When Your Writing Routine Goes Poof

I’m an easily distracted person. In order to write productively, I need a private space with no voices, few interruptions, and a view—because, let’s be honest, when you spend a large portion of your writing time staring out the window, you need something nice to look at. And all of this was fairly easy to arrange before my kids were born.

IMG_0236So cute, right? They make life worth living. They also make writing really difficult. For the past six years, I’ve had roughly 2 hours of writing time each day. To maximize that time, I’ve had to stick to a strict routine to keep myself on task. I work in my office, where it’s private, noise is minimized (meaning, the wrestling matches go undetected, but I can hear when they take the turn into a UFC cage match), and the kids can get me if they need me. I light a candle. I start up some instrumental music. With these things in place, it’s easier for me to focus and write.

But something happened last week that shot holes all through my perfect writing routine. My youngest son started school—half-day PreK. But that’s great, you say. Writing will be so much easier now with both kids at school, right?

One would think. But, le sigh, not so much. See, my kids attend different schools that are twenty minutes apart, with vastly different drop-off and pick-up times. In order to maximize my writing and decrease the amount of time spent driving back and forth, I decided it would be best for me to drop my son off, then write at the library that’s around the corner from his school. It wasn’t the perfect solution (obviously, writing at home with all my stuff in its proper place was the perfect solution), but I figured it would work. Unfortunately, those first few days were fairly unproductive. Why? Because the triggers I’d set up to get myself into the writing mood—privacy, music, candle, view—aren’t in great abundance at the library.

Now, I know that some of you don’t struggle with this. I know writers who can write anywhere, any time, no matter what’s going on. If that’s you, I envy you. I resist the urge to poke your dolls with voodoo pins. I wish I was wired that way, but I’m just not. So if you’re one of those types like me, who need structure when writing, what can you do when your routine/schedule/regimen changes, and you can’t  get into the writing groove? Here are some things that are working for me:

1. Keep Trying Ideas until You Find Ones that Work. My initial plan was to write at my son’s school (which is held at a church). But that first day, I learned that there was no Wi-Fi, which I need for Thesaurus writing. Also, my writing space was located right next to the nursery, which was noisy enough, but when the bingo group walked in…time for Plan B. I considered going to a nearby Panera or Chick-fil-A, since they have Wi-Fi, but I knew there would be too many distractions. So my third option was the library. It took me three tries to find a nice private spot there, and then I was on my way.

2. Duplicate as many of your old triggers as you can. There is no pretty view from inside our library, and for some reason, the dictatorial powers-that-be frown upon my open flame candle. *boggle* But I found the privacy piece in the Quiet Reading Room. And I realized that if I bring my earbuds, I can listen to music on my computer while I write. I also always have a drink of some kind while writing, so I’m now smuggling a Snapple into the library. I know. I’m a total hell-raiser. Anyway, when change rears its chaotic head, some of your old triggers just aren’t going to work anymore. But some of them will. Find the ones that do, and make them work for you.

3. Reward Yourself. It’s universal: change sucks. Scrapping an established routine and starting from scratch is hard. One of the things I wasn’t looking forward to was lugging my stuff to the library everyday to work. I knew I would need a good bag to carry my laptop and books back and forth, so I decided to get a nice one. And wouldn’t you know? I got this one for a song at a charity auction.

photo-25

Now, I don’t mind carting my stuff around as much. Every time I see this, it makes me happy—not only because I bought a pretty new bag, but because I was able to help this incredible cause at the same time. Maybe you’d like to work at a local coffee shop or café—some place where you could have a yummy snack or drink while working. If you write longhand or need paper for taking notes, treat yourself to an awesome pen or notebook. Figure out what motivates you and give yourself a little writing-related pick-me-up to propel you into your new normal.

