On Writing: My Writing Routine
What is my writing routine?
The other week I wrote a long(-winded?!) post about how I built my writing habit. After I published it, I realised I hadn't actually explained what my writing routine is or looks like, in terms of what I write, how much I write, when I write, and where I write.
My writing routine is a 5+ year work in progress. I've been writing fiction for that long, but actually I've been blogging and writing regularly for much longer. My routine has changed drastically over the years - most altered by becoming a mother two years ago - but it's fair to say that one thing has remained - I still write regularly, and I'm still committed to writing regularly, perhaps more so than ever before.
So, what do I write? How much? When? Where? Well, if you were wondering about the answers to these hardly earth-shattering-but-perhaps-mildly-interesting questions... here's where you'll find them.
What I write...
I write a lot of words for work and for pleasure. It's hard to say exactly how many words I write on average each week because it changes all the time, but I've bundled everything into the following groups; client work, blog, poems, fiction and non-fiction.
- Client work
I currently work three days a week - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - and I have up to six regular clients (three give me work every month, and the others usually hire me for ad-hoc project work). They hire me to write all sorts of things from articles, web copy, brochures and marketing materials, or social media, newsletter and blog content. I don't always do new content creation for these clients and some weeks I'm doing more editing or proofreading work than drafting new content, but I try to complete all of my client work in two out of my three working days, so I have a spare day for admin tasks and my own projects (see below). This doesn't always work out as clean-cut as it sounds, i.e. some weeks I need all three days for client work, and other weeks I'll spend all week working on my own stuff, but I think this is how it roughly works out. If you're interested, I recently counted up how many new words I wrote for client work in a month - so not including editing or proofreading jobs - and it was just over 14,000 words which wasn't as much as I expected, but still was a respectable amount when most of what I was doing was 500 - 1000 articles or small social media assignments. Some months I am creating documents that are 20,000+ words, so it really can vary, and should also therefore be another lesson why I shouldn't focus on word counts!
I've only just started to blog regularly again and I'm currently aiming to post one or two new posts a week. At the moment, because I'm writing about things that I've wanted to write for a long time, and things that I've been thinking about for a long time, most of the posts have been quite (ahem, VERY) long - like 2000+ words. I would say I spend about 3-4 hours a week on the blog, the bulk of which is done during one of my daycare days, and I sometimes do a few ad-hoc things (scheduling social media, editing photos, drafting a new post or proofreading an old post) during nap times on Thursdays and Fridays when I'm with my son. I'm hoping to get in a habit of writing shorter posts or posts with more photos like this one as I'm enjoying publishing a lot of new content and I know I can't maintain the current output with wordy posts.
Back in April I started writing and publishing a poem a day on Instagram as part of #the100dayproject, but before that I had been dabbling with poetry since I was pregnant with my son (in early 2015). I started doing this because I was reading more poetry and actually enjoying it for the first time in my life. I also liked how it didn't demand as much time, energy and preparation as my fiction, which at the time was a hefty novella that had quite a complicated plot. Poems were (are!) new, different and currently "just for fun", and could often be thought-up, written down (on my phone using Evernote) and edited in just a matter of minutes. In fact, I'll just go ahead and admit that many of the poems I've written for this challenge have been written while I'm on the loo, which I'm both greatly embarrassed to admit, but also a little bit proud of because, woah, productivity!
I'm currently having a bit of a lull in my fiction writing. I think this is because I have two projects that are VERY close to being finished after months (or years!) of work, but they are still a decent chunk of work away from where I want them to be. I often pause at this stage in a book because I feel I've done a lot already, and I'm a bit tired of the work and I crave the energy and enthusiasm of a new project. I'll write more about this another time - preferably when I know how to tackle and overcome it! - but for now, it's safe to say that I'm not actively writing much fiction, but I am spending a lot of time thinking about the two books that are currently in progress... and some other new ideas.
Now it's time to admit something else that I am a bit embarrassed by - even more so than writing poetry on the lav.
I've been working on two non-fiction books for over a year now, and I had wanted both books to be published already as the bulk of the content is ready, it's just a question of getting everything together to make the physical book most of which I always outsource, but with both manuscripts, I'm just not ready to send it out to an editor or beta readers. I think it's because I know I want to make some changes to both projects to make them "better" but right now I don't know what those changes need to be. Sometimes this just happens, so I would say I'm still plodding through these books and work on them each two or three times a month. I'm hoping my admitting this is a bit of a kick up the bum to move them both forward...
