*This was originally published on my Medium page.
A follower and loyal reader Trip Jensen commented on one of my stories a while back. The subjects and concerns he brought up felt like they were a bit bigger than a simple comment back. From what he said, my mind began racing with ideas about writing routines and cadences.
What types of writing routines are most helpful? What are my own writing routines and those of my readers?
This is something that I swear by, but I’ve noticed many writers struggle with defining what exactly is practicing writing. Most think it just means writing every day or reading every day. While this is great, it’s actually not practice.
Writing practice is identifying a specific craft or story element that you are weak at and focusing on strengthening it. Trip noted that he uses grammar workbooks as a part of his daily writing practice. That is because he knows it’s a weak spot.
For me, one of my everyday practices is observing. I spend a while outside or at my window focused solely on the world around me. Instead of carrying around a notepad and pen, I let my senses pick up on the moment. What smells am I noticing? Are there people around? What is their mood? What’s happening in the trees?
One of my biggest craft or writing issues is getting too sucked into the story or the act of creation that I forget that the reader is who I am doing this for. My tunnel becomes so tight that all I can see sometimes is the story and characters. This isn’t always bad, but in the long run, this can hurt my fiction and my career.
What are you working on every day that helps you develop and strengthen your writing weak spot(s)?
Personally, I caution writers to listen to themselves. Some people can focus on tasks for hours on end and others need frequent breaks. The best thing you can do for yourself is to listen and figure out what type of focused work you can do.
Of course, you can train yourself to focus more or harder on tasks. I’m a huge fan of flow states. They have helped me center and ground myself in a moment to do 20-minute bursts of full-throttle work. Another way that is popular among writers is to find a quiet place alone.
A lot of the time, though, the issue isn’t other people or distractions or finding the time to write, it’s internal. It’s the rambling rumbling thought train that never ceases. The one that tells you to stop what you’re doing and write this or that. That pushes you to spend an hour writing a whole new article that is miles away from the original idea you had.
In cases like these, I always defer to my past self. If I’ve written an outline, I follow it. I don’t listen to the nagging voice telling me to fuck the outline and go buck wild on the page. For that, I keep an extra tab or document open that I will sometimes switch to and allow myself the freedom to write out whatever is itching at me in tiny 2–3 minute bursts.
What are your focusing strategies? How do you keep yourself trained on the page and story before you?
What is writing cadence or rhythm? Is it our routines? The waves of our inspiration and energy? The way Trip describes it, cadence is about your output and what feels natural to you. For me, I like to keep it close to the original meaning of the word.
It’s all about rhythm.
Your writing rhythm.
My daily weekday writing routine or cadence is this:
I rise early and do some sort of physical activity to wake my mind and body up. During this time, I think on my projects for the day and week. If I have articles to write, I began writing them in my head, using my phone’s voice-to-text feature to capture specific sentences or thoughts I want to flesh out.
After getting ready for my day, I hit my office and fall into my work for the day. The main brunt of which I complete before 11 or noon. All work after that, I do to keep myself ahead of my schedules and deadlines. Or sometimes I bunk off early to play games or hang out. Usually around 3 or so, I take a long nap until about 5 or 6.
I need this to recharge. When I skip it, I don’t produce my best work and often will step away from my work so as not to mess something up without realizing it. Sometimes after my nap, I go back to work to do final touches on pieces and prep for the next day, but I usually do this from the couch or with the TV on in my office.
I’m working on strengthening my body and preparing for my hiking season, so I have a second exercise time in the evening before dinner. This lasts for an hour sometimes more if I’m slow. During this time, I listen to audiobooks or podcasts as a part of work or enjoyment. Sometimes story ideas or sections for pieces I’m working on come to me, so I have a recorder or pen and paper handy to catch these.
By 9, I’m fed and heading to bed. I used to be a night owl, and sometimes I try and reclaim that title. Honestly, though, as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable in my career, spending time resting and recuperating is a much better reward than ruining my eyes in a dark room playing video games until 3 am.
The above is my everyday life. Sometimes, of course, I change things up, but that rhythm is so strong in me that even if I don’t set an alarm, I’ll still wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning. My energy is instantly spiked and ready for exercising. Without even telling myself to focus on what I’m working on, my mind is already writing and thinking.
To get to that point, took about a year of alarm setting, timing myself, and listening to what my body and mind needed. If you’re at the point where you don’t know how to get your life in order to write what you want or need to, start keeping track of your time. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, for one whole week, chart yourself.
Figure out where you see yourself waning or getting tired. Where are your highest peaks of creativity or mental focus? Once you have a good sense of your time, cut what isn’t serving you mentally, emotionally, creatively, or spiritually. Then begin treating writing like a job, set alarms for when you need to be writing, editing, reading, etc. Write out a schedule as if you were the manager of you at your writing job.
What’s your writing cadence? How’d you find it? Any tips to share?
This article is about sharing. Trip shared his experience and I’ve shared mine. If you’re inclined, please also do so. I’d love to learn new styles, strategies, and a little something extra about you.