4. Maintain Perspective. The writing has to get done. Period. The conditions may not be ideal. You may have to write at a time that isn’t so productive for you (hello, mornings). You might have to squeeze your writing time into smaller chunks than you’d like (hello, children). But, chances are, your old writing routine wasn’t initially ideal, either. Very likely, that routine began because of a change that killed the preceding routine. While change is hard, it can be maneuvered, even conquered. Give yourself some time to adjust, and you’ll soon find yourself hammering out the words and wondering what all the fuss was about.

What about you? What are your must-haves to write productively? If you’re struggling with any part of your routine, feel free to let us know in the comments, and maybe we can brainstorm a solution.

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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52 Responses to When Your Writing Routine Goes Poof

  1. Mari Adkins says:

    I’m two years late to this post, but even so, it’s very timely for me!

    I like going to Panera, but lately I don’t always have the car. I’ve taken to using my Chromecast to cast Soundrown, Coffitivity, or A Soft Murmur to the tv (or I’ll use my tablet to listen to the sounds from, but I prefer to use it more as a “research folder”). And I don’t put the sounds on as loud as they’d be in person; I put them on “just tolerable” ~ just at hearing range (if you’re not in the right part of the room, you’re not going to hear them).

    One other thing – I also like writing in my apartment complex laundry room! The managers find that hilarious. 😉 It’s the monotony of the sounds, and can be very productive. Plus, it makes me take regular breaks!!

    I’m one of Those People who writes longhand and likes to use the same type of pen and the same type of paper over and over again. Pens have changed in the 30 years since high school – I’ve grown up and found better products, for one; brands have gone out of business, for two. But I’m still using the same paper. :knocks wood:

    As far as routine goes, mine is an absolute mess.

    I had finally gotten one together, and then my mother in law’s health bottomed out, and I went to spend the rest of her life with her. So, I was away from home and everything else from July 2014 through May 2015. My life went from ordered chaos to chemo appointments, housekeeping, doctor visits, excursions to cool places for as long as MIL was able to make them, and long involved heart to heart discussions, and funeral planning (yuck).

    Settling back into home, life, and that routine has been hard. It’s been almost a year – and here I still, still piddling around! I need a serious makeover.

  2. Hi Becca,
    I cannot seem to keep a writing routine, working, running, yoga, and all of the extras that come with writing (researching, marketing etc.) So I have resorted to using Evernote, so that I can write anywhere, I just have to whip out my phone. I seem to have ideas when I am on the run in the middle of the woods, and can get a paragraph written…multitasking hooray.

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  4. This is so similar to what I just blogged about. I’m a wanna be writer, I’m trying desperately to come up with a routine around my real life. Let me sing you the song of my people.. loud power rangers cartoons for one kid, while the other plays games on the computer while loudly screaming at his friend on speaker phone..its not working! Any advice for a wanna be single mom writer with a day job? I’m begging!

    • I’m feeling your pain, sister! When I worked outside of the home, I used to write on my lunch break; instead of going out, I’d bring my lunch and work at my desk and write. I also used to write in the evenings, when the kids were in bed and the house was quiet. I know a lot of writers who get up an hour early to write, while everyone else is sleeping. Since you’re working all day, then coming home to a family that needs you, it seems like you may need to find that quiet time when no one else is clamoring for your attention.

  5. Laura Pauling says:

    I remember that year – when one child was in half day Kindergarten and the other was in preschool. Different pick up times, which didn’t leave much time at all. It was a tough year. All I can say – is that it truly goes by too fast. Enjoy it! Even though it makes trying to write for an extended period of time crazy.

    • Yes, I know that this is going to be a hard year, logistically. But, attitude is so important, and I’m determined to be positive and make the most of it :). I mean, you survived, right? And look at you now, Ms. Published Author 😉

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  7. I am in awe of all of you who find time to write while raising a family. The most I managed to do in those days was make costumes and shoot story movies with my kids. For those of you who have it together like you and my critique partners, Hilde Garcia and Kris Kahrs I am so proud for you, I know you will accomplish wonderful things.

