One of the more common questions I’ve heard is “How do you get through writer’s block?”  or “How do you find time to write?”

In my blog “confessions,” I talked about my work day.  I’m going to delve into that a bit more, but what I hope to address is the distinction between “finding time to read,” “writer’s block” and just plain prioritizing.

sport-1013891_960_720I’m a big believer in routine.  I think consistency breeds consistency.  Perfect practice leads to perfect performance.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination in any regard, but I’ve found a thing or two that works for me.

First:  My schedule.  I usually wake up at 6 a.m.  I get up, go the the bathroom, go right back down to my room and shut my eyes for another 10-15 minutes.  I don’t like waking up early.  I worked night shifts in my younger days, and the routine stuck.  My brain usually comes alive around 3.  My current schedule, my bosses and my students don’t and shouldn’t care bout my sleep work cycle, but it’s how I’ve always worked.  This is honestly harder each year.  Already, my body demands an earlier bedtime than it did four years ago.  Still, the thing that gets me out of bed is the fact that my students are there, and I love helping them.  My friends are there, too.  So I get up, get dressed hit the road and arrive to work on time.

I leave my job anywhere from 4:30 to 7:30 depending on a host of factors.  Do my students need extra help?  How much do I have to grade?  Am I prepared to teach whatever it is I’m teaching tomorrow?  Will I have to be early tomorrow?  How long has it been since I’ve worked out?

More often than not, I’m home no later than 7:30.  I’m happiest when I’m home by 6:30.  As impossible as it is to tell when I’m going to get home, I still get there.  If I get home first, I clean up and start/order dinner.  Once everyone is home, I take the time to hang with my family.  This goes until about 8:30.

k10780975Then I go back to work.  Only this time, it’s my dream job.  It’s the occupation I want to put on my tax form. (I do that now, but I’d like for my income to grow).

A Call to action:  My call to action book was On Writing by Stephen King.  I’ve recently read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  Both books talk about a premise that I hold to be true.

If you want to be a writer, you should probably write.  I’ll blog about this at a later date.  Anyway, to write, you have to build a routine that works.  Some of you may disagree.  That’s fine.  This is just what works for me.

Step one:  Establish the Command Center

193._Keith_pilots_Red_for_the_first_timeSo when I go downstairs, I bring some diet soda and a few snacks.  I snuggle up in my chair and pull my table with my lap top right up against it, trapping me in what I call my Command Center.  You see, I grew up watching Voltron, and I liked the feel of having my chair lock me into my own version of a battle robot.  I’ve occasionally been heard making sound effects.  Don’t judge.

The term Command Center came from an old boss of mine.  He once told me, “You can’t win a war if your command center isn’t squared away.”  I hadn’t joined the Navy at the time, and he was a crusty old Sailor.  The term made a lot of sense to me.  I finish off the command center by making sure my 49ers blanket is wrapped around me in a cowl, my references are near to hand, and my distractions are literally out of reach.  I make sure I have a pen and something to scribble on is near by. So my command center is established when I’m locked in, everything I need is close to hand and everything I don’t need is out of reach.  The 9ers blanket is just because I love my team, and I like being warm.

Step two:  Clear the Distractions
video-games-1136046_960_720This is a bit of a trick.  Before I understood the importance of social media, all I had to do was make sure the X-Box controller and remote controls were out of reach.  Social Media has made that harder.  I can’t focus if I think there’s other stuff to do.  I think very quickly, and if I think a problem is coming, or I need to handle something, I jump to fix it.  This takes me away from writing.  So I have to clear the virtual distractions, too, so I do my rounds.   I have a Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter account.  I do whatever sharing, following, and Tweeting I feel is necessary.  I check on my sales.  I check my emails.  I make sure I’ve addressed everything that can come up.

Step three:  Establish the Mission

naruto-shippuden-capitulo-424So being in the military has given me an affection for being told what to do, even if I’m the only one giving orders. I COMMIT to what I’m going to do.  I PROMISE myself I’m going to achieve something, and every now and then, I promise myself a reward for meeting the mission goal (right now I reward myself by watching episodes of Naruto).  I’ll ORDER myself: “I WILL write 1,000 words” or “I will edit this chapter” or “I will write this blog.”  Then I offer my self reward.  I’ll say, “…and after I finish, I’ll watch ONE episode of Naruto,” or whatever I have to. NOTE:  It’s CRITICAL to me to be as strict with my reward as I am with my mission, otherwise I write one thing and watch TONS of Naruto.  That’s bad.  It’s a betrayal of my mission and a failure of my efforts.

