Behind the Scenes of a Longstanding Writing Routine

Have you ever noticed that writers have a tendency to waffle on about writing routines?

Firstly, let me be clear that I love waffles, especially the ones from West Coast Waffles, or, better yet, the best one I ever ate at Suite 88, a chocolatier in Montreal.

As you might imagine, waffling on is one of the most positive associations I could make with writing routines, and for good reason: a well-established writing routine is AMAZING.

Why is it amazing, you ask?

How could it possibly be as amazing as a perfectly cooked waffle, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside?

A Writing Routine Is Amazing Because It Makes Writing Easier

The road to writing bliss is paved with distractions, writer’s block, and Big Life Occurrences. The steadier and simpler your routine, the easier it will be to hold onto and the more it will feel like a relief, not a chore, when you sit down to write.

I’ve used this particular writing routine for years now, with little tweaks here and there, and I still love it. Sure, we get a little cross with each other now and again, but what dynamic doesn’t have its ups and downs?

Now, settle in with some waffles (a cookie will do, in a pinch) and let’s look at this writing routine.

Before Writing

The first order of business when a writing session is on the horizon? Gather supplies! For me, this usually means my laptop, bullet journal, pen, noise-cancelling headset, and something to drink. If I’m heading out to a library or coffee shop, I’ll also bring along my laptop charger, just in case.

Speaking of being out at a library or coffee shop to write, if you haven’t tried it all that often, make sure to visit the restroom and put your order in before finding a place to sit, unless you’re there with a friend. It’s a royal pain to realise you need to tinkle just as you’ve gotten settled and unpacked everything.

Before sitting down to write, I like to stretch a little if I’m feeling stiff, usually some arm circles and downward facing dog. That way I’m not too wriggly during my writing session. If I’ve walked to a writing destination away from home, that takes the place of any stretching.

The last thing I do before beginning to write is pop my headset on and queue up some music, white noise, or both. My white noise of choice is usually Rainy Mood. As for music, I tend to bop around between playlists on Spotify. The Outlander soundtracks have been recent favourites.

While Writing

I mostly write solo, other than the occasional writing sprint on Twitter, so at this point it’s just a matter of getting myself up to speed on where I’m heading today. I freeze up like a fennec fox in the Arctic when staring down a blank page, so I usually write “point to point.”

Writing point-to-point is something I adopted from Rachel Aaron’s must-read post, How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Here’s a little of what she has to say:

“If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you're writing before you write it. I'm not even talking about macro plot stuff, I mean working out the back and forth exchanges of an argument between characters, blocking out fights, writing up fast descriptions. […] If the scene you're sketching out starts to go the wrong way, you see it immediately, and all you have to do is cross out the parts that went sour and start again at the beginning. That's it. No words lost, no time wasted.”

That’s exactly what I do in my work-in-progress, either when I get stuck (so at least I’m still writing) or a little bit at the very end of the writing session, so I know my next heading from the moment I first open up the document. I always sketch it out in bullet points, so then, when I start writing, I’m literally writing … you guessed it! From point to point.

As soon as I’ve fleshed out one point, I delete it and move on to the next one (taking care not to also remove the freshly drafted passages), unless I’m on a roll, in which case I’ll sometimes get a few points in before bothering to delete the batch. It’s immensely satisfying to look back and see the hundreds or thousands of words you’ve crafted from just a few sparse points!

The bullet points don’t have to be fancy. I sometimes start from a very “zoomed out” view:

  • A. shares what happened at community centre
  • fight ensues between L. and A., about how V. gave her an incredible opportunity and A. basically threw it in her face
  • the sisters part on difficult terms

And then, if I’m stuck, I zoom in with slightly more detailed bullet points:

  • A. looks for ingredients in fridge while sharing what happened at community centre
  • L.’s emotions change from relief to confusion and frustration
  • dad has left the room at this point, temporarily - where to? why?

Which ultimately get turned into a properly drafted scene, with real paragraphs and character development and hopefully a little bit of tension.

Writing this way takes the pressure off needing to write beautifully from the get-go, which in turn makes it easier for me to feel out where the scene needs to go and where the characters are leading me, because I’m not busy thinking, “Okay, sure, this argument is important, but exactly which senses and metaphors should I be using here to depict the connection between the memories and the current state of affairs when it comes to what they’re cooking?”

After Writing

As my writing session comes to a close, I write a quick bullet-form list of whatever comes to mind for what should happen next: any dialogue snippets, interactions, major events, and so on. This, in combination with any bullet points I add on brainstorming days (as opposed to drafting days), becomes the rough outline I use for writing point-to-point, like we just talked about in the “while writing” section.

Finally, if I remember (and I usually do … phew!), I send myself an email with the latest version of the rough draft as an attachment, assign it to the ‘Writing’ label (I use Gmail), and then delete the email I sent myself last time. It’s a quick and dirty backup method, so I don’t mind doing it every time, even if I’m writing every day.

The biggest thing I’d like to incorporate into my writing routine in the future is a more robust backup system, but that’s less of a daily thing and more of a weekly/monthly occurrence, so this writing routine will stay pretty much intact for the foreseeable future.

So long as I stick closely to this writing routine, I can write anywhere from a couple hundred words (on an iffy day) to a couple thousand (on a stellar day) within an hour or two. I’ve had the occasional fruitful writing marathon, but for the most part I’m tapped out after a couple hours, so I don’t push past that marker unless I’m on a roll.

At this point, I can recognize the signs of lag: drifting more easily to Riverdale music videos, getting increasingly sluggish about translating words from my head to the page, things like that. That’s when I need to stop. Otherwise I’m just wasting time and burning myself out. I need time to process what I’ve written and shift gears for the next bit, and I can’t do that if I’m worn out from the day’s writing session.

Even if things are frustrating in the moment (wayward characters, plot tangles, and so on), I still want writing sessions to feel like a positive experience overall. Not pushing past the point of creative fatigue is one of the best ways I've found to keep things flowing in the long term, and that's one of the things we all aim for, right?

Over the next week, I encourage you to examine your own writing routine. What does it look like? Are there any changes you'd like to make or things you'd like to incorporate in the future?

If your writing routine has gotten a little stale and you're feeling a need to reconnect with your creative soul, you might love the post Seven Ways to Court Your Muse!