  8. Hi, Becca. Thanks for sharing the challenges you are currently dealing with to get some writing done. I was wondering, that while at the library, if a nice net type bag filled with potpourri might be a nice substitute for the candle and perhaps a small framed picture of a pleasant scene might be a nice substitute for the window view. Just a thought. Best wishes with the writing. : )

    • Great suggestions, Susanne! Since writing this post, I had to change libraries (luckily there’s another one nearby). And the new one has some big windows in the back looking out on some beautiful trees, so that one is now taken care of :).

  9. lidy says:

    I understand too. My writing has fallen to the wayside the past couple of weeks. At first I was participating in the How Writer’s Write Poetry MOOC online course, so my fiction writing was put on hiatus. Despite that I had every intention in participating in Camp NaNoWriMo to revise my YA but then my charger snapped. And the sparks coming out of it looked a little too dangerous to try to keep using it until I got a new one. Since it was too expensive to buy a new one at Best Buy or HH Gregg, my husband had to order one for me online. Then we went on vacation to Toronto for Caribana and to avoid roaming charges, I had to take out my sim card. No sim card, meant no internet, meant I couldn’t even use my android to do any kind of writing until we return the rest of the states. By then, my writing schedule was completely off because I could’ve used the rest of my vacation to write as my sons where with their grandmothers in another state. Instead I used my staycation to rest, rest and rest. Now I’ve been back at work for two weeks, and social media and promoting my poetry chapbook has me distracted from writing. Have to reschedule my writing schedule and put in more writing during my lunch hour and after the kids are put to bed.

  10. KM Rider says:

    My colleague raised 6 kids through 11 novels, divorce and breast cancer. 4:30 am she’s out of bed to stretch and write. Still even with her last kid at college!
    When life demanded her attention….she let the routine slip a little but always gave some time to writing somewhere in her day. Now she writes from her lanai in Hawaii.

  11. Gorgeous bag, Becca! I sympathise with the changes to your routine.

    I actually love writing in a cafe one morning a week, but prefer a particular table and chair at the far side. Also love writing on trains. I seem to be slightly more productive writing with pen and paper away from my usual study.

  12. Such great advice Becca (and I LOVE THAT BAG!)

    For me, I tend to get very distracted by social media, and so separating social sharing & marketing from strict writing time can be a struggle some days. Luckily Donna Gephart turned me onto Pomodoro timers, and the tic-tic-tic sound in the background, along with the 25 minute work/5 minute break schedule works brilliantly to keep me in the zone. I’ll leave the link here in case anyone wants to try it:

    http://www.online-stopwatch.com/pomodoro-timer/

  13. Julie Musil says:

    Look at those cuties!!!! Yes, kids and driving schedules make writing very tricky. Like you, I can’t just write anywhere–especially a first draft. I can revise anywhere, but for a first draft I need silence.

    I like the way you made it work, though. You’re creating a new routine!

    • I agree that revising is a different animal. I hear about these authors who write drafts of stories on napkins and sticky notes and the backs of their hands in car line, and I feel like a loser, lol.

  14. Great post – and oh, so timely. 🙂 My daughter is about to start playschool, which is a long drive away (too long to get home and back). So the good idea is to go to the gym at that time, get healthier, etc. The bad part is that those two days were always my reserved writing time days, when my mom watched her and I got all that time. Thanks for the reminder that you make it work, however you can, however you will, because it’s important, and it’s worth it. 🙂

  15. I am soooo struggling with finding my writing time, space,mojo… Our basement flooded and we had to move my daughter back upstairs into what was my office, as her cousin came to live with us for the summer and was in her old bedroom. I boxed up my office and piled my furniture in the hall to be moved into the basement when it was re-carpeted. Meanwhile my daughter moves to college (a huge transition for us) and my husband finds out he is getting transferred. I’m pretty overwhelmed with everything I have to do to get our house back together to put on the market and I miss my daughter so much. I’m sure I will get my groove back eventually. (Thanks for listening.)

