Blog 2023

Routine Routines

I think about routines a lot.

As a writer, routines are important because you often set page or word goals for yourself (write this many pages a week, write this many words a day, etc). It’s a time-honored and proven method to complete writing projects. But to meet those goals, you have to build for yourself a routine.

Thing is, just as the task of writing one project is not the same as writing another, neither are the routines. Routines change, which some people struggle with. Which I understand, but changing your routine regularly is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign of strength.

When I wrote in high school, I wrote in fits and starts. I’d write all afternoon, every day for a few weeks. And then I wouldn’t write again for a month. After high school, I was still writing by hand so I wrote a page or two a day in a legal pad (frankly, I still think I did some of my best writing during that time). Come college, I was writing anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 words a day. This sometimes meant I was writing into the night, which is a thing you can only do in your twenties.

These days, I’m rebuilding my narrative stamina and currently log just 1500 words a day. For a writer who once boasted 10x that amount, that’s a little humbling. But I also have several jobs I do outside of manuscript production. And this is what I mean about changing a routine. If I’d stuck to my routine I had in college, I’d have burned out or been fired from my job (or both). The routine has to change as life changes.

Likewise, the process of writing changes. For most of post-high school and college, I wrote a page a draft. So the first draft of a book, I’d write a page. Just one page. I’d skip over whatever I didn’t want to write, didn’t feel like writing, or couldn’t even visualize. I’d fill a page and then move on to the next chapter. In the second draft, I’d go back through the chapters and add a page. I’d expand scenes, add description, fill-in missing segments I hadn’t written, etc. I’d do this again and again and again until I felt each chapter couldn’t be expanded any farther. Then I’d begin editing.

Post-college, I wrote an outline and then I’d write somewhat stream-of-consciousness. I’d start at the beginning and go until I hit a stopping point. The next day, I’d pick up right where I left off. If I got stuck, I just slammed in some slapdash whatever (“And then a dragon ate the store manager”) and keep going. This process took longer to complete the first functional draft but the whole process ultimately took a lot less time because I only needed to go through the manuscript three or four times instead of eight or ten.

These days, I outline, and then review the outline. I write off of that outline, and then I review the manuscript and sort of pre-edit. Then I fix those pre-edits, and then I review it again. And only THEN do I start the editing process. More initial work, perhaps, but the manuscript gets done even faster (I famously turned out the first draft of Rhest for the Wicked on a long weekend).

No two books are the same, just as no two processes are the same. And as your projects change, your routine likewise probably will need to change. That isn’t a flaw. That isn’t a failure. That’s how it’s supposed to go. A routine is only good if you accomplish what you want, what matters to you. Changing your routine might sound like an oxymoron to some, but revising your day-to-day processes is how you constantly play to your strengths.

And playing to your strengths is how you win.

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