Many new writers discover early on that it’s all about building writing into a routine and creating a system that works for you. It’s not about waking up at ungodly hours to produce words (I did this before when I worked full time) or sacrificing all of your time with your children to get it done. Instead, writing is about building a routine and a process that works for you.
Before I was able to work from home, writing was done in the little cracks of time during my day. It was during that part-time and hobby phase that I started to develop habits around my writing to help protect my time and give me the chance to write books in between grad school, working full time, and traveling as a college softball coach.
Those habits translated into my work as a full time writer, and the ability to stay productive when given freedom helped me maneuver my new schedule to work for me. This structure has helped me produce at least one new book every month and schedule a rapid release of ten books from September 22 to March of next year.
This schedule might not work for you, and you may have to adapt these strategies if you don’t have a full day to work on writing, but these habits have proven effective for me over the years of writing.
6AM — 9AM
My morning routine is a bit longer than most people. In the past, I was able to work from 4AM until 6AM on writing before I left for work. I didn’t have any obligations other than get dressed and feed the cats.
Now, I take the morning responsibility for the cats, a dog, and myself. I don’t have to squeeze writing in before work because I do it all day. While small time frames change, I typically see this breakdown:
6–6:15— get dressed, feed the animals, let the dog out
6:15–6:30 — vitamins, caffeine, and collect the dog walking supplies
6:30–7:15 — walk the dog
7:15–8 — spend time with my husband, eat breakfast, bike for 30 minutes
8–9 is usually my flexible time. Sometimes my husband will leave early and I can shower sooner, thus getting to my desk sooner. Sometimes I’m doing other things that push my time back. Often I’ll sit and jot out extra details in my planner or quickly hop on StoryOrigin (newsletter swap website) and transfer any email subscribers or check on book stats. But by the time 9AM rolls around, I am always ready to sit down at my computer and write.
To make this work for you, understand how much time you need for your morning routine and keep focused. I’ve done this so many times that I don’t have to look at a clock for the entire three hours I’m running through my routine. It’s smooth and seamless for me and keeps me on task. There are always days where something gets thrown for a loop, but I can consistently fall back on this routine to keep me grounded.
When 9AM hits, my fingers have to be going on the keyboard. It’s a personal structure I’ve set up for myself, but having that goal keeps me in check in the morning. I know I can’t fall down a rabbit hole of reading, social media scrolling, or time wasting.
To help myself, I establish my top morning priority the night before. I have already scheduled out my Passion Planner (affl) with my daily tasks (things I must accomplish that day) so I know exactly where to begin. Otherwise, I’ll spend too much time researching my project rather than writing.
While the morning project varies by day, it is always related to my fiction. I have planned out the chapter I’m going to work on and I give myself a writing sprint to see how fast I can write it. I’ll cheat and plot out the little details the night before so I can write faster and get it done sooner. The sooner I finish, the sooner I get a break. I know that my best fiction work happens in the morning, before I get tired or bogged down by staring at a computer screen all day.
To make this work for you, pick your best time to work on your favorite project. Fiction (books and short stories) make the most impact on my writing income and they are also my favorite, so that’s why I make it my top priority.
If I’m in a flow, I’ll usually continue writing fiction until lunchtime. If I’ve plotted out my book, this is an easy transition. If not, or if I have multiple priorities, I’ll get up, get some water and stretch my legs, and spend five to ten minutes plotting out the next steps.
To make this work for you, understand what it’s like coming out of a flow state or a particularly difficult writing session. If I’m really frustrated, I know that working on a lighter project fits into this time slot better. If I finish a book in the early hours, I’ll use this time to completely shut off from writing fiction (but I’ll never use social media or I’ll get sucked in). Know how your mind works, what your distractions and weaknesses are, and where you need to put your attention.
Obviously, it’s crucial to nourish your body. I’ll take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for eating and scrolling social, reading, or developing promotional posts. I’ve tried the mindful eating, but after meal prepping and my constant need to be productive, I’ve found more success doing something during my lunch and saving my big break for after the day ends. I always keep these tasks or activities to a low-mental-effort so I can refocus and get back to work in the afternoon.
To make this break work for you, understand your body and what your mind needs. If you need to shut off, do it. If you can multi-task and eat while reading, good for you.
Ah, my least favorite part of the day. Afternoons for me are the worst, and I’ve tried everything. My lunch routine is about the fiftieth routine I’ve tried, discovering that this is what helps me get at least something out of my next session.
