has. Check email. Check texts.
      Then maybe I'll finally get back on to writing.

  3. Wow. I never knew that a routine could help your writing! I can't wait to try this! :D Thankfully, I don't have any electronics of my own, and i don't do Facebook, so i won't have to worry about that. :) Email is my biggest problem. :( I'll have to find a way to conquer that. Why am I still here?!?! I should be writing!!!!! O_O Thanks Mr.s Williamson. You're the best. :D

    <>Jessica<> :)

    1. All I have is a laptop, but I don't do Facebook (or Pinterest, etc.) , only emails. So, I still need to turn my emails off, but that's my only temptation. It still can be distracting.
      I never thought a routine could help my writing either. Lol

    2. I hope you're not here to see this comment, Jessica. Good job turning off your email! If you have a laptop, another idea is to write in a place without wifi. Then you have no temptation at all! It can be quite freeing.

  4. I DO have routine! I've been working to perfect it this last year and it's the only way I can be at all productive. Sharing an office has forced me to stick to my routine. Funny how that works.

    1. Oh, wow. It would be hard to share an office. It's nearly impossible for me not to talk to a person who is in my writing space. I usually just start telling them things about my story, but eventually, the conversation drifts...

      Good job having a routing, Shannon!

  5. I think I'd benefit from a routine, or at least a bit more structure. (Also plotting. That doesn't seem to work for me either, much to my despair.) I'm an organised kind of person - but somehow that doesn't transfer over to my writing life. Don't know why not!

    1. Trial and error, Jem. Keep trying different things until you find something that works, then do more of that. It can be frustrating and take time to figure out, but once you get there, it is a great feeling. :-)

  6. Yesterday I was tired and let myself slip out of my normal writing routine. I was so frustrated afterward because I knew that I'd sabotaged my own work time by my choices. And I had read your post so I KNEW why writing hadn't happened, and I was so annoyed! Today I'm being strict with myself :)

  7. 1. Start writing for Camp Nano
    2. Get distracted
    3. Play "I'll Make a Man Out of You" on repeat (because Mulan is the best)

  8. Jill, I love the way you've worked walking/exercise into your writing routine, both a regular intervals and when you need to think--ex first line. I think I may borrow this strategy in formulating my summer routine.