Creating a Writing Routine (and Sticking to It)

Many writers bemoan their extremely busy lives and wonder how they will ever find the time to write a novel.

Are you one of them?

If so, then here’s the truth. It doesn’t work that way. And the busier you are the less likely it is that you will ever FIND time to write a novel. 

You have to MAKE the time to write a novel by creating a writing routine and sticking to it. Period.

A Few Words About Word Count to Help Make The Point

The average adult novel runs around 80,000 to 90,000 words. Many are actually much longer than that. A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, is nearly 600,000 words. So is War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust, comes in at nearly a whopping 1.5 million words. And A Game of Thrones, the first book in the hugely popular series that inspired one of the most-watched television series ever, is nearly 300,000 words.

Those are exceptions when it comes to word length, true. But this gives an inkling as to why writing can mean such a long-term commitment. It often takes a full-time writer six months to a year or more to write a novel of average length. This means that if you’re SERIOUS about writing and finishing a novel you are likely going to have to make it a PRIORITY and probably one of the top two or three priorities in your life. 

Make Writing a Priority

In my opinion—again, if you’re serious—writing your novel should come right after family and the nine to five job. It should come WAY before shopping, hanging out on social media, and watching television. In fact, I’d bet that most people, if they cut the hours spent on activities such as these,  would uncover plenty of time to write.

Now I’m not saying that anyone should give up these pursuits entirely. We all need to spend time engaging in activities that are enjoyable and relaxing. But they should come AFTER we have developed the outline for our novel or written that next chapter . . . or two. If we’re serious about writing a novel we should strive for balance in our lives. Well, we should all strive for balance anyway, but it’s essential if we’re trying to pull off a big project such as writing a novel.

Now that I’ve made the point that writing your novel must be a priority and that we have to make the time for it, what’s next?

Tips for Creating a Writing Routine

One of the more reliable ways to make time to write is by creating a writing routine. And the best way to create a routine, to my mind, is by putting it to “pen and paper” using a schedule or planner. The schedule can be a hard copy (actually on paper) or digital, whichever you prefer. The important thing is to transfer it from your brain onto something concrete. There is something about writing our thoughts down that makes us much more likely to actually executive them.

When I’m working on a novel, I first set broad yearly and monthly goals. Then at the beginning of each week, say Sunday or Monday, I’ll develop a writing schedule with more detail for the week ahead. 

That doesn’t mean things always go as intended. They can and do change from day to day. Some days I get behind. Some days I write more than planned. Some days I may not write at all. Still, the schedule helps to keep me focused and gets me back on task when I slip up. I find that creating a schedule is especially helpful in the first few months of writing a new novel. It gets me into the routine. Then once I develop a routine I pretty much just keep each week’s writing goals in my head.

Consider the following points as you develop your writing routine—

  • Start big and go small when you plan your writing schedule. Begin by considering what you want to accomplish in a year, a quarter, or a month on your novel.
  • At the beginning of each week, establish writing goals for the week. Say you want to finish your first draft in six months and you expect your novel to be around 25 chapters long (and if you’ve outlined you will have an idea of this). That means you’ll need to write about a chapter a week.
  • Next, make note of tasks unrelated to writing that you MUST get done that week, such as getting the children off to school and going to work. Block those times off on your general calendar or planner. 
  • Note any free time left, even if it’s just thirty minutes. These are your writing times, and hopefully, you’ll have several blocks available each week. Daily is even better. Make these times sacred and don’t let anything get in their way.
  • If needed, cut time spent on unnecessary activities such as social media or watching television to free up time for writing.
  • If you still can’t seem to find enough time during a normal day, you’ll need to get make some adjustments in your daily routine. How about writing very early in the morning before your day starts or very late at night after everyone else is asleep? I know that sounds like a big sacrifice, but writing a novel is not easy. If that were the case, just about everyone would have done it. 

How to Keep Yourself Motivated to Stick to Your Writing Routine

Now you’ve created a writing schedule, and that’s a huge start. But you need to find ways to motivate yourself to stick to your writing routine, especially in the early stages of using it. Here are some suggestions:

Chocolate Reward
  • Set up a space to write. It should be a place that is quiet and that motivates you to write. You should have good lighting and a comfortable chair.
  • Get rid of distractions so you can FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS. Unless you have small children or others at risk in the home, close the door and tell family members not to disturb you unless it’s a matter of life or death. (I’m not kidding.) Turn off your cell phone. Close your browser windows.
  • Keep your outline, character sketches, notes, and any other prep work you’ve done nearby. I create a notebook for mine and keep it on my desk.
  • Have a word or page-length target in mind before you sit down to write. Focus on getting reaching that. You can always revise and polish later.
  • Reward yourself for making the time to write and sticking to the task. The reward should be something simple that you can partake in daily, such as a couple of pieces of chocolate or another favorite dessert. If it’s the evening or nighttime maybe it’s a glass of wine.

This may all feel difficult and forced at first, but if you persist it will eventually become a habit. You’ll find that the private time spent expressing your thoughts and feelings and finally getting the novel in your head down on paper is rewarding enough in itself.