Establishing a regular writing routine will shape your literary thighs

Welcome to this week’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! This will be the third and final excerpt from my upcoming eBook, which I have cleverly titled: Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing. This will help distinguish it from other books on writing, such as “Bob’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing” or “Bubba’s Nickel’s Worth on Righting.” So as I put the final touches on my manuscript, I’d like to offer this hand-picked excerpt of