How often I write...
I try to write something every day. And no, that doesn't include shopping lists; I try to write something "meaningful" every day, i.e. something that progresses my journey as a writer.
Most importantly, when I say writing I don't mean literally sitting at a desk and typing new words. When I say "writing" I also mean research, editing, proofreading, planning, thinking or even talking about an ongoing creative project. I suppose it's actually quite significant that when I use the word "writing" I don't literally mean writing new words. In fact, a lot of the time, writing means anything but this.
So in terms of how often I write, again this is different every week, but there is some routine. Since becoming a parent and my son going to daycare, my week is broken up in three chunks; I work Monday to Wednesday when my son is in daycare for the best part of eight hours each day, Thursday and Friday he's most often just with me, and on Saturdays and Sundays he, my partner and I are all together.
I try to keep a good few hours of my daycare hours for writing projects but as I mentioned above, it doesn't always work that way if I have a lot of client work or if I have other things going on - we moved house back in April and I feel like the number of "jobs" relating to that is increasing not decreasing! - but then sometimes the tables turn and I have a few weeks where my writing is what I spend most of my daycare hours on.
When I'm with my son, I do try to do an hour or so of writing work while he's sleeping, or in the evening after he's in bed, but I'll be completely honest and say that sometimes I can be so tired during his afternoon nap that I also just want to lie down, or more often, I decide to tidy up the house, doing some washing and getting dinner ready.
Most weekends my partner and I try to both ignore work and laptops so I don't do much writing at all at weekends, and I really like this. Sundays used to be my most productive writing day but now it's very common for me to actually forget where my laptop is by the time Monday morning rolls around. That said, there have been a number of occasions when I've spent a few hours writing on a Saturday or Sunday just because I feel a bit "mum-ed" out and my partner is happy to go solo for a while. I also still use Evernote to write down story ideas or scene ideas if they come to me during the weekend, and I have still been writing my daily poem on weekend days, and I hope that I can continue to give a little bit of time to creating - in some sense of the word - after the project ends this month.
When I write...
As I mentioned above, I mostly write on weekdays, and it's normally during the daytime, as opposed to getting up early or staying up late to write. I wrote about this in this post offering tips for new parents on when to write or be creative, and it still stands that I don't compromise sleep in order to get writing done. On the VERY rare days that my boy wakes up after me, I will sometimes try to sneak down and do some writing with my first cup of tea, but I can honestly count the number of times that has happened in the last six months on one hand. I've also never been very good at staying up late to work or write, so yep, for me, I have to carve out time during the hours my son is having his daytime nap, at daycare or with my partner. I'm luckier than most that my freelance job makes this possible, but it does mean I have to be very disciplined and efficient with my time.
I would also say that I'm a more productive writer in the morning - and I love having that "having written feeling" all day afterwards - but I have found that evening or just before bed has been a nice time to work on my poetry challenge, and also to think of more ideas for my WriteNOW affirmation cards, which has also been a creative process similar to writing in many ways.
Where I write...
In May I started renting an office in a co-working space in Amsterdam so since then I have done the majority of my writing (for work, pleasure, blog or otherwise) there. I actually leave my laptop there from Monday to Wednesday so I don't really do any meaty writing at home, until Thursday and I'll normally do some sort of writing on the desk we have set up in our living room. I definitely believe that having a space that is just for writing (as opposed to a dining table or bed, for example) is a great way to make sure you get writing as soon as you're in that place. That said, unfortunately having an office that I normally do client work in doesn't actually help this as I associate my office more with client work than my own writing projects. I need to maybe look at ways I can create some differentiation between working time and writing time but in the same office... a certain playlist or lighting a candle, perhaps?
It's also true that I very occasionally also take my laptop to bed with me at the end of the day and just type away until my eyes go heavy. It's not healthy, it's not good for my body, it's definitely not good for sleep, but sometimes I just want to write until I physically can't... As bad as these nights are for me (and often the draft I'm working on!) I also love them and wish I had the energy for more of them.