    • Oh my gosh! So much upheaval! Major life changes are always difficult because they require so much brain power and physical energy. Give yourself time to grieve; even though she’s “just at college”, this is a loss. It will take time to adjust. But eventually, when things settle down, you’ll find your new normal. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself right now. I’m praying for you, Sharon. You’ve got a lot on your plate right now 🙁

  16. Right now, I’ve been kicked out of my office while I’m painting, redecorating, so everything is everywhere and it’s been a struggle to write in my chair in the living room but I’m starting to make-do. Another side note, I was hospitalized last Thurs. and just got out late Sat. night, so that’s put a wrench in my plans/schedules.

    • Ugh. I have such a hard time writing when there’s clutter around. I like having everything in its spot. But this is one of those scenarios when I think I can get a little spoiled and I have to just get over it. Good for you for finding another place to work. And I think you get a writing pass for being in the hospital. Yikes. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  17. This is a great post! I don’t know what I would do if I had to write outside my home. I love the idea of going to the coffee shop next to my house and writing, but with my ADD it’s too distracting to delve into a fantasy world & feel my character’s emotions while people are milling about, ordering coffees, chatting and such.

    I liked to hear that someone likes to write with a candle. I live in a basement with no views, so I often stare into the flame as a write… I’d love to go outside and write – and all I would need for that is a chair, my laptop, music in my headphones and a landscape with minimal distractions. Perhaps you have inspired me to go find a space for my next novel (just not for Nanowrimo in Colorado in November…) 😉

    Thanks to an idea from Chuck Sambuchino: One of the habits that I changed that made a significant impact in my productivity is to get up a couple hours BEFORE work…so 5:30am. WORKED WONDERS, so much so, I was able to write four 100k word novels in the past year! So, yay for new habits! 🙂

  18. Dawn Allen says:

    I moved across the state from a city in the Kansas City area to a rural area of Oklahoma. What has happened is a complete upheaval of my life, my routines, my writing. I’m struggling. I’ve tried so many things but nothing seems to work. For one thing, my husband who has always been supportive of my writing and my time, has forgotten everything he knew. Now, I face as many interruptions as when I had kids. My part time college gig was supposed to open up all this free time for me after teaching secondary full time AND adjuncting. Yet, my hours have become increasingly, irratic, inconvenient, and problematic. I’m working full time with no benefits and no FT pay. Where the heck did I go wrong? Ugh. I feel your pain is what I’m saying. 🙂

    • Yuck, Dawn. Sounds like everything’s gone haywire for you. It’s hard to establish a writing schedule when everything else is irregular. And I’m sorry that you’re not getting the support you’ve had in the past. That’s got to be really frustrating. Have you talked to him about it, see if you can find out what’s changed from his point of view, and let him know how you’re feeling?

  19. So helpful! Thanks for the encouragement to “do what it takes” to be productive.

  20. Lisa Haman says:

    I have a sick child at home with me today, but when all hell breaks loose like it has for the past couple of weeks, writing takes a back seat. The problem I have at home is I see the things that “need to be done.” I’ll throw in a load of clothes here, vacuum there. What I have done is try to make a schedule schedule. It works, if everything falls into place.

    • Sometimes I feel a little OCD, with the number of lists I’ve got going, lol. But they really do help. The “schedule schedule” sounds like it’s working for you, so go with it ;).

  21. I struggled with this problem for over a year after I moved in with my fiancee, but then I finally found my solution. The library reading room here has become my sanctuary, too… We are lucky enough to have a beautiful building with old stonework and stained glass, so it provides a vast separation from my soulless work cubicle. I can only chip out half an hour a day, handwritten, but the constant routine helps me keep the flow better, and no laptop = no distractions! Thank you for sharing this… I’m glad I’m not the only one dependent on a routine.

  22. Sara L. says:

    Awww, love the photo of your two children, Becca! They’re adorable.

    Great article on such a necessary topic for us writers. I can relate: I’ve had to change my own writing routine this summer, specifically where I’ve been writing. The AC unit in my condo’s living room always finds a way to make it so chilly that it’s too distracting to write. (This happens no matter the speed or temp setting I set for the AC unit.) So, until summer’s over and AC isn’t needed, I’m writing in the comfy chair in my bedroom. It hasn’t been that bad, actually; I can still listen to my music and drink my tea… but I don’t have a safe place to burn a candle, so I’ve missed that ritual!