Step four:  Clock in.

Time-clockLately, I’ll signal this by sending Quintessential Editor a quick message via Facebook saying, “Clocking in.”   We both know this isn’t an excuse.  It’s a commitment.  He knows I’m working.  He’ll usually tell me he’s working or how long he’ll be before he goes to work.  The point is, we’re professionals, who go to work.  We see our work as an occupation.  It’s not a hobby.  It’s not something we get around to.  It’s our job, and we have to do it.  We may only have to do it because we choose to, but the point is we’ve chosen to.  If you want to be a writer, write.  If you want to make money off your writing, treat it like the job you want to earn an income doing.  So I go to work, and I clock in.

Step five:  Meet the goal

Whatever objective I established for myself, I reach.  Sometimes, it’s fast.  For me, it’s fastest when I’m drafting and slowest when I’m editing.  That’s not to say there aren’t days when drafting is a pain.  Trust me:  The most important time to write is when you don’t feel like writing.  Now some disagree with me on this, but I have a few tips (which I’ll elaborate on in future blogs).

First…if what you’re trying to write isn’t working, write something else.  I have several projects going.  If Caught is really not working, I still work until I’ve met my objective, but I may take a different sort of break.  No, I don’t go to the digital water cooler and talk to Corey.  Instead, I shift gears to a different project.  Right now I’m drafting Images of Truth, world building Sojourn in Despair, reading something for my writers group or scanning 1,200.  Be wary.  If you ever want to be a PUBLISHED author.  You have to finish something.

hobo-826057_960_720I shift gears to another project only as long as it takes me to get a sense of momentum (more on this later).  Once the muse (I subscribe to King’s theory on the muse by the way.  I really do.) has had a chance to use the imaginary bathroom or finish his last beer (see “On Writing”), and I can hear him talking to me, I move back to my objective project.  I don’t take a break yet.  I won’t let distractions fool me into thinking I’ve actually done anything.  I finish the mission.  Again, I was trained as a Sailor.  I may have to take a break from photography or writing an article to stand watch or clean a compartment.  Those are important jobs too, but they’re not my main mission.

When I finish those collateral duties, I go back to work and finish the job I PROMISED myself I’d finish.  This is the hardest trick to figure out, especially if you’re someone like me who’s a fan of linear, one-at-a-time tasks.  But momentum is more important to me than anything.  The more I gain momentum, the easier it is for me to keep it.  If I stop, I’m hosed.  That’s all there is to it.

work-1515801_960_720Once the juices are flowing, I step away from the side project (promising that said project will in time become my primary mission) and get to work on my current objective.  I knock it out.  Then I revel in whatever reward I’ve promised myself.  If I’m on a role, I let it ride until I feel like I’m forcing it.

Rinse.  Repeat.

I can’t do one thing for extreme periods of time.  I need to shift gears.  I’ve learned I work best with about an hour of productivity and 20-45 minutes of rest.  This is just what works for me.

On a good night, I get through about three rotations.  On a great night, I get through three rotations, and it’s not yet midnight.  That almost never happens, but it’s beautiful when it is.  If I’m particularly sleepy or drained, I only do one rotation.  But I ALWAYS do one rotation.  Midnight is a benchmark for me.  If I have more time, or I feel particularly energized, I push it.  I usually end up going to 1 or 2 in the morning.

ball-1020348_960_720Momentum is everything.  I know myself, and as an author, you need to know yourself.  Identify your resistance (if you subscribe to Pressfield’s dialogue).  For me, I know I WANT an excuse not to write.  I want an excuse to step away.  That’s why I have to establish my command center.  I make sure I don’t have the “excuse” to get up to find something I need.  That’s why I clear the distractions.  I make sure I don’t have the “excuse” that I’m worried I forgot something.  Etcetera.

The more I write, the more I will write.  The more I accomplish the more I will accomplish.  The consequences of stopping?  A few weeks back I had a terrible headache.  I took the night off.  Now it was the right thing.  My head hurt so bad I saw spots and couldn’t see very well.  My body said, “Matt, get some sleep, or I’ll PUT you to sleep.”  So I let myself turn in early (very early).  I was fine the next day, but I didn’t get anything done for about another week.  Even when stopping is the right thing to do, it totally derails my rhythm.

I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I believe people don’t have momentum, so they stop because they can’t get started.  When I say it that way, with brutal honesty, do you see how little sense that makes?  It may be a real thing, but I’ve never had it.  Maybe something wasn’t working, but the trick I mentioned above always gets me back on track.

