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.
So 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.
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.
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.