Because I know my fiction is best done in the morning (unless I’m really on a roll with the story), I’ll use this time to write articles or edit. I’m still able to produce words and create something good, but it’s not as draining to my energy efforts as writing fiction. I always have a list of article topics, curated at the end of every night (which I’ll talk about in a minute). This makes it easy to just choose something off the list and write out a few subsections.
I try to get at least 1–2 articles done during this time because I know I’m about to start fiction again. If writing is out of the question at all, I’ll use the time for administrative tasks and extend my lunch work into this time frame. I’ll usually focus now on things I need both hands for or better concentration like designing book covers, setting up Amazon pages, editing my work, or plotting the next happening in my novel.
You can make this work by understanding your ‘down time’, or least productive hour. I want to still feel accomplished so I give myself easier tasks to do during this time. The easy wins help me regain momentum into the next session.
I call this time my second wind. I almost always get some sort of surge again after the drain of the previous hours. I’ve discovered that giving myself easy wins in my least productive hour, at least mentally, prepares me for this session. I’ll typically return to fiction, sometimes getting so involved in the process that I don’t look up until my husband texts me that he’s on his way home from work.
Make this work for you by setting yourself up with easy wins before and carrying that momentum. This isn’t always my greatest writing time but I’m able to churn out another chapter or so before the end of the day.
Chill. I try really hard not to start something before my husband gets home so I don’t throw off the flow, but sometimes I can’t help it. I use this time to wrap up my project, chat with my husband, watch a TV show, or just step away from the computer. It doesn’t always work, because my mind is constantly going, but it’s good to distract myself and talk with another human instead of the cats and dog.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we typically have some sort of event. We will socially distance at Trivia, I host a writing group on Wednesday (where I’ll continue to write), and Thursday we do a social distance hang out with some friends outside. Some T/R nights I won’t participate, but I’ve made it clear to my husband and other friends that Wednesdays are protected writing time. Because everyone is off work and trying to catch up, I make it clear that my night is blocked off. Setting boundaries is critical.
You can make this work for you by setting your own boundaries. Maybe the boundary is not allowing yourself screen time so you can enjoy time with family. Maybe you ask your friends to give you one night a week to work. The more consistent you are, the better you’re able to plan ahead and give people time to understand your boundaries.
In an ideal world, I’d go to bed at 8:30 every night (actually, I’d get up at 4 and go to sleep at 7, but no one in the world functions like that). It’s not realistic, but I’m always consistent within a half-hour of 9PM. This time frame involves my nightly routine and my planning for tomorrow.
To reduce my decision making and plan for the next day, I’ll break out my Passion Planner and decide on the three most important tasks to complete the next day. For example, I started this article the night before and it was my number one priority to finish it in the morning. It’s an easy win, but it also gives me a direction so when I sit down to my computer, I know exactly what to work on.
If Medium is a priority (I typically try to write nonfiction on the weekends because I can tolerate distractions more), I’ll go through my reading list, come up with headline and article ideas, and list them out in my planner. If fiction is where I need to focus, I’ll jot down the highlights of the next chapter I’m working on. I won’t list out more than two chapters or I’ll get frustrated the next day if I don’t get through all of them.
After giving myself those time blocks and priorities for the next day, I’ll head upstairs and get ready for bed. That’s also my journal time, and while I try to do it every day, I don’t always. It’s a great habit but there are some days where sleeping is a priority. I’m easy on myself, but writing in the journal will help me settle my mind and I can reflect on the day and the plan for tomorrow.
Make this work for you by setting up a nightly routine that calms you down before bed but also prepares you for the next day. You minimize any decision making and waste less time trying to figure out what to write when you sit down to your desk.
I’m fortunate to not constantly have to work on weekends, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still do it. As I mentioned above, I prefer to leave nonfiction for the weekends because it’s easier for me to return my focus after getting distracted. It’s something I know about myself, so if I want to feel productive and not frustrated with lack of progress, I’ll write articles and schedule them out for the week.
I also use this time to edit my fiction work. My husband is my first beta reader, and we will exchange turns reading my chapters. It gives me a chance to read the work out loud and find errors I might have missed or work on sentence flow. He’s also able to give feedback and I can make any changes directly in the document.
To make this work for you, understand how you work and what your circumstances are. If I were running a business and trying to help other authors (which I hope to do one day), I might not be able to take weekends off. I use the time to recharge and prepare for the next week while it might be in your best interest to get more work done. It’s up to you how you spend your time.
Laura Winter is a self-published author dedicated to helping your authorpreneur journey. She has launched her books on little to no budget to prove you don’t have to invest an exorbitant amount of money to be successful. Find her work on Amazon, Patreon, and join her tribe to get more articles like this.
Originally published on Medium.