My routine PROBABLY won’t work for you.  It’s mine.  Maybe some theories will work, but you have to find a routine that works for you.  I hope mine has given you a few ideas.  This routine has evolved over twenty years now.  It started when I read “On Writing” and learned the muse needs to know when to come by.  (roughly translated it means go to work when you say you will, or write at a consistent time.)  It evolved and evolved as I found more distractors or potholes on my road to success.  I think it’s pretty solid now as I’ve written six books, and I’m about to publish my second book.  The main point remains.

If you want to be a writer, you should be writing.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

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18 thoughts on “My Routine: One Writer’s Habits

  1. Hello. I am actually impressed with this post almost beyond measure.
    I just love the way you log in with Quintessential Editor. That realtimeness support is sucrh a neat idea. I am reblogging this on my Routine Matters blog.

    Like

    1. That took me a long time to get to. I started out small. I demanded one hour of write time a day. I picked an hour that I knew I could commit to and just kept at it. It was HELL the first month. But after about a month or so, I found the process flowing much more naturally. I still write at more or less the same time. And that is a factor. So starting small is the best thing. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post. I have a routine as well, and it helps keep me on track with my writing goals. Love that you clock in with QE; when I check in or “word war” with a writing buddy, I take my writing time much more seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a solid post from you here Matt.

    When it comes to routine and getting it done, you are pretty much the most kick-ass writer I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I know I have emulated many of your tricks and methods. I’m thinking to all the nights (early mornings) where I would be typing bleary eyed and my messenger would pop, “You still awake Corey?” I wasn’t alone. You were there, in a different state, fighting your own writings war at 2 in the morning. For me, those messages are a spark of energy and connectivity that keep my fingers moving. I know it’s the same for you. It’s the power of making sure when you carve out time to write, if you let someone in, they are going to be there to help you achieve your goals and not derail them.

    My method of goal setting is when I sit down to write I look at the time and make an estimation. How much time can I realistically give to my project today? I look at my current word count, which is stuck to my monitor on a Post It note. I add 500, 1000, 1500, or whatever (depending on the amount of time I have) to the number and write that number on another Post It note. I then stick the new one next to the old one. That becomes my goal and reason for existing.

    Then it’s time to put my money where my words are. Like you, I set myself up for success. I close out everything, put on some music, grab my writing hat, and get to it. I write, without fail, until I at least reach the new Post It note number. Even if what I’m writing makes my skin crawl (usually it’s not as bad as I think it is). If I exceed the number, I one line it at the end of the session and write the new number.

    For me, the idea is every single time I sit down at my computer there is visual cue that says, “Hey Corey, I know you want to watch videos of cats playing keyboards, but you have this book to write. This is how far you are into it. What’s more important to you, cats playing keyboards or writing your book?” Sometimes the answer is cats playing keyboards. But the point is it makes me instantly aware of looming work. You can’t tuck it away and hide it when it’s staring you in the face.

    Again, loved this post Matt. Likely going to reblog it because it’s such a great bit of insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your process as well. I think the biggest take away I’ve seen from feedback and my own success is that commitment to a goal. I don’t care what the goal is, but if you state a commitment and follow through, that in itself become an intrusic reward. That keeps me going. “I didn’t sell a single book today, but that’s alright because I edited four chapters!”These things become positive self-fulliling prophecies. I’d love the reblog. Can’t wait to see what you’re up to with Drake.

      Like

  4. Love the idea of ‘clocking in’ with Corey – mutual support is always motivating. I have an office where I can shut myself away from the three other adults and two needy animals I live with, but I tend to shift my workspace periodically. Maybe I’ll turn it into a Command Center once NaNo hits 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me, anything I can do to make it feel like a cool job is huge. The more I do to make it feel like an occupation, the more pride and sense of accomplishment I feel. An office is a big deal, especially when you’re in a shared house. Glad you have a space. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you!! Another fantastic and inspiring post. I loved reading about your process and have been left motivated to make sure that I establish my own. And will make sure I include rewarding myself for accomplishing my goals 😉 Once again, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love your blog. I am still looking for my writing routine as well as what I prefer to write about. Things I like the most are funny, philosophical, and informative (about retirement). Based on this, I am seriously trying to find my niche.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why not a retirement comedy series. That’s got to have some audience? Thanks for following, and thank you for the kind words. Identifying a routine is easy; committing to that routine is the hard part. I recommend starting small. That way, you can always increase your self-demands to a degree you feel challenges you, but won’t let you be lazy.

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