I always smile when I get questions about my writing routine, and I thought it’s come up enough to warrent its own post!
Our family consists of me, my husband, four kids, and a puppy. A lot of writers, especially those juggling writing and parenthood like I am, are curious how I do it. I will preface, before I begin, that I was interrupted no fewer than fifty bazillion times while writing this article, so hopefully the advice is both candid and realistic!
Do I Write Every Day?
The advice to write every single day gets tossed around a lot! I just saw it again about a week ago on Twitter. And, while that might be the way it works for some people, the logistics of my life make this advice impossible for me to follow. So no, I don’t write every day. And I don’t think I ever will.
A kid could have the sniffles, homeschool could veer off course and take longer than expected, I could just simply need a nap.
I think about my stories a lot, even on the days I’m not writing. But sometimes I don’t.
In fact, I recently had a period of about three months where I did absolutely nothing writing related at all! I had just turned in revisions on my creepy, magical Secret Garden retelling (THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN- coming to a bookstore near you next April!), and my creative well was empty. I put all of my heart into that book, and I just needed a break. I relaxed, baked things, and read good stories written by other people. And then, once it was time to write the next thing, I once again had something to give.
Generally speaking, I get nervous about universal prescriptions that tell people ‘you must do this’ and ‘you have to do that.’
So What Do I Do?
While I don’t have a writing routine, exactly, where I make myself sit down and write at the same time every day, I do have a system.
I make sure that I have at least a couple of chunks of time each week set aside for writing that I can count on, and then I look day by day and make decisions based on what seems realistic for adding on from there. This might mean I plan on writing during the toddler’s nap on Saturday and Sunday, when my husband can field interruptions from the others. I might also allocate a couple naptimes during the week to this, or set aside an evening once the kids have gone to bed. Sometimes I’ll sneak in 20 minutes while dinner is cooking if everyone is quiet!
I keep an eye out for opportunities, but a big key to my productivity is not holding my writing time as something too precious. I can’t guarantee three hours of uninterrupted time most days. I also don’t want to be distracted when I’m interacting with my family, so I’ve had to set some boundaries for myself about being present but not really ‘being’ present. Sometimes it feels clunky when I return, because I haven’t been able to get into any sort of a flow, and I just push through it by writing one word at a time. The clunkiness won’t stay forever, and if I write even when I feel out of rhythm, I will still get the draft done.
I also have a pattern of sometimes doing a draft or revision in a super fast burst. I drafted what became THE CIRCUS OF STOLEN DREAMS in 16 days so I would finish in time for Pitch Wars. I pretty much completely rewrote my Secret Garden retelling in 4 weeks so I could meet a deadline for that and have time to fix more if needed with my editor. So I can write intensely for short stretches, especially when I need to and when I have a really clear path forward for what I’m doing. Sometimes we need to call a babysitter in for those times so I can make it happen. While those bursts have worked for me before (and were both prompted by deadlines), I’m also trying to be less extreme so the rhythm of our family life stays more consistent.
Particularly, if I have a goal I need to meet, I harken back to my old teacher curriculum planning days and start at the goal, then work backwards from there. If I need to revise 50,000 words, and have 8 weeks to do it, I see how many words/pages that means per week and set my goals based on that. I also usually leave myself a bit of a buffer in case something gets shifted or takes longer than I thought, or if I need to read everything over one more time.
If I want writing to be a part of my life for the long-term (and goodness, I want that very much), it needs to be sustainable. And that means I can’t live and write by what works for another writer, or by someone else’s prescription for what works for them. The system I’ve built allows me to feel like I’m always moving forward (or at least that I have a date on the calendar during the week when I’ll be able to move forward), but it isn’t so rigid it doesn’t work with my life, and it doesn’t add stress or pressure or make me feel *too* guilty if I don’t meet a goal for the day.
Learning to not compare has been key in terms of my own productivity as an author, and I think it’s pretty much been key in all areas of my authorly life. There are just certain things I can’t do that some other authors might be able to. I can’t do a bunch of free author visits because I have to hire a babysitter every time I do an event and I’d bleed income if I tried it. I can’t sit in a cozy chair, turn off my phone, and know I have five hours of silence stretched ahead of me to get some words on the page. I can’t wake up at 5am and think a single coherent thought (shout out to the 5am writer’s club people who can!). Those people impress the heck out of me, and it’s okay that my way of working looks unique to the person I am and the life I have today.
My best advice is to look at your unique life, with your unique needs, and find what works for you. Make sure you keep moving forward, but hold your routine in a flexible hand. Perhaps consider creating a system that allows you to both be committed to your writing, but adaptive to the things that come up. Look for spaces and times where you can carve out some words, even if it’s only a few.
Because a few words here and there adds up to a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. Then a whole entire story. I’m here to tell you from experience that you don’t have to have long stretches available to write in order to chase your dreams. And you definitely don’t have to write every day.
Do you have any more questions about my writing/family life strategy of balance? Feel free to add a comment to this post, reach out via my “Say Hello” tab, or @ me on Twitter!
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