The Routine Revolution

Somewhere in my mind there is a hole. Actually, that’s probably understating the situation, but for today lets just focus on the one. You probably have this hole in your mind too. The hole works like this. When you’re growing up your mom says to you, “Honey, it’s a bad idea to poke yourself directly in the eye with a soldering iron,” and you’re all like, “Sure mom, whatever,” and go back to playing video games. But then the day comes when you actually poke yourself in the eye with soldering iron and you say to yourself, “Gee willikers, that was a really bad idea.”

Okay, so maybe the soldering iron example was a bit silly; but I’m trying to make a point. Sometimes you hear something over and over. It’s advice and it’s good advice. You hear it from lots of people who you know and trust, people who know what they’re talking about, people who have lived through the heartbreak that a soldering iron to the eye can bring. But you don’t really listen. Until one day you experience the usefulness of their advice for yourself, very narrowly avoiding the loss of your depth perception. And you make their wisdom your own. You internalize it. And after that you start to live it.

This happened to me recently. See, I had heard the advice, “Try to commit the same block of time to writing every day,” for a long time. I understood the advice. The advice made sense to me. But I didn’t follow it.

Why? Well, a number of reasons. For one thing, my work schedule is nowhere close to regular. I dearly envy those of you who work eight to five, Monday through Friday without fail. As for me, things are a bit different. This very day I will clock in to work at one o’clock and work till ten. I’ll come home and hit the sack as fast as possible because I’ll have to be back up again in time to be at work at seven in the morning. I say this, not so you’ll feel sorry for me, but so you can understand that it wouldn’t make sense for me to say, “I will write every day from seven until eight.”

So for a long time I had no schedule. I wrote when I could and where I could. If I worked in the afternoon, then I tried to write in the morning. If I worked in the morning, then I tried to find some writing time in the evening. The problem with that was, it was often difficult to write every day. Some days got filled up with other things, and I would feel guilty because I hadn’t put in my daily allotment of words. I let myself get stressed out about not writing, to the point that sometimes when I was out spending time with my wife, I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t at home working on some story or other.

And trust me when I say that, while writing every day is a good practice, when writing starts to feel like more like a duty than an oportunity, there’s a problem.

But in the last couple of months I’ve finally found an anchor, a constant place in my day that I can schedule myself time to write in.

See, working for Walmart may not be the greatest job in the world, but one thing I can say for them is that they give you a lot of time to eat. If you work eight hours a day then your mid-shift lunch break is an entire hour. And I don’t know about you folks, but it does not take me an entire hour to eat a sandwich, some chips and a cup of yogurt. Of course for the last seven years that time has been there, and often-times I would do some writing once I was done eating. But I never made it my habit. Some days I would write, some days I would read a book, some days I would wander around the store aimlessly listening to music.

But when I started writing Sons of the Damned, I started dedicating my lunch breaks to writing that story, and after a while something clicked in my head. I had never realized how liberating it could be to say to myself, “This is the time I’m setting apart to write, and whatever I get done in that time is what I’m going to get done for the day.” No longer did I have to feel guilty that I was wasting time while watching a movie with my wife or reading a book. I knew when I was going to write, and possibly more importantly, I knew when I was going to stop.

That doesn’t mean I completely restrict myself to writing during that time and nowhere else. Last night I was taking the dog out for his constitutional at four in the morning, and a fragment of a short story came to me that I felt I had to write down then and there. This very blog post is being written in the morning hours I have before I have to go to work. But the only time I have to write is on my lunch break.

If you don’t have a writing routine, I encourage you to try and find one. Maybe your day is chaotic like mine, but I’d be willing to bet that most of you can find a time you can commit to every day. Try this: make a contract with yourself. Say, “Self, you will write from time x to time y every day. You may not write very much. What you write may not be very good. But you WILL work on this project for the time allotted.”

Don’t let the hole in your brain stop you. Experience for yourself the benefits of making writing a habit. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.

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