Business Musings: The Importance of Routines
We just finished the anthology workshop, the largest workshop we do in person. Forty-six attendees, eight instructors, seven days, and 250 manuscripts to read and discuss. All of the attendees are professional writers in one capacity or another (technical writers, nonfiction writers, fiction writers), so the manuscript quality was high—often award-quality.
Oh, the discussions. Oh, the fights (among the instructors). Oh, the laughter.
Yes, we had fun.
And now, with deep gratitude, I return to my writing routine.
The first two days after the workshop involved catch-up, a sudden rewrite, some small promotion for this month’s book release, and this thing called sleep. Today (Wednesday) is the first day I’m even approximating my usual schedule—much to the joy of my office cat, Galahad. (By Friday of last week, he took to standing in the door of my office and yelling at me as loudly as he could. He’s on my lap and purring as I type this [and yes, that means my typing posture has gone all to hell].)
Galahad isn’t the only one who is joyful. I’m bouncing around like a kid at Christmas, despite a lingering tiredness, a possible cold (allergies?), and constant interruptions from other people’s emergencies. My routine enables my writing productivity. My routine also takes away one aspect of my work day—the stress of time management.
I felt that stress during the workshop. I had left some reading for the middle of the week, assuming I would have time for it. I didn’t, but I had to get it done, which meant that the time came from the eight hours scheduled for sleep.
I had also vowed (to myself) to maintain my daily run, but I ran a route I’d never tried before. (I ran home for lunch.) The first two days were all about clock-checking. Am I late? Will I have time to shower, change, and eat lunch before my ride shows up? A few days were dicey, and then I got the hang of it—about the time I was headed back into my regular routine.
In my regular routine, I know if I linger too long at dinner, I will sacrifice my evening writing session. My brain shuts down around 10 or 11 every night. I plan for 10 rather than try to push for 11, because that way, if I’m particularly energetic, I feel like I’ve gained something rather than merely achieving my goal.
If I get started later than usual, I lose the all-important first session where I set my daily pattern. Often, I don’t tend to e-mail and everything that piled up overnight until I’ve completed my first writing session. That way, it’s harder to knock me off schedule.
And so on and so on and so on.
The routine enables the writing, not the other way around.
For almost two years, Dean has blogged nightly about his writing routine, pointing out to writers around the world that a writing career isn’t about pushing. It’s about a regular routine, almost clockwork in its repetitiveness. If you don’t understand what I mean, I urge you to take a look—and to make sure you read dozens of the blog posts, rather than one or two.
Even when Dean gets off-routine, he’s honest about it. And you can see in his numbers just how badly going off-routine impacts his productivity.
Going off routine hurts mine too. I had eight writing things scheduled for Monday. Instead, I spent most of the time cleaning up messes from the week before. Those eight things moved to Tuesday, along with Tuesday’s schedule. Again, I dealt with other people’s emergencies.
Today, I finally got to routine, and before I started writing this blog, I checked off six of the original eight things. The blog is the seventh. The eighth will move to Thursday, along with the rest of today’s items.
I suspect I’ll be shuffling due dates and projects for another week, even though I had planned around the workshop. The workshop didn’t cause the backlog as much as the loss of Monday and Tuesday did.
In The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, I have an entire section on scheduling. (You can find it here for free or in the Guide or in the short book called Time Management.) I reread this section before I started this post, and was rather stunned to realize I never talked about routine.
Let me define terms here:
A schedule is two-pronged.
First, a schedule includes calendar items. Your day job (if you have one). Your days off. The vacation you’ll take with you and your family. The writers conferences you’ll attend. The evenings you need to take for your daughter’s violin concerts. The lunch you have every week with your fellow writers. And so on.
Second, a schedule includes your writing (and publishing) deadlines. It shouldn’t matter if these deadlines are self-imposed or imposed from the outside (by a traditional publisher, for example). A deadline should be hard and fast. You don’t miss the deadline. In the Freelancer’s Guide, I show techniques for counting backwards so that you can find the right amount of time to get the work done—without pushing the deadline.
When I talk schedule, I’m not talking about routine.
Routine is the way that you shape your day. Every day.
From the time you get up in the morning to the length of your first writing session, your routine should have some kind of pattern to it. Dean posts his daily routine on his blog.
I get up around 11, take care of household stuff, and check the e-mail for emergencies. That can take anywhere from one hour to two hours, depending if there is an emergency or not.
I have a snack when I get up, but I eat a full breakfast after that one-to-two-hour period. If I’m running late (two hours), I eat quickly and drink my tea at my desk. If I’m on the normal schedule (one hour), I linger a bit.
Then I write for two sessions, with a longer e-mail/business break in between. I go on my run, eat lunch, feed the cats, and return to work for another session (or two) before cooking dinner.
After dinner, I return to my office for a last session or two, depending on how tired I am. When I’m finished, I do any reading I need to do. I join Dean for a little television, then come back to my reading chair to read for enjoyment for two hours before going to bed with enough time to spare so that I can get eight hours of rest.
Day in, day out.
Twice a week, I change the routine. Once a week, I go to a series of business meetings. I try to schedule other disruptive things on that day as well, like doctor’s appointments, podcast interviews, dinner with friends, car repairs, etc.
The other thing that alters my routine is our professional writers lunch on Sunday, which I try not to miss. I can miss it if I’m pushing a deadline. (Yes, despite my tough talk, I occasionally push a deadline—and regret it as I struggle to get my work done.) I schedule writing that requires less concentration for that day or maybe I do some business things, because the lunch can be really disruptive.
And that’s it.
The rest of the time, I’m following the routine I listed above. I know how many writing hours I have in the week and how much work I have. If I stay in routine, I can accurately estimate what I’m capable of writing and finishing and when I’m capable of finishing it.
Without the routine, I couldn’t estimate accurately.
But the routine is more than that. It’s also a structure that requires very little thought. When I go to my office at the usual time, my brain has already started to work on the current project even before I sit down. I’m ready to work right from the start.
The routine also organizes those around me. They know that when I’m in my writing office, I’m unavailable. Unless I’m between major projects, I don’t participate in social events on the five “regular” work days. Conversely, I’m pretty easy to reach at some point in the day, if the other person is patient.
I do set up routines when I travel or when I do events in town, like the workshop. Usually I try to plan those out ahead of time, although I wasn’t able to during this workshop. I do a lot of writing on planes, a lot of business while in the hustle and bustle of airports, and a lot of research while people-watching in strange environments.
In other words, routines are essential to my process.
Most effective writers have routines. I know that many of you who read this blog have day jobs and less writing time than I have. The day jobs give you structure. Writers who get a lot done have a set time after or before their day jobs for writing. Even an hour per day is enough to finish a lot of pages.
If you don’t have a routine, if you’re waiting for that elusive muse or if you’re “too busy,” time to write down everything you do for about two weeks. You’ll find some spare time in there. It might only be fifteen minutes in the course of a day, but even fifteen minutes should get you one page per day. One page per day 365 days per year is a novel. Take weekends off, and you’ll still get a lot of writing done.
So here I am, sneezing my way through today’s routine. The cat has moved to his evening nap spot, and I’m about to move to another project—with an hour in my regular routine to spare.
Life is good.
Nice to be back in routine.
One thing that routinely keeps me writing the blog is the support of all of you. Some of you send emails or make comments. Others forward the blog around the web. And some of you donate.
I appreciate all of it.
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“Business Musings: The Importance of Routine,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.