On Writing Routines

Routines provide us humans with safety and security. Routines soothe anxiety. It’s true for babies, and it’s so true for writers.

Here are three cornerstones of my writing routine:

Write first thing in the day. It’s not new advice. Just about every book on the topic speaks of the magic of the early morning hours. But I mean, as soon as you roll out of bed. Before tea or coffee. Before brushing your teeth. Before breakfast. Before anything else. Why? For me, it’s because my brain doesn’t have a chance to object, complain or block my progress. That fuzzy, dreamlike state is the gateway to my creative brain. And, of course, getting the writing done early in the day prevents other life necessities from derailing the writing time. I use the same philosophy when training for a half marathon. Hit the pavement before my brain knows what’s going on.

Start with a short note. Time to talk about warm-ups. The blank page. The pressure of where to begin. The “what-if everything I write is pure crap.” To get going, I write a little short letter. Not just to warm up my writing fingers, but to ask for help from a higher power. No matter your religious or spiritual orientation, I think this routine works. It takes the ego out of the writing and refocuses your intention.

Basically, I write a note that begins like this:

Please help me to stay centered. Help me to let go and allow the words to come through me for the greater good.

Yes, it may sound hokey. I’m not above hokey. I’m just happy that it helps to ground me.

Create a Goal and Accountability. When I was a kid, my dad used to time me while doing my chores. “Let’s see how fast you can pick up all the LEGOs.” I’d race around, giddy, picking up those little bricks in record time. It was fun! It was a game! I do the same thing with writing. I set a goal, say, 1200 words in two hours. Then I text a friend and tell them my goal. They say something like, “Go, Laura.” Then I text them the word count after the two hours. They say something like, “Great!” It works.

What’s your routine?

Ban Writer’s Block Forever

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What is it about that blank piece of paper that is so daunting? The whiteness that dares you to transform it into something of significance. You tap, tap, tap a few words and delete. Tap and delete. The creative valve closes and you succumb to Writer’s Block.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone and there is an easier, more fulfilling and productive way to write. The daunting feeling is your gut telling you that there’s a misunderstanding.

Writing is not a one-step, linear process. In the most basic sense, there are two stages: WRITING and EDITING. WRITING employs raw, imaginative energy that doesn’t care about making sense or about the rules of grammar. It certainly doesn’t care about the critics. It’s all about going with the flow.

EDITING calls upon the organizer, the rule governor and the strategist in you. To oversimplify, WRITING comes from the creative RIGHT brain while EDITING relies on the more analytical and orderly LEFT brain.

For a moment, think of the art of writing in terms of sculpting clay. Let’s assume that you’re starting from scratch.

Stage One: Gather the clay ingredients, mix them and place the raw clay onto a clean surface.

What do you have at this point? A big blob of clay. Nothing of significance…yet. But there is great potential.

It’s the same with writing. The WRITING stage is deeply creative. It may not have any order or sequence to it. You figuratively spill out all that is in your heart, mind and soul about the topic to create your “writing clay”.

Yes, Stage One is messy. No, you probably wouldn’t publish it in its rough and unformed state. So, you go on to Stage Two.

Stage Two: Back to the clay sculpting image. At this stage, the sculptor shapes and manipulates the clay with the tools in his or her toolbox according to a particular style or vision – or maybe just by “feeling it out”.

And so it goes for the EDITING stage. You shape the “writing clay” by moving it around, reorganizing, rewording, scrapping some paragraphs and adding others. You play with the flow. Maybe take the middle paragraph and see how it reads as the opening paragraph.

Imagine what would happen if you combined Stage One and Stage Two while sculpting. If you tried to sculpt the ingredients before they were mixed. If you stared at the clean (blank) surface and tried to make something happen without placing the raw clay on it.

Not much progress. And a lot of confusion.

And the same goes when you combine Stage One and Stage Two while writing. It’s where Writer’s Block lurks. Your brain comes to a stand still. It’s a draw. No winners. Only self-doubt and suffering.

So what about the blank piece of paper? I look at it as the clean surface for the clay. That’s all.

Give the two-stage approach a shot and let me know how it goes. For me, it’s made all the difference.