As mentioned in this post and referred to in other posts I've written on writing, I write anywhere and everywhere thanks to apps like Evernote being on my phone. As I've mentioned I get a lot of writing done in the bathroom but not just sitting down (ahem!) as I also seem to get a lot of ideas when I'm showering or cleaning my teeth. (This is an interesting but not that unsurprising article about why we get so many ideas in the shower!)
How I write...
This is a question that could be answered very quickly - on a keyboard or on my phone, using my fingers and chewing the inside of my left cheek - or I could give a much longer, more complex answer which would also depend on what I'm working on because I approach fiction, non-fiction, blogging and client work very differently. I think what is most useful is to summarise my "approach" to writing, i.e. what my over-arching goal and attitude to writing is.
For the purposes of this article, let's talk about writing for pleasure, because this is (sadly) the thing I imagine most of us - myself definitely include - struggle to regularly commit to because of the "important things" that you need to get done in a day so you have enough money to buy food, pay rent, keep yourself and any dependants alive.
Again, how I write has changed since I had a child. My approach went from "dedicate at least an hour a day to writing" to "write a little, a lot" or more realistically "write as much as you can, when you can". Much to my surprise there have been a few benefits to changing my approach. Firstly, my new motto is much more achievable - yes, even with a non-stop-ball-of-energy-toddler under my feet. Before, I would set aside a big block of time to write but if work or something else stopped me from having that one hour of writing time, I didn't write. At all. Now, I try to squeeze in as much as I can, as often as I can. This can mean a sentence or two typed out on my phone while I wait for the kettle to boil first thing in the morning. It means editing a poem while my son is happy reading books or playing trains for five minutes. It means drafting out a new story idea for the first thirty minutes of my son's nap before I tackle all (okay, some of) the domestic chores I have to do. It means rewarding two weeks of tricky client work with a half day of writing and editing. It means blasting out 500 words before I go to bed because I think I have enough energy and I want to. Secondly, I'm much more aware and mindful of taking time to write.
This doesn't mean that I'm not tempted to go to Facebook or Instagram when I get those precious pockets of time. Sadly, I often choose staring at other peoples' carefully created snapshots of life over doing something that makes me feel fantastic relatively easily and quickly, but, hey, I'm working on that. The important thing is that I do choose writing some of the time, and I will strive to choose it more often.
This new approach to writing also doesn't mean I write more than what I used to write because I don't, and while I do write almost every day, I don't write much more than a few sentences, and admittedly a week or two can go by without me adding anything more than a few pages to something. I also find that I do need bigger blocks of time for editing, which is why I don't progress projects as quickly, and I definitely don't feel "on top" of things as much, but I've pretty much got used to that now, and there is something liberating in being kinder on myself about writing. I think it's important that I continue to "create" new things regularly, which the #100poemsbyFrankie has definitely confirmed, but I do now want to find new ways I can get more organised to do more effective and productive work so projects I start can also be finished. I'll let you know when I actually make serious progress with that...
Why I write
I want to end highlighting the most important part of my writing habit and routine. My "Why". And arguably, if you want to build a writing habit or just write more regularly then this is the best place for you to start to.
We hear a lot about "know your why" and while it's a bit of a buzz term, it is always worth knowing why you're doing something, especially if you're trying to make changes in your life to accommodate it. Start by asking yourself the following questions...
- Why do you want to write?
- Why do you write?
- Why do you want to build a writing habit?
- Why do you want to write more regularly?
- Why is writing important to you?
Personally, I write because I enjoy it and it is one of only a few things that really satisfies or fulfils me. I get an immediate buzz from writing (most times!) but it also leaves me feeling calmer too. I'm a happier, more content person when I do a little bit of writing, regularly.
This is my why at its most basic. Of course, there are other reasons. I enjoy making connections with people through writing, I want to make writing books (and maybe poems now!) my main source of income, I want to see where this journey will take me. And I know writing regulary is the only way any of these things will happen.
But my writing routine has adapted to suit "my why" and my life best, and it's because of this that I can maintain it and benefit most from it. That is my single best piece of advice for you; build a writing routine that suits your why, and your life. You will be much more likely to achieve it if you do this...
Good luck! Please let me know if anything here has helped you... or share your own tips for how you built your writing habit.
The cards featured in the photo in this post are WriteNOW Cards - affirmation cards designed for writers to help you build and enjoy your writing practice - they're available to buy in packs of 10 or 50 here.
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.