(Re)Committing to a Regular Writing Routine

We’ve all heard it before: a major key to writing productivity is creating a schedule and sticking to it. Easier said than done, but creating a writing routine allows writers to avoid common negative behaviors: using reading (or analysis) to put off writing, waiting for inspiration to hit, or any other procrastination technique that results in guilt, anxiety, and binge-writing.

Research has shown that waiting to feel like writing—for the right mood or the right inspiration to come along—doesn’t work. Instead, productive writers set aside time to write every day (at least 5 days a week), whether it’s for 15 minutes or 4 hours. Many writers can accomplish more in smaller blocks of time–even 2 hours a day—if they stick to that time and self-regulate to avoid distractions.

To Create Your Writing Routine:

Take a writing self-assessment and consider when you’re most productive.

Choose an environment that works for you. Though working in your pajamas from home might be an alluring option, it doesn’t work well for most people. Over time, many writers who work from home begin to feel isolated or depressed. If you need to work from home, you can counteract those problems by writing online with a friend or colleague—you don’t even need to talk to each other, just know that you’re both in the writing process together. Other options might include an office on campus, a library, or a cafe. Some writers need to vary their environment to stay focused, shifting locations throughout the course of week (or even a day).

Once you’ve determined your best hours and environment, create a schedule (using whatever calendar tool you like) to block out those times for your writing. Desk with items needed for productivity: a calendar, glasses, and headphones

Write during your scheduled time, even if you don’t feel like writing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a writing task or experiencing writer’s block, try starting with smaller chunks of time. Set a timer and say to yourself, “I’m only going to work on this for 15 minutes. I’ll just start by proofreading X.” Typically, once we begin the physical act of writing, the cognitive processes will kick into gear. Keep extending your writing time until you’re happy with your writing pace.

Take breaks during your writing—after working for 45 minutes or so, stand up, get some water, rotate your wrists, and take a quick breather. Don’t check your email. After about 5 minutes, come back to the document.

Minimize other distractions. Avoid checking your email or social media right before or during your writing time—there are few easier ways to lose an hour before you’ve even noticed it.

Stick to your writing schedule. Say “no” when a student, friend, or advisor tries to encroach on that time. Not only will that help you keep your deadlines, but it’s good practice for early-career faculty.

Start fresh every day. If you missed your scheduled writing time or had an unproductive day, just acknowledge that and let it go. There’s always tomorrow. Starting any new routine takes time—and all writers have bad days.

Set short- and long-term goals. In addition to your long-term goals—revising and resubmitting a paper, drafting a dissertation chapter, reviving a half-done paper from a seminar you took last year, writing a grant proposal, etc.—you should be setting weekly and daily goals. Doing so will promote self-monitoring and help you identify and reward progress. Some examples:

A notepad with a blank list for setting goals, and text reading "set concrete daily and weekly goals"

  • Write at least 200 words.
  • Write the first three paragraphs of the general discussion.
  • Reread X article and annotate it.
  • Brainstorm and make an outline for a new manuscript
  • Reread the reviewers’ comments and make a list of things to change.

State your daily and weekly writing goals to another person. Doing so will make them more “real” and add an accountability measure that will aid your productivity.

Finally, reward yourself when you meet your goals. For daily goals, treat yourself to something small—a cup of coffee with friends, or an episode of Game of Thrones. Do something special when you cross major projects off your list.

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