A Writing Routine that Sticks


For the longest time, I have been struggling with finding the right writing routine for myself. I work full-time, and then I have creative gigs on the side. So most days, I’m working during prime hours and then after work hours and on weekends. I really wanted to be the type of writer that could write all night and burn the midnight oil. But, admittedly, I’m not. I’m so tired at the end of a work day. And all I want to do is eat, read, watch a movie and sleep. In a perfect world, I see myself getting up from a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep, taking a big stretch, making a nice pot of coffee, and after walking my beloved dog, sitting down and writing for hours into the afternoon.

But that’s not my life. Not yet.

I’m currently working on a new play, which will be produced by The Welders next fall, so I’m officially on a deadline to complete a draft so that I can enter the revision and dramaturgy process. My bad writing habits (or lack thereof) had to change. Quickly.

I began looking up the writing routines of specific writers, some of whom I enjoy. For instance, Haruki Murakami (I just finished reading A Wild Sheep Chase.) likes to wake up at 4am every morning and write for about six hours straight with zero distractions. Stephen King likes to get started at around 8:30am, but what’s most important for him is that his workspace is exactly as it was the day before and arranged just so. Octavia Butler (my fave) said that she wakes up early in the morning, goes for a walk, and then writes for a few hours, sometimes coming back to her writing a little later in the afternoon. Obviously, these are the routines of professional writers, meaning that these people have gotten to a point where their main job is just to write. What about me? What about the emerging writer who has bills to pay? I realized I had to dig deep and find my ideal routine for where I’m at in my career right now, in this moment.

Step One: Coming to Terms

I had to be honest with myself. I cannot write without daylight. I am most productive in the mornings and afternoon.

I like sleep and that’s okay. I’m not some tortured writer who can’t sleep until a work is finished. I’m not “giving birth” or ripping out an idea from my guts when I write. Ideas get on the page only when I’m well rested. There are times when I jot down thoughts, dreams, notes on the fly or in the middle of the night, but I’m not sitting down at the computer at 3am because of an idea.

I don’t like to perform writing in public. Before I had my own living space to myself, I lived with roommates. This meant that my space was limited and to write, I took myself out of the house, found the coolest looking hipster coffee shop I could find, brought my laptop, glasses and wore a cute outfit, ordered coffee (black with sugar) and sit down to look like I’m writing. I’d be less productive—looking at other people looking at me writing—and spent money on coffee and pastries I didn’t need.

Silence is better. I need to hear myself think.

Step 2: Answer—How much time is enough?

Now, that I’ve gotten honest with myself about my bad habits and also my preferences, I had to make a logical plan. I decided that I’d do this by being realistic. Every writer wants to dedicate as much time as they can in a day, but I had to realize that I work 40 hours a week and then more for creative gigs. Without spreading myself too, too thin, I had to find writing time to which I could commit.

Right, now, that’s 15 hours a week. One hour before work, Monday through Friday, and five hours on Saturday and Sunday. Once I’m confident in this routine, I’ll push myself to two hours before work on weekdays making my writing time a total of 20 hours per week. So far, I’ve been writing about 15 hours a week for the last three weeks. I’m so proud.

Step 3: Determine, prioritize projects.

I use to skip around so hard while writing. It’s how I end up with half a dozen incomplete projects. I’m realizing that before I sit down, maybe the day before, I decide what I’m going to do during my writing time. I’m strategically working on what needs to be worked on. I’m setting small benchmarks to make sure I’m making the right amount of progress at a reasonable pace.

Step 4: Seek opportunities.

I have to admit that I am weakest at finding more opportunities to publish my work. Some of my time needs to be dedicated to finding writing journals, magazines, contests in which I can submit my fiction for publication. While I intend to self-publish my first fiction novel, so much can be learned about the industry by submitting shorter fiction along the way. So I’m telling myself now: “Teshonne, level up, and submit your work!”

Step 5: Pet the dog.

Beaux is such a good boy watching mommy write. He deserves a cuddle. :)

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