On Schedules and Routines

I’m sitting here this Wednesday morning feeling completely out of phase with the world.  It’s a feeling I get whenever I oversleep and today I overslept.  I have to assume I hit the snooze button a few times this morning, but it’s more fun to think that some aliens from a distant planet had a hand in this. Well, the aliens or my evil cats.  Either way, I awoke at 5:07am… a full 30 minutes later than normal.  At 5:07am I’m usually already at the gym, not just getting out of bed.  I hurried through my routine, got myself ready and walked the dog, then scurried off to the gym for a truncated workout.  Officially, I’m back “on schedule” now, having cut my workout short so that my shower and subsequent trip to Starbucks could occur “on time”.

Yet, I feel completely out of sorts.

It gets me to thinking about the importance of routines for me.  My life is ruled by schedules.  Get up at this time, do this at that time.  The kids’ schedules are also my schedule, so I have to be sure they get to their baseball games or dance classes or parties on time and that they get picked up from the same on time.  The dog’s and the cats’ schedules are also my schedule owing to their demands to be walked or fed or pet as needed.  Even the garden has a schedule which is my schedule owing to the need for watering, harvesting and weeding.  You’ll note I haven’t even mentioned the real dictator of my life’s schedule: The Day Job.  You’ll also note I haven’t mentioned writing.

Where I am going with this is simple: schedules and routines are important to me because they are what drives my day.  This has been the case for my entire life, really.  But writing was one thing I never wanted to schedule.  It is the only thing in my life where I don’t plan anything at all – no outlines, no idea where a story is heading before I write it, nothing.  I’ve attributed this to me wanting something in my life that was not schedule-oriented and not dictated by the clock or the calendar or some sterile design document telling me what the result needs to look like.

I’ve also sometimes thought my lack of a writing schedule could be due to the fact that in high school English class we had journals and every day we had to spend ten minutes writing.  I hated it.  Loathed it, really.  I spent ten minutes each day repeating “I don’t know what to write… I don’t know what to write…” over and over again for pages on end.  At the time it looked like an enormous waste of time to me.   Recently, though, I came across one of those old journals and I flipped through it.  Yes, as I recall, there were plenty of those pages of repeated negativity.  But mixed in with them were pages of real writing ideas – dialogue between characters, descriptions of distant, alien landscapes,  ideas for stories or poems.  I do not remember writing those passages, but they are there, in my own horrifically bad handwriting, buried and hidden within the obvious distaste for the forced writing exercises.

Many people have routines for writing.  There are as many ways to schedule yourself to have time to write as there are writers out there.  I’ve read about these ideas (morning pages, dedicated writing times, word sprints, etc.) but I’ve only utilized them in November during NaNoWriMo.  And now, if I’m being honest with myself, I can look back and see that back when I was working in an office my routine included getting to the office early and spending that hour writing.  I suppose that was “scheduled writing”, but it was never required and if I spent that extra hour working on my day job instead of writing I wasn’t feeling like I had done anything wrong.  And since I’m being honest with myself here, I can admit that I’m not really getting any good writing done now with my anti-schedule mentality.

So where does that leave me?  I’m going on vacation next week (which as we all know comes with its own overpowering need for a schedule).  I am considering trying a “forced writing” routine into it.  Just for a little while, just for the week. That’s how I’m selling it to myself, at least.  I haven’t decided if it’ll be on paper or on the laptop. I haven’t decided if it will be in the morning or evening (most likely morning, since no one else will be up early). I haven’t decided if I’ll just allow myself to write “I don’t know what to write” over and over again until something better shows up on the page, or if I’ll dedicate the time to writing a vacation blog post each day or if I’ll try to flesh out some of the story ideas for which I haven’t done anything yet.  My not-so-secret hope is that if I do this every day for a week it will be easier to incorporate it into my regular routine at home.  I have no idea if this will work for me but I need to try.

I’m curious about other people’s routines and methods for carving out time to write from a busy life. Do you have any habits you think help you to focus your writing energy into whatever time you have? Any tricks or routines that you think might seem weird to others but work really well for you? Share your ideas in the comments below… maybe I’ll incorporate them into my experiment next week.

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16 thoughts on “On Schedules and Routines

  1. Reblogged this on fibijeeves and commented:
    Hello!

    I’m currently fitting in an MA in Creative Writing around a day job, additional job, wedding planning and moving house. Life is a bit busy, but exciting!

    Now, I’m not usually very good at having a writing schedule, but the MA has its own particular deadline at the end of August and I need to submit 30,000 polished and perfected words for it (Eeeeek!) So, in order to get those words done, and write the accompanying essay I’ve needed to make some rules and more importantly, stick to them.

    Because of the move, I arrive at work 30 mins before starting so I spend the time reading and taking notes, ready to pull together the essay. I’ve found this to be really useful when it comes to the creative writing as well, because the ideas and rhetorical questions raised buzz slowly around in my mind ready for the end of work, ready to spring forward. My panic about having to get everything done is subsiding, slowly.

    After work, I find a quiet spot with my laptop close by and write. I’m not allowed to go home until I’ve written a thousand words.
    This has worked out quite well and I’ll be honest in that I’m really surprised by my own dedication! Usually these plans work for about a day but it’s going, the words are being put down and it’s being done. I’ve got 27,000 words and I’ve stopped progressing the story because I have a good month to write the dreaded essay and then go over every single line and word with painstaking precision and make it as perfect as I can and despite all the cuts I’ll be making to erroneous words – I’m well aware that some areas will need developing and I’ll easily reach my target.

    Good luck with the schedule! For a definite sceptic, it’s really worked for me! I’m even considering continuing my routine for as long as I am able so that the manuscript can be finished (again) perfected, and sent off.

    Fingers are crossed!

    • Good luck with your MA work. That’s a lot of work and takes a lot of dedication. You seem to be well on your way, though. Let us know how it goes!

  2. And here I thought I was the only one with an OCD for routines and ‘I don’t know what to write’ phrases. Well, since I don’t have any clever tips to contribute for regular word-jotting, I’ll just stay tuned to the discussion. 🙂

  3. It’s always encouraging when you read the words of another and feel as though they have come from your own psyche. Misery does love company, doesn’t it? 😉

    I have been faithfully posting to my blog once a week for over a year now. The feeling behind that accomplishment/routine has changed dramatically, however, over the last two months.

    Up until then, I would do no writing until the day before my scheduled post. I was thinking about writing, but never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it is for me). I was living on the edge of the artificial deadline that I was setting for myself. It was a deadline, but it wasn’t as if the world was going to end or I would lose my job if I didn’t stick to my commitment. But, the perfectionist in me wouldn’t let me fall short no matter what. The problem was that this created a lot of stress and took a little of the joy out of writing, gasp!

    That’s when I made what I call an imperfect commitment. I promised myself to write at least five times a week, even if it was only for ten to fifteen minutes. But, and this was a big but for my perfectionist mind, if I didn’t make it to the laptop on that day, everything was gong to be okay. I didn’t hold it against myself. And the funny thing is, just that mindset got me to the laptop more often.

    That was the first problem: if I write. The other problems were when I would write and what I would write. As I stated in the opening sentence, I can so relate to schedules overflowing with commitments. It was quite difficult to say without fail that I would sit down and write between 12:30pm and 1:00pm as if it was like any other meeting on my schedule. For one, my schedule was not that predictable and also, if my mind wasn’t in a writing mood, that half hour was not as productive as it could have been to me. Therefore, I let my muse nudge me when it was time to write. Sometimes it would be at ten in the morning and at other times it might be at ten in the evening. This, in itself, had advantages, allowing me to see how my mind worked in different settings and at different times of the day.

    The last problem was what to write about. I have never been the one that could look at a blank page and just start writing about whatever. It just didn’t work well for me, I tried. What did work, however, is some sort of prompt. Whether it was from the Today’s Author blog, some other set of writing prompts, or an image that got locked into my mind on the commute into work, I used those thoughts as a springboard for free writing. Lately they have been short stories, my new favorite avenue for writing 😉

    As you say, there are as many methods as there are writers. For me, what worked best was being kind to myself and flexible to adapt to life around me. Fitting a creative endeavor into a rigid schedule is paradoxical to me, so I try to remain cognizant of that as I step through my daily actions, always courting my muse so I know when she is ready for our daily date. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your sentiments!

    • It is a work in progress for all of us, I guess. I am definitely a morning person so I am much better with writing early in the day than late. So from a timing perspective, I have a good idea of when I should be writing. Of course, that also is the best time for me to do pretty much anything. Once the sun goes down, I’m way, way off my game.

  4. This is very interesting to read everyone’s schedules! My schedule is strict in some ways and then very flexible in others… my main job right now is to care for my children, two of whom are school aged. So I need to be up at a certain time to get them ready for school, and then obviously I pick them up later, but in between, my day varies a lot, and I tend to try to fit writing in wherever it fits. That works sometimes and not others 🙂

    Right now I’m writing to a deadline to finish a manuscript, so rather than ensuring I spend x amount of hours per day writing, I’m trying to write x number of words per day. That seems to help, because I have to be able to drop everything to take children to appointments or make morning tea or just give cuddles as needed! I’ll admit, though, having this deadline is also a great motivator. I’m much more focussed, knowing I have only a couple of months to get the work done.

    • Deadlines are a great motivator. I know working under pressure of a deadline has helped me get a manuscript to the finish line many times. Good luck with it!

  5. I like schedules. For me, it means less decisions. My schedule answers those pesky problems of ‘this or that’.

    • Oh, I live and die by the schedule. I simply struggle with the prioritization of “just for fun” or “creative” endeavors over such mundane things as “doing the laundry” or “mowing the lawn”.

  6. I am so envious of those of you who work within some kind of schedule. I used to put every spare minute into writing. I had a lot of spare minutes and I got a lot done, loving and excited by every click of the keyboard.
    The past 5 years my life has been directed by emergencies and crises, most of them my responsibility but not my making. Writing and blogging and all the attendant tasks are at the back burner of a stove on fire.
    Envy envy envy those of you with clocks and calendars not owned by the madmen.
    BTW, I am also taking off the next week. I will cut myself off from computers and emails and in-boxes, and focus on family. I used to live this way, back in the last century, so it’s familiar. Kind of returning to the cave.

  7. I live by checklists. I have a TO DO list and I have a MUST DO TODAY list. Each morning I move over the items I must accomplish that day. It doesn’t matter what order. That gives some flexibility, yet still structured. Writing is a new activity for me so I’m having trouble emphasizing it’s importance but the goal is daily.

  8. I have been without a routine for a long time. It’s very hard for me to get anything done this way and yet for 18 years, while I raised my kids, I had a routine and now that they are grown I find myself at a lose for what to do.

  9. I set specific days each week that I write specific things. Usually the actual writin happens just before bed. But then, ,I’m still in school and homeschooled, so I have a pretty loose schedule.

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