Running A Writer’s Routine
When I first started writing, the idea of trying a novel terrified me. I could face short stories, even though I didn’t love them; but 90,000 words might as well have been a million. It would take me forever to get from start to finish, and the whole time in between, I would have no idea whether I would succeed. So for years, I didn’t even try.
Then I realized I knew how to tackle this problem. You see, I’ve always played sports. That meant I knew how to work towards a goal over time. If I thought about writing the way I thought about running, I would know what to do. More importantly, I would know how to do it. It all comes down to a routine.
When you first start running, your long-term goal might be to run a marathon. But you don’t expect to be able to run a marathon the first time you pull on your running shoes. You go out, and maybe you walk for five minutes, and that’s your first workout. If you keep at it, you get a bit better, not every day, but every week or two, and after a couple of weeks or months, you’re running a few miles. A few more months, and maybe you’ve worked up to your first 10K. You don’t expect to win that, you’re just happy to finish. Then you set your sights on the half marathon, and finally, after a solid 6-12 months of regular running, you line up at the start of that first marathon. Maybe you don’t finish the first one, but you try again. Sooner or later, you’ve done it! 26.2 miles! You didn’t know for sure you could do that, that first day you walked five minutes. But here you are.
Because you went out the door three or four or five days a week, every week. When it was cold, when it was raining, when you were hungover, when you just desperately wanted another hour of sleep. But most of the time you got up, and you did it, and you finished your run. Because that was your routine.
Writing a novel is exactly like running that marathon. Most of us don’t just get up one morning and knock out 1600 good words a day, 50,000 words a month, three novels a year in a frenzy of enthusiasm. Sure, a few people do that, like a few people run 7 minute miles their first day. Of course, most of them get injured, or burned out. For the rest of us, there’s a better way.
Build yourself a sustainable routine. Don’t start out planning to get up at 4 a.m. and write for three hours before work. Instead, set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than usual. Write for those 15 minutes. Maybe it will be a sentence, a paragraph. If you’re fast, it might be a page. But that’s not the point. You’re getting in shape. You’ll probably want to do more pretty soon. That’s great. Set the clock earlier—but not too much. Increase gradually. Work your way up. The most important thing is consistency. That doesn’t mean writing seven days a week, it means writing regularly. Figure out what works for you. It might be all day Saturday, every Saturday; more likely, it will be an hour, give or take, maybe four or five days a week. Challenge yourself, but be realistic too.
If what you’re doing feels too hard, back off a little. Some running plans have a great tip: every four weeks, you cut back your mileage. That helps you stay fresh. Try it with your writing routine. And like exercise, recognize when you legitimately need a day off from writing, no matter what you planned. We all have those days and weeks and sometimes even months when other priorities are truly more important. When you get back to your writing, recognize that you’ll be a bit out of shape. Ease back into your routine gradually, just like you started it.
More than 2 million people finished marathons or half-marathons last year. Most of them got there because they found a training routine that worked for them. As a writer you can find your routine as well. I’m rooting for you to type “the end” at the finishing line of your novel!