A 9-point plan to my writing routine

Writing Routine

If you’ve read My journey to writing the best story in the universe, you’d know that I didn’t read or write ever since I was born. Instead, it was something I developed over time through hours of trial and error. Like anything else, what I found helpful to making progress with my writing was establishing a routine. Otherwise, ideas would be clogged in the old noggin and never translated to letters and words on the page. And what use is that? After analysing all the free time I had or could make available and trying many different things and schedules, I found my operating rhythm. Here is what worked for me. Perhaps some of these will also help your writing.

1. Slow and steady wins the race

Writing a book can be daunting. Depending on the genre, a story is at least 50 thousand words, or about 160 double-line-spaced pages. As I wanted to be as productive as I could, I initially pushed myself to write hours on end on the weekend without breaks because I needed to maximise the weekends otherwise not much would be done during the working week. For the first few weeks of writing, I managed to plough through the mental and physical fatigue but eventually it burnt me out. It was tiring but most importantly, I was sacrificing creativity and quality with words on the page. From then, I worked in 2-hour chunks. This not only gave me a break but also enabled me to engage with my family, reminding them that I was still alive, instead of a hermit who only came out for lunch and bathroom breaks. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

2. Have a clear purpose for each writing session

In the beginning, I spent a lot of my time staring at a blank page on the laptop, willing ideas and inspiration to me. Before long, I’d be distracted by the internet and my phone when the frustration of not being able to come up with anything kicked in.

My problem was that I was coming to my writing with a blank mind and reasoned that somehow by sitting in front of the laptop, ideas would simply ooze out of my veins. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like – at least, not for me. If only it were that simple! I needed time to think about overall plot, how to create and resolve conflict.

So, I broke my time into two areas: when I could write and when I couldn’t. For times when I couldn’t write, I spent time resolving plot holes, coming up with new ideas, researching, etc. Travelling to and from work was ideal time for this because the commute was “dead” time anyway. There’s only so many cat videos one could watch. Exploring my ideas with my wife also helped. I am grateful for her patience as she suffered more than her fair share of listening to my writing pains! For when I could write, I reserved the weekend for crystallising the ideas onto the page. I’d wake up early, make myself a big serve of coffee, before hunching myself over the laptop, clicking away at the keyboard.

By having time away from the computer and having a clear purpose of my writing session before I started writing, I was much more productive. If I tried coming up with a big new idea by staring at the laptop, I may as well have watched paint dry.

3. Get rid of your distractions and get comfy

Get comfy!Sometimes this is easier said than done. When I’m at the laptop, I make sure there’s no distractions, my phone is not an arm’s reach away, the TV is not blaring in the background, and I’m as comfortable as possible so all I’m focussing on is only writing.

I used to listen to music while I write but I became distracted because I ended up humming or singing along to the lyrics. I came to a happy medium by listening to foreign songs – I could enjoy the music but because I didn’t know the language, I couldn’t sing along to it.

I’d make sure to have coffee, tea, or water next to me and make sure there’s a toilet nearby because I need it after drinking so much! I also bought a 27” computer monitor – nothing fancy, just bigger monitor. Sure, I didn’t absolutely need it to write but it was very convenient. I didn’t have to close one screen and open another to google a titbit or triple check the definition of certain words.

4. Set realistic goals

Like many newbie writers, I initially overestimated how much I could write in one sitting. I was full of ideas – how hard was it to slap them onto the page? Well, much harder than I gave credit for. Initially, I thought bashing out a few thousand words in one day wouldn’t be a problem, and sometimes it wasn’t. But more often than not, it was harder than it looks. After I knew myself better as a writer, I set realistic goals for what and how much I could write instead of beating myself over how I didn’t reach my unrealistic target of writing X thousand words. I adjusted my goals accordingly, which didn’t necessarily related to the number of words written but it included resolving or creating a conflict, developing a character arc, etc.

5. Do the most difficult thing first

As much as I didn’t look forward to a heavy rewrite, creating a scene from scratch, or anything else that required lots of brain power, I prioritised the most challenging exercises for when I was fresh in the morning, leaving the things that require less brain cells, such as researching, rearranging chapters, etc, to later.

6. Don’t write in order

Like all writers, I inevitably got stuck on a scene or chapter. The words didn’t flow as easily and whatever I wrote, the prose just didn’t cut it. At first, I would be preoccupied with resolving whatever the issue was before I gave myself permission to move onto the next chapter but there was a moment of frustration where I jumped to another section of the story, putting aside the problematic scene, and worked on a non-linear chapter. This removed me from the pigeonhole I tunnelled my creativity into and a chance to think about something new altogether. Since then, I made this a habit when I was confident that scenes that have yet to be written won’t be affected by my jumping around. Oftentimes, when writing the other section, my creative juices started to flow, making it easier for me when I return to the first section. And when the creativity wasn’t anywhere to be found, I turned off the laptop and enjoyed the rest of the day.

7. Tell people about your routine

Say it loud!I don’t mean to broadcast it to everyone and their dog. You don’t need to waste half an hour rearranging your workspace so you can post an instaworthy photo to announce to the world that you’re writing, but if you have a family or a partner who might be impacted by your writing routine in some way, let them know about your schedule so they can at least understand why and when you’ll be writing and therefore won’t be available during these times.

However, don’t think that this gives you a pass at the household chores! Relationships are all about give and take. While I shut myself off from the family, I always tried to engage with them, even if it’s for a few minutes here and there. I wanted them to know although I’m busy, I’m always available. I’m blessed to have a wife and children that is understanding of what I’m doing (that should earn me a few brownie points for a few days or so). I also shared some of my updates with them so they can be involved instead of feeling that my writing time is some unexplained time away from the family.

8. Back up your work

After all the hard work, you wouldn’t want to lose it all. Although I’m not a technophobe, I’m not exactly a technophile either. I fall in between – using just the minimum to get by. So, the most sophisticated back up of my work was emailing my manuscript to myself. Not the most amazing solution but it worked. I had a copy of my work on my laptop and somewhere on the cloud via email.

9. Be consistent and be kind to yourself

All the tips wouldn’t mean anything if I wasn’t consistent with my routine. It didn’t mean that I stuck to it religiously. Believe it or not, I’m human. Sometimes, I didn’t do anything for a weekend or a whole week or two. I learnt not to be hung up on it because if I simply went through the motions, it would be evident in the writing – the dialogue will be flat, the characters one-dimensional, and there’d be filler scenes.

To keep the momentum, I’d sometimes bribe myself by grazing on snacks (which I normally don’t do), stretch or exercise first if I’m too lethargic, or reduce my 2 hour writing blocks to even 30 minutes. If I can get started – even if it’s fixing a couple of paragraphs – it kept my mind engaged.

This routine helped me draft my debut novel, Broken; a story about a young woman’s struggle with workplace sexual assault, finding place in a dysfunctional family and the strength to overcome the odds. If you’re interested, join the HTP Crew to be one of the first to read Broken – and don’t forget to let me know what you think about it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like...

Join the HTP Crew

Sign up to the HTP newsletter.

HTP will never spam or pass on your email address. Also, you may opt-out at any time. 

Join the HTP Crew

Join the HTP Crew to receive updates on Hoi’s novel, Broken, his tips on writing and self-publishing, tidbits about his life, and much more!

HTP will never spam or pass on your email address. Also, you may opt-out at any time.