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Writing Efficiently: Define your Routine

So you have this amazing idea to write a book. It’s all you can think about as you’re riding the bus to work in the morning, making dinner for your kiddos, or watching your favorite Netflix show. You’re so motivated to write this book, that it becomes one of the first things you think about in the morning. You sit down to write, and the words spill forward as if they’ve been living in your brain since your brain existed, just waiting for you to notice. But the next thing you know, a month has gone by and you’ve only added three sentences to the beginning of your masterpiece. Two more months go by and you realize you haven’t written at all. You take a class. Read some articles. Write a little more. Wait for those beautiful moments where you’re fresh and glossy, sitting on a chateau overlooking a vineyard with a vintage glass of Cabernet. Six months later and you feel like you’re circling the drain. What’s missing? you ask. The answer - your routine.

My first novel, from the inception of the idea to the final, beautifully bound product, took six years to complete. There were a lot of reasons that made it difficult to write my first book efficiently. I was working a 50+ hour a week job as an accountant (which I left as soon as I realized it was getting in the way of my dream of being a novelist. And apparently, preparing tax returns for twelve hours a day isn't that much fun. Go figure). Then I got engaged and had a wedding to plan (which I think is the absolute worst and led to a handful of sleepless nights). And I didn’t have the faintest idea about what I was doing. I’d go through periods of writing and progress, taking classes, and extensive research. I even participated in two Nanowrimos back to back. But then I’d get stuck and let a month, two months go by without moving forward with my book. And each time that happened, I lost momentum and felt like I was starting over.

After I got married, I made a pact with myself that my main focus would be finishing a first draft. And I had to get real with myself - what I’d been doing wasn’t working. I’d have to do the unfathomable if I wanted to accomplish my dream. I’d have to wake at five am every morning and write for at least an hour before work. And this was no easy task, since I can easily sleep a solid 9-10 hours every night and am NOT a morning person. But every time I convinced myself I’d write after work, after I went for a run, after I made dinner, after I watched Gilmore Girls, I just simply didn’t do it. Because by the time I’d finished a full day of adulting, I just didn’t have the mental capacity for anything else. So I had only one solution - make the time to write before my brain had a chance to get distracted by anything else.

I set my coffee maker to brew ten minutes before my alarm, and I forced myself out of bed at five am. With a mug of coffee in hand, I’d sit in my writing chair that overlooked the bay and I’d write. Sometimes I’d write pages, sometimes I’d write two sentences. But without fail, I’d start my day in that chair, cozy in my robe, teeth and hair unbrushed, before anything else could distract me from writing. And eight months later (after two years of getting nowhere), I had finished my first, crappy draft.

Once I established my routine and committed to working on my book every single day, the work itself got easier. I found myself looking forward to that hour alone, in my own little corner, in my own little chair (sorry, couldn’t resist the Rodger & Hammerstein reference). And even on the mornings when I felt like I'd accomplished nothing, I’d find that later in the day, while I was plugging away at spreadsheets, an amazing idea would fly into my brain and cure my writer’s block. Since I now had momentum, it was that much easier to find more pockets of time, instances where I felt more like writing than watching a movie on my couch. And the best part about all those unsexy mornings alone in my robe? They paved the way for those perfect, sexy, writing moments where the sun is setting and the yellow rays are reaching over your desk and you feel like you’re in the world where your characters live, so you turn down a party with your husband and friends to enjoy a glass of wine alone and get lost in your own brilliance. Because those moments are a gift, and come easier once you have an established routine. And that established routine makes it easier to turn away from the distractions, or make the necessary adjustments so that even the unexpected won’t stand in the way. A five mile run in the rain will look more appealing after you’ve been running seven miles in the sun, every day, for a month.

So if you’re struggling to make gains on that brilliant idea of yours, maybe take a look at your day, make note of all the moments you promise yourself you’ll write. Make note of the reasons why you break that promise. Maybe you find that your writing comes best to you at midnight? Maybe it’s on your lunch break, or when the kiddo goes down for a nap? The time is there (and it might not look pretty at first), and you’ll write so much more efficiently once you’ve committed to your routine.

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