Increase Your Productivity With A Writing Routine

Written by Krishan Coupland | August 20, 2015

There’s a particular nugget of wisdom about writing that, over the past few years, I’ve stumbled across again and again. This oft-repeated bit of advice crops up in books, blogs, websites, manuals and articles. It’s even at the heart of the ever-more-popular annual frenzy that is National Novel Writing Month. You’ve almost certainly heard it at least once before – if not a dozen times! The advice is this: write every day. No matter how busy you are, no matter what else is going on in your life, find time to write.

It’s not hard to see why this is advisable. During busy periods it’s easy to let writing slip to the bottom of the “to do” pile – or even to neglect it altogether. By making it part of your daily routine you ensure that the words in your head actually get put to paper in a timely fashion. You set a rule for yourself – to write every day – and this gives you permission to prioritize writing over other tasks.

Writing every day also has another great benefit: it helps you practice the creative process. There’s a name for the state of being completely absorbed in a task, and that name is “flow”. It’s often characterized by intense focus, productivity, and being “lost” or “carried away” by something that one is working on. It’s a state that writers are almost famous for struggling to achieve. How many times have you heard complaints about writers block? A lack of inspiration? “Stuckness”? All these are the same things: a lack of flow.

But, as with anything, it’s possible to practice achieving a state of flow – to get better and better at it until you can get there without hours of sitting staring at a blank screen and blinking cursor.

I discovered this for myself when, at the start of this year, I set myself a challenge: I would write and publish a short story for every single day of 2015. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five in all. It was an ambitious schedule, and I decided that the only way I would be able to meet it was by ensuring that I wrote at least something every single day.

I dedicated half an hour each morning to working on my daily fictions. During that half an hour I would sit at my computer and force myself to type. This might sometimes result in me finishing three stories, or it might sometimes result in me finishing none. Indeed, in the beginning, most of my writing sessions produced little that was useable. It was a real struggle to get my brain in gear and actually start putting words to paper. I was easily distracted, and many times the half hour would pass without me writing down a single word. As time went on though, it got noticeably easier. Just as with anything, practice makes perfect. By making sure that I wrote each and every day, I was practicing not just the process of writing, but the process of concentrating. I was practicing achieving a state of flow.

I noticed how much my routine helped me write most of all when I broke it. Twice, while traveling, I missed two or three days of writing. When I came back after the break, suddenly everything was much more difficult again. Once more I struggled to focus, lacked ideas, and couldn’t seem to get my stories to work. I couldn’t achieve that state of blissful focus that had carried me through the last few months of stories. It was a real struggle to re-establish my routine, and get back to being able to work productively again.

You can think of a routine as something that gains in momentum the longer you do it for. If you haven’t written a single word for the last three months, half an hour of writing might seem like a real struggle. If, however, you’ve been doing just that every day for the past five years it won’t be hard to carry on! It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to take a huge chunk out of your day-to-day activities in order to establish a routine. By spending just half an hour each day writing I’ve managed to add up a total of fifty-thousand words – almost a novel! Little chunks of time add up, and so little chunks are often all it takes. With that in mind, let me be the first to wish you luck in forming your new writing routine.

Bio: Krishan Coupland is on the Creative Writing PhD programme at the University of East Anglia. His writing has appeared in Ambit, Aesthetica, Litro and Fractured West. He publishes a story a day at unlikelyislands.blogspot.com. In his spare time he runs and edits a literary magazine.