Times of Change

Some of the hardest times for a writer to hang onto writing routines are what I call transition times, those times when something in the normal schedule changes. It can be as simple as adding an evening activity, as big as a cross-country move or as life-changing as having a new baby. It can be the transition between summer or holidays to daily work and school days. Whatever the change, the routines we’ve struggled to put in place often shiver and shake and fall apart leaving us to dig our way out of the chaotic rubble.

How do we keep that from happening? What can we do to make sure writing doesn’t get lost in the minor and major upheavals of our lives? How can we stay in control even during the hectic times of our days and lives?

Shonna touched on it last week when she talked about establishing automatic routines, especially routines that happen even we’re not focused on them. Well-established routines can add stability to the disorder that comes with transitions.

I implemented one such routine in my own life at least fifteen years ago and it has remained a constant through several major moves as well as tiny schedule tweaks. Until today, it never really had a name. I’ve decided to call it my Redeem the Time Cache because that is what it does. Whether on a holiday schedule, a normal work week or in the midst of a cross-country move, my Redeem the Time Cache helps me productively use time that would normally be wasted.

Whenever I know I’m going to be somewhere with nothing to do but wait, like a doctor’s office or waiting for a child to finish a class or in the passenger seat during a cross-country move, I take my Redeem the Time Cache with me (or a selection of items from it). At any given time, I have a pile of papers, magazines or books to read, letter writing supplies, a folder with items relating to a current project, anything that can be done in the little bits of waiting time that fill my day. When I was still homeschooling, that pile often included things I needed to plan lessons or assignments to evaluate. Now it includes “fun” books to read as often as it does work that needs doing.

Sometimes I don’t even need my Cache with me to redeem the time. Sometimes I find myself waiting without my Cache. Standing in a check out line, for example. After years spent using my Redeem the Time Cache, my automatic reaction is to mentally search for something to do. I might run through my list of errands. Other times, I’ll brainstorm names for a new character I’m creating or try to unknot a plot problem. Or, if I need a vacation from reality, I’ll read the headlines of all those pseudo-news magazines. With my Redeem the Time Cache, I can redeem those otherwise unproductive, wasted minutes. And that brings order back into the chaos even during the most hectic transition times.

Routines

When I was younger, I thought routine was a bad word. I hated anything that looked or smelled like a routine. Or at least I thought I did. I didn’t realize just how often I used routines and how productive they made me. I know it sounds odd, but routines actually foster spontaneity. Routines, at least in my life, allow me to juggle all the things I must do and all the things I want to do and rarely drop a thing. Okay. That last part isn’t quite true. I drop a lot of things. But invariably it is because I let the routine slip.

Routine is something you do over and over again. (Do you brush your teeth before washing your face in the morning? That’s a routine.) It is not the same thing as a schedule. I still don’t do great with set-in-concrete schedules, although I have made peace and even initiated a friendship with those.

This week’s blog is a look at some of the writing routines that help us be productive, that help us fulfill our dream of being a writer. I believe the most important routine is our self-talk. We must believe we are writers and speak that way, even in our minds. Telling others I am a writer makes it more real, both to me and to them. Telling myself I phrased that thank you note for a despised gift from a beloved aunt very tactfully, reinforces the fact that I am a good writer. Telling myself that, yes the bathroom needs cleaning, but not at the expense of my writing time, reminds me of the importance of what I see as my calling in life. Change your self-talk to support your writing and you will see your writing explode.

Another extremely important routine is to write every day. When I have the mindset that the day is not finished until I have written something, I get a lot more written. (I have to put other routines and schedules in place to actually finish a project, but that is the subject for a different blog.)

I also think it is also important to mix up the writing. I get bored if I have to work on a project for long periods of time. Even though I may be focusing more time and energy on the project, I get less and less done. So I alternate what I work on. One day I will work on my most important fiction project; another day I will work on a non-fiction project like this blog. Every day I am writing, but each day is different. This seems to increase the excitement for each project and has radically increased my creativity.

Self-talk, daily writing minimums and a variety of projects that I cycle through are the main routines that keep me producing. What about you? What routines have you developed? Which routines, when missed, radically reduce your output? Do you have any routines that need to be nixed or changed? Let us hear from you.