No More Excuses: Building Writing Time into Your Routine

Excuses – we’ve heard ’em all. To meet your personal writing goals, cut the excuses and follow these strategies.  

The dishes aren’t washed and the fridge looks like a crime scene. J.Crew is having a sale that warrants a closer look, or maybe it’s naptime. Such are the distractions we face, and these distractions only seem to grow more compelling when we think about setting aside time for writing.

We all have writing projects we’d like to work more on, but most of us claim we haven’t got a minute to spare. (For the record, most of us are wrong – the average American has about 1.7 hours of unaccounted-for time each day.) You might have all the motivation in the world, but motivation alone isn’t going to yield a killer manuscript.

Not too long ago, I found myself frustrated at how little time I was spending on writing projects. Rather than watching another episode of Forensic Files, I decided to take action. These are the strategies I’ve used to make writing part of my weekly routine. They’re not glamorous, but they do work – and they’ll work for you, too, if you’re consistent. Here’s how to carve out the time you need to finish that novel.

Set SMART Goals

Most of us are familiar with the concept of SMART goals. We set concrete goals at work and actively track our progress, but many of us abandon this measurement-focused mindset when it comes to our own writing.

If you haven’t set writing-related goals for yourself – especially if you’re struggling to write as much as you’d like – you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Your first step in getting back on track with your writing is to create two goals: one short-term and one long-term. Make sure each is SMART and pay special attention to the A (attainability) – a goal that’s completely out of reach is worse than no goal at all.

A real-life example: Late last year, I became frustrated by how little I was writing and how formally scattered my half-finished pieces were. To combat this frustration, I set a concrete goal: to create a short collection of epistolary poems and submit at least half for publication.

Just having this goal in place has improved my productivity measurably. Since I set the goal, I’ve written 20 of my 30 projected poems, and three have been (or will be) published. Yes, I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m satisfied knowing that I’ve made an admirable start.

Find Your Community

Being held accountable is the goal setter’s secret weapon. Even those of us with loads of internal motivation occasionally have a bad day, or week, or month. Before we know it, we’ve lost our momentum and are back to our bad habits.

Finding a writing community – formal or informal, immediate or long-distance – is central to achieving your writing goals. Ideally, your community will serve multiple purposes. Most obvious is the offer of support, practical and moral. Your community might critique your work, give you pep talks when you receive those inevitable rejection emails, or recommend great local writing resources.

Perhaps more importantly, your community, by its existence, should inspire you to write. Simply being around your fellow writers, chatting about what you’re reading, and bonding over sentence envy should boost your enthusiasm for your craft.

If you don’t feel energized by your community (or, worse, you feel depleted), don’t abandon the general idea of community; simply find a new group with which you mesh better.

Create a Writing Routine

One common misconception is that routine-oriented folks are born that way. Sure, some people are naturally predisposed to creating and adhering to schedules; the rest of us just need to be extra mindful of creating routines – and following them.

Research bears out the assertion that routines help people achieve their goals, regardless of what those goals are. In fact, most people historically considered geniuses followed fairly strict routines. If you’ve never had a writing routine before, you might feel adrift or overwhelmed when you first set out to create one – this is totally normal. Follow these tips to get started:

  • Be Concrete: Don’t vow to write as often as you can – we all know the old saw about good intentions. Instead, carve out specific days and times for your writing practice. Add these sessions to your calendar and treat them as appointments that can’t be canceled.
  • Tell Your Friends: Enlist your community’s help with this task. Tell your family, friends, and writing buddies about your writing routine, and ask them to respect your time by not getting in touch when you’re meant to be working. Letting your friends know about your “appointments” will make you less likely to shirk your obligations.
  • Create a Welcoming Workspace: You may have the best time-management skills in the world, but you won’t get any work done if you don’t have a place to do it. Set aside a space – a quiet room, a clean desk, an alcove – where you can write uninterruptedly. If you don’t have space in your home, consider renting studio space (if finances permit), staking out a carrel at your local library, or borrowing a friend’s space at preset times. If it’s nice outside, grab your notebook or laptop and head to the nearest park. Any quiet space will do; what’s important is that you find a space that you find comfortable.

Just Add Cash

Professors Leslie John and Michael Norton, both specialists in the field of behavioral economics, have found that tying financial rewards to progress can help people more successfully achieve their goals.

Once you’ve created a writing routine, give yourself monetary motivation to stick to it. Each time you skip a scheduled writing appointment, donate money to a charity you’re not a fan of. As John and Norton explain, our instinct toward loss aversion is what makes this trick work.

Be Flexible

Finally, give yourself some flexibility as you develop your new writing routine. If you find that one aspect of your plan isn’t working, don’t be afraid to modify it (or get rid of it altogether). The whole purpose of your new plan is to get you writing, so there’s no reason to hold onto any behavior that might act as a roadblock to your success.

Making the leap from not writing at all to writing regularly isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, either. Following the strategies covered here will enable you to convert your motivation and good intentions into measurable results.

What strategies do you use to keep yourself writing consistently? Share them in the comments below!

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