  23. With earbuds and classical or jazz music, I find that I can write in many different places. Sometimes a coffee shop is better for me without the distractions of home. But I still prefer my couch, laptop, and cat. 🙂 Great post!

    • Aww, a cat sounds cozy ;). I promised my kids a dog when they’re both in school full time, so next year I’ll be adding one to the household. Hopefully it will help and not hinder the process, lol.

  24. Alex says:

    I know what you are describing here and I am (or was) a person who needs all the little details in place as well.

    In the house I grew up in, I had my little desk, a nice quiet view out of the window into the green, and nice antique furniture around me. I thought I needed all of that for inspiration. But once I didn’t have it anymore and was forced into different solutions, I realized that a good part of this had just been auto-conditioning. I think if you try to do without, it will be hard in the beginning, but finally you will get over most things and be more “independent”.

    Another example: When I worked as a copywriter for advertising in Hamburg, I always had to write the first (and most creative) draft by hand, because that way I have always been feeling more connected to words. I thought I was writing more creatively that way, until a colleague told me that this was all just an illusion I was talking myself into. This got me thinking, and I started typing my ideas directly into the PC. Which turned out to work just as well as it had worked before.

    An exception to this is noise. Most of us need a quiet environment to concentrate, and this seems a very practical need to me.

    That’s just my take and personal experience, who knows, you might have your reasons – the stereo might be louder than the kids ;).

    • You know, this has been occurring to me, too. It was hard for me to find a new place and routine, but once I settled in, the time has been very productive. I do think that we get psychologically attached (?) to certain things that we don’t necessary NEED in order to write. We don’t realize just how versatile we are until we’re forced to change.

      However, I will say that I think those “triggers” can be truthfully helpful in getting us in the mood to write and signaling that it is time to write. We just need to realize that they’re not necessary for writing :).

  25. OMG! This is totally me for the summer. No writing gets done. I’m carting kids to swim team and camps. I have to figure out a better way. I can’t write when they are here. I have to learn how to be able to write under any circumstances. My guys are going to school soon so I will get back into my groove!! I can’t wait! Thanks.

    • Summer’s got to be hard, with the house suddenly full of noise and motion and kids needing attention. What worked for me was to schedule a 1 1/2 hour block in the afternoon for writing time. I had activities for the kids during this time (for 30 minutes, they played together in their rooms, then they had a snack, then they got to watch a movie). All of this happened in an area where I could hear them but they weren’t right under my feet. There were lots of interruptions, which was hard at first. But again, I adjusted, and I was able to get a good chunk of writing done each day with the kids in the house. Maybe something like this could help during summer and holidays?

  26. That’s great how you figured out to maximize your writing time by changing where you wrote. I might have just wasted time driving home. For me, I just have to wait till I get through my captain swim mom duties and then I’ll have some time to try your suggestions.

    • I feel your pain, Natalie. I’m in soccer hell right now—both kids playing on different teams, practice 4 days a week. I think there’s value in recognizing that on certain days, you simply can’t squeeze everything in. That’s when maybe we cut back and write a little less, or we get up and do it in the morning or late at night. Or, you know, there are days when we don’t do it at all because we’re wearing a dozen hats and we only have time to do what HAS to get done. We all have our limitations, and life goes through stages. It’s ok to cut back, too.

  27. Miranda Hardy says:

    I struggle with findin the perfect routine. I wish every weekend could be a writing retreat away from home and distractions, but that’s not possible at the moment.

    I need quiet space, so I tend to write better outside my house, at the library seems to be best.

    • I’m with you on the “quiet” front. That has been the hardest thing to overcome, and I still struggle with working when kids are running and yelling and the TV’s on in the other room, etc. etc. Family is important, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking the weekend off, like most people do.

      (Pot screaming at the kettle right now)

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