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How To Create The Perfect Writing Routine
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Is this your perfect writing environment?

Is this your perfect writing environment?

There are certain settings that are more conducive to focused and inspired writing than others.

Ask any professional writer, and they will be able to tell you quite specifically their favorite location for writing, their favorite time of day for writing, and how they prefer their work space to look/feel/smell/sound.

Do you have a favorite writing routine?

If you don’t, I’d like to help you develop one.

Let’s look at at an example:

Stephen King

“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.

“It’s not any different than a bedtime routine,” he continued. “Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”

Lisa Rogak, Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King

Routines help our minds prepare for a specific activity.

I like Stephen King’s parallel between preparing to write and preparing to sleep.

Most everyone has a “getting ready for bed” pattern, so why not develop a “getting ready to write” routine?

If you don’t have a writing routine yet, here are some guidelines for you:

1) Choose a time of day.

  • If possible, try first thing in the morning, when your brain is still fresh. On my writing days I do my writing first before any other work activities because writing takes the most brain power.
  • You may choose your time of day based on quietness–some like to work early in the morning for the quiet factor, and others (especially those of us with kids!) can look for the pockets of time when the kids are at school, asleep, or otherwise occupied.
  • Are you a night owl or early riser? It seems many professional writers prefer writing first thing in the morning, but there are also some who get their best energy at night.

2) Choose a location.

If you’re like Stephen King, you will want to work from the same location every day (same chair, papers on the desk arranged in the same way, etc), but not everyone thrives under predictable conditions.

Experiment with environments/locations. Here are two of the most popular:

Quiet, Neat, Isolated

A quiet, isolated environment is a favorite of many professional writers. Working in a quiet isolated place makes it easier to concentrate.

Now it’s not often possible for us to get away to a little cabin in the woods, but there may be a room in your house, a basement or attic or even a large closet or secluded patio that will serve the purpose.

As I mentioned earlier, when you’re working at home oftentimes the time of day determines the level of quiet.

Some folks get up very early to enjoy the quiet while everyone else in the household is still asleep. Some folks wait till everyone goes to bed, and then they sit down to write. Sometimes the quietest time to write is when the kids are in school.

And as far as “neatness” goes, I am pretty sure I work better with a clean desk, but that doesn’t always happen!

Note to self: Clean off desk! :-)

At The Cafe

Writing At The Cafe

Writing At The Cafe

Try taking your laptop to a cafe or coffee shop and writing from there.

I’ve done this before and was surprised at how productive I was. Yes, it is noisy and there are distractions, but for the most part people will leave you alone, especially if they see you working on a computer.

And I didn’t really find the noise a distraction at all–it was very invigorating and I think the change of pace helped stimulate my creativity.

So, working at the cafe is the flip side of working in an isolated place–you are surrounded by people, and yet you can be in your own little world.

For those of us who work from home, it’s a nice change to get out of the house to work. One of my favorite parts of working from the cafe is the feeling of going home after working. If you work from home you may know what I mean–it is a pleasant feeling to drive to a work location, stay there for a few hours, pack everything up, and then drive home.

It’s one of those routines that is calming to the soul–I like returning home after working, probably because I don’t do it that often. Most of the time I work from my office at home.

Morning ritual

Morning ritual

3) Develop a little pre-writing ritual. Here are some suggestions:

  • Drinking a cup of coffee before heading to your desk.
  • Having breakfast (or lunch or dinner) and then starting the writing day.
  • Reading the paper before working.
  • Putting on some music as you sit down to write.

Basically anything you do to “get ready” to write on a regular basis will signal to your brain to start to get into “writing mode”.

My routine is not complicated–just breakfast, coffee, then put on some quiet classical music or no music at all. Then write.

What about you? Do you have a preferred writing routine?

Photo credits:

Photo 1 by DDFic

Photo 2 by CarbonNYC

Photo 3 by Brendan Wilkinson

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19 Responses to “How To Create The Perfect Writing Routine”

  1. Ah… it is so nice to feel my routines are normal. I use all of the above!

    Working from home, I do have a place for my writing which is separate from my computer base of operations. I find at times I work best with a legal pad to capture ideas and outlines (I plan my speeches this way, too.) Something about using a pencil and paper makes the ideas seem raw and real, pliable and laden with potential.

    I tend to write early in the morning and start with Julia Cameron’s ‘morning pages’ routine by just draining my brain for a couple of pages just to get the writing muscle warmed up and receptive.

    I also have to get out of this house from time to time! I have a favorite restaurant/cafe downtown and because they know me there, I work with relatively few interruptions and they always offer me a bottomless cup of the best coffee you have ever had.

    Driving into the city energizes me as well and I cannot agree more with feeling as though I am “coming home from work”. On my way home, I look to the passenger seat and see my legal pads, journals, and checklists and I feel accomplished and responsible, and not just professionally. I feel I have attended to the creative, fertile side of myself and that is a great thing in this keyboard driven occupation.

    The other thing I love to do is get away for a retreat or respite. There are wonderful hermitages out there if you search for them. A bit of light fare, the smell of fresh air, long walks, rising and setting with your biological rhythyms instead of a clock, all of these things help me reset, dig deep for new ideas, and come back home in a new frame of mind.

    Which gets me thinking: better book that next retreat soon…

    Thanks for the post!


  2. Thor holt says:

    Thanks for that Steve.

    My routine is alarm goes 04:15, kettle on, go pee, coffee, laptop open in a comfortable leather recliner, read some radical blogs for 30 minutes then WRITE!

    I developed this routine as a natural result of having a power packed 2 year old daughter and working from home much of the time, so daytimes are fine for phone calls and basic admin but the concentration for writing requires this more hardcore method ;-)

  3. I still haven’t figured out whether I’m an early bird or a night owl. I tend to go to bed late so I can’t get up in the morning. But perhaps if I went to bed early I would be an early bird!

    I agree with you Steve about working in a cafe. It’s one of my favourite places to work and my routine is a double frothy latte and cinnamon toast on brown!

    The noise and distractions in a cafe actually help me to concentrate. I often get moms with young children apologising to me because their kids are making a lot of noise. But as a mum myself, I’ve learnt to filter out all the kid noises, and I just think to myself, “Yey! I’m here without the kids and I’ve got precious time to think and write!”

  4. Gerrid Smith says:

    Yes, I definitely have my routines as well, but I never thought about it from a writing perspective. Totally makes send though.

    Thanks for the tip and I enjoyed reading Mr. King’s routine.


  5. Norman Macey says:

    At 76 years of age I get up when I feel like it.
    Kettle on, nice cup af tea and a fag.

    I go to the local store for my Newspaper return to my second cup of tea and a light snack.

    Only after completetion of 2 crosswords do I consider my brain is ready to function.

    No set time for writing, but whatever I and doing my reporter pad and pencil are at hand.

  6. Jason Brooks says:

    For me it is often whenever the mood takes me which is most likely after an injection of inspiration. I find one of the best times to write (especially if you are a marketer) is after you have solved a problem related to your niche. Once you have the answers you should quickly note them down and then get cracking on your article. You will be surprised how energising it feels to write when you know what impact your writing is likely to have.

  7. Cory Jean says:

    I guess I am a bit of an oddball. I usually get a “second wind” somewhere between 11 pm and 1 am and can often be found banging away madly into the wee hours of the morning when inspired ideas come upon me and won’t be silenced.

    I struggle with writers block at times so when these times do come I take advantage of them. I believe that the quietness of these late night or early morning hours (depending upon how you look at it) help me. The world outside is asleep and the energy at this time of the day can be overwhelming! I often step outside for breaks…look up at the moon and listen for sounds that nobody else will hear. It’s easy to feel that I’m the only person in the world and to let one’s imagination run away with me…powerful stuff.

    Part of me wants to take some of the advice in this article to heart while another part of doesn’t want to take the magic and madness out of my writing routine.

  8. Lee Hayward says:

    Great tips, thanks for sharing!

  9. I write before my day job in the morning.

    I am up at 4:00 am, shower, get something to drink and I am off and running. That is my best writing time!

    I work until about 6:30AM get something to eat and finish dressing.

    I do a little more before I hit the road to the day job.

    I have found that trying to work in the evening is not productive for me. My brain is not fresh or very functional at that time.

    I find that an extra few hours of work before the rest of the world gets up serves me well!

    If you are a morning person try it. You might like it! :}

    Cynthia Goranson

  10. Tom Nolan says:

    I find I write differently in different environments. So if I produce a first draft in a coffee shop, I’ll rewrite it somewhere serene, and vice versa. That way, hopefully, I get the best of both worlds.

  11. Lisa Oliver says:

    Like the rest of you I too have a routine, but I am a night owl. I love it when my husband goes to bed early (he has to get up early for his job) and then the house is mine – no phone interruptions, no people asking me to do things for them; just me and my computer and for some obscure reason I don’t understand I have to have the television on the food channel while I am working – don’t ask me why because I hate cooking, but it seems to work for me.

  12. You may feel it awkward, but I use to take one or two pegs before writing my articles in the evening. I do so because I get tired after a day long work in my office. In the morning only a cup of tea will do.
    Thanks for so good platform for sharing our views and providing much useful information.

  13. Kelwyn S says:

    Very inspiring ideas indeed. As someone who is working on his first book, this is a site I am sure to be visiting on a regular basis.

  14. I find a routine very helpful and always start the morning by walking my dog first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, the coffee is brewing and awaiting my return. When I get back to my desk with my mind invigorated from the walk,(dogs are natural treadmills!)I have a cup of coffee and a low fat, high protein breakfast to boost my concentration and sustain creativity to begin the days writing venture.

  15. Terra Mar says:

    I guess it’s a throwback to my years studying in the student union. Something about the clatter, the chatter, the comings and goings of a cafe allows me go deeper inside. I pick my head up periodically and notice more people have come or wow, so many left already.
    Often only then I realize how long I’ve been absorbed. For someone who struggles to get the right mood at home and put the world outside, it’s a great option. It seems I go out so I can go in!

  16. Phil Hughes says:

    There is real power in rituals.

    As a performer and as an athlete I developed a number of ‘simple’ things that helped me prepare myself for the task at hand.

    Tony Robbins talks about it as ‘getting into state’. It really is the most important thing you can do. Control your attitude, control your life!

    Great article!


  17. Sigh… I have yet to develop a real writing routine. And, I know I need to do this – and soon! I go through spurts where for days, I just write and write without any problems at all. Then, I go through spells where I just cannot seem to sit still or get organized at all. It is something that I must address, and I do appreciate this blog entry that puts it right in my face! Thank you! Kath :)

  18. I have tried a bit of everything but at the end of the day my best results usually come as a result of:
    - Very early in the morning (so early in fact that it nearly makes me a night owl). This will be around 3 or 4 a.m.
    - Have a cup of coffee.
    - Work on the kitchen table with either a pencil or a fountain pen (this is probably a result from the first years at school).
    - Blast away for an hour or two. (I really enjoy the silence that mixes with the night sounds)
    - Tidy up, and go back to bed.

    Having said that I have tried many other things with pretty good results but this is the one I feel suits me best.

  19. The rituals do make a difference.

    I suppose all authors are a little OCD wien it comes to the writing routine.

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