Friday, November 2, 2007

My Writing Routine

Isn't it funny how a subject tends to find its way around the blogosphere? Recently I saw a flurry of posts in various places about whether or not it's actually possible to earn a living as a web writer. (It is.) This week, I've seen posts from different writers on their individual routines. The Golden Pencil and The Article Writer have both written on it. Here's my contribution to the topic.

When I was a cubicle dweller, I thought one of the reasons I wanted to work for myself was that I disliked the rigid structure of a typical workday. I wanted control over my own schedule. I wanted to get up at a different time every day and take days off whenever I wanted. However, now that I'm a full-time freelancer, I find that I actually need a rather strict routine of my own. Here's what I've found I need in order to be successful.

An early start. I get up around 8 in the morning every day. I've found I'm very focused early in the morning, despite the fact that for most of my life I never got up before 10 if I didn't have to. But during a workday, if I start writing after 10, I have a lot of trouble focusing on my work--I surf the net, check my email incessantly, spend hours on writing blogs, and generally procrastinate until lunch time. It's a waste of half a day. But if I start early, I can keep my focus for about four hours before I have to stop.

Equal time for client and personal work. I spend the first half of my day on client work. I work from eight until around noon, taking a break to grab breakfast and get dressed. Weirdly enough, I thought I'd love working in my pj's every day, but after the novelty wore off I got sick of it. Anyway, it's important for me to get client work done first because I like to work on personal projects in the afternoon. If I don't get paid work done, it'll just hang over my head and keep me from concentrating on the creative stuff.

My personal work is important to me--it's the reason I've chosen to work as a freelancer. In the afternoon I'll work on a novel, submit short stories to journals, or set aside time for poetry. I also work on marketing my writing business. I've found that I'm a little more prone to daydreaming in the afternoon, which is an asset if I'm writing something imaginative like a novel or a poem, but not so good for an article or a landing page. I've found that my routine and my way of concentrating are different depending on the type of writing I'm doing.

Right now, I'm working on a novel for National Novel Writing Month--so I'm going to put most of my other projects on the back burner for a while. My username is jrw2868, and my word count for today is 1,934.

Forced breaks. If I get really involved in a project, I am capable of sitting down in the morning and writing until the sun sinks in the sky. I'll look up and suddenly realize it's four o'clock and I haven't eaten anything all day. Starvation is awful for my health. Sometimes I have to make myself take breaks. I take a break in the morning for breakfast, and another one between 12 and 2 for exercise and lunch. I go for a walk, head to the gym, do some sit-ups, or (more often than not, if I want to be honest) watch What Not To Wear for an hour before getting back to work.

Done by evening. I try to get my work done before 4pm, when my peers with "normal" jobs come home from work. Back when I worked one of those jobs, I did most of my writing at night. But I've found I'd really rather get it done during the day. Writing can be an isolating career, and I usually end each day feeling a need to connect to others. I try to leave my time free at night to meet friends for drinks or watch a movie with my guy.

I used to feel inferior and hopeless whenever I heard about some successful writer who'd get up and write at five a.m. before going to work. I thought that because I couldn't get up that early, I didn't have the dedication it takes to be a professional writer. For a while, I tried to get up before the sun and force myself to concentrate on poetry or plot. But that never really worked for me; I couldn't make myself do it consistently. I've since learned that routine is a personal thing. While it may be interesting to learn how others work--I've always found it fascinating--what works for one writer might not work for another. It doesn't matter if you get up at five in the morning or work best at night. What matters, ultimately, is your output.


Unknown said...


I like your post and writing style. A good routine is very important, and of course mine includes a daily trip to Starbucks.

John Leach

Jennifer Williamson said...

Hi John,

Thanks! I sometimes head over to a coffee shop near where I live for a change of scene. They have free wireless Internet there, which attracts freelancers like flies. It's fun to work among my own, even if we're all just working.

Anne Wayman said...

Jennifer, some of us are morning folks and some of us aren't... I get up around 5:30, but I'm in bed by 8 or 9... it ain't virtue!

Matthew C. Keegan said...

Thanks for referencing me Jennifer. A good post, one that I stumbled too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jennifer Williamson said...

Thanks for the stumble thunder, Matt! Have a happy Thanksgiving yourself.