A big challenge I’ve had as a newbie writer has been figuring out how to get myself into the proverbial “writing chair.” I’ve had days, weeks, and even months when I’ve felt the world was conspiring to keep me from writing. But it wasn’t the world; it was me. I hit many walls early on until I figured out the “Writing Wind-Up” routine that worked best for me.
Here are the five easy steps that transport me into my writing zone every time:
1) Stock Up on Provisions
Grab snacks and drinks before you start, so you can’t use a growling stomach or a need for caffeine as an excuse to procrastinate.
My office is not near the kitchen, so I’ve learned that a quick food break turns into a half hour – if I’m lucky – of lost time. So, my last stop before heading to my desk is the kitchen. I’m a girl scout at heart, so I usually over-prepare for any situation; and my writing wind-up is no different. I grab both water and hot tea in large insulated canisters and snacks (such as fruit or cheese) that I can eat while I’m working without making a mess. I also keep dry snacks (such as nuts, cereal, and chocolate chips) in my office.
2) De-Clutter Your Mind & Disconnect
Take one last look at your gadgets and address any high priority issues that will steal your focus if you don’t take care of them first.
If you’re able to completely disconnect from all of your gadgets during your writing session, do so. This isn’t an option for me, however, since I must be available for any family emergency. So, I disconnect where possible and take preemptory steps to limit unnecessary interruptions.
First, I check my texts, voicemail, and email to make sure nothing unexpected or time-sensitive has popped up. Email can be a black hole, so I set a timer for 10 minutes to make sure I don’t get completely side-tracked. If the timer goes off and I’m in the middle of something that I need to finish, I reset the timer. When I’m finished, I don’t check email again until my next scheduled writing break; then I set the timer once more.
Next, I close all of my internet tabs except Webster’s. This way, I’m not tempted to surf the internet using a new search window whenever I need to check the dictionary.
Finally, I tell my family when I’ll be writing; so, they only reach out if something can’t wait. I’ve set up my cell phone to display only a text sender’s name without the message, so I can quickly check who’s texting me without being tempted to review and respond to every text. I screen calls the same way.
3) Target Your Goals
Identify how long your writing session and any scheduled breaks will last, list the tasks you need or want (or both) to accomplish, and prioritize your list.
Whenever I start a writing project, I identify the high-level and sub-steps required to complete the project as well as the immediate tasks needed to get started. I then schedule these immediate tasks in my online calendar in estimated blocks of time. I continuously update my calendar as I complete tasks and move on to others. This process helps me easily track each project’s overall status and which tasks I need to focus on and when. It also helps me quickly identify and prioritize which of these tasks to work on during each writing session based on both importance and how much time I have that day. You can use a paper calendar too, but I can better predict which tasks I can realistically accomplish during a writing session when I can visualize their time blocks on my calendar.
4) Set the Ambience
Prep your writing space: grab what you need, clear your desk or table of what you don’t, and turn off (or on) the music or any other background noise.
I clear all non-writing items from my desk and place them in a basket I keep nearby. In addition to my hot tea and snacks, I always have on hand a timer as well as a slinky and a Rubik’s Cube (or another brain teaser toy) for my “thinking” time. I can’t focus when it’s quiet, so I also have a writing playlist on my computer and phone that I can either play on a loop or select specific albums from. I write my best listening to music with changing tempos and little (or no) lyrics; I lean towards movie soundtracks such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
5) De-Stress Your Mind & Body
Meditate for 10-15 minutes.
I used to think meditation meant you sat on the floor with your legs crossed and tried to clear your mind of everything; I wasn’t very good at it. I eventually learned that for me it wasn’t about staying focused on a mental abyss the whole time; rather, it is quiet time for me to spend with my most relevant thoughts without any pressure. I can see which thoughts float to the surface fastest to get my attention; these thoughts are my writing session roadblocks. My meditation intention is to identify these thoughts, jot them down on a piece of paper, and set them aside to deal with after I’m finished writing.
Meditating is the most beneficial step in my routine. Afterwards, I feel less stressed, more refreshed and energized, and my writing session is focused. Plus, inspiration hits me often; I come up with writing ideas while I’m meditating.
I use the Headspace app to meditate. But I don’t believe how you “meditate” matters as long as you identify what works best for you and your meditation intention, so you use your time wisely. For you, it might be a coloring book and some crayons or a craft project with a repetitive motion (such as knitting). The key is finding something you can focus your energy on while your brain power is churning away in the background, and it has to be something you can easily put down after 10-15 minutes.
I block out 30 minutes daily for my Writing Wind-Up. This might sound like a long time, but it flies by very fast; and my results are invaluable. My Writing Wind-Up keeps: 1) my short-term writing tasks focused allowing me to reach my long-term goals faster, 2) my mind and body clearer and more open to creative inspiration, and 3) me from wasting time staring at a blank screen.
You may already have a formal or informal writing routine that may (or may not) be working, but I believe there’s always room for improvement. Sometimes, even the smallest tweak makes the difference. You may not discover your perfect Writing Wind-Up on your first try. But similar to a baseball pitcher who spends more time practicing his wind-ups than he spends pitching on game day, chances are good that with a little practice and some testing iterations, you’ll develop a routine that works every time you write.
What’s your Writing Wind-Up?
Richelle Lyn writes mysteries for young adults, which is also what she loves to read along with both YA and women’s contemporary fiction. She’s an avid traveler and tennis fan. So far, her favorite countries to keep visiting are Italy and Ireland; and she’s 3/4 of the way through traveling the globe to attend the four Tennis Grand Slams. She loves her tea hot and her coffee iced. She calls both South Florida and Chicago home. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or email (RichelleLynAuthor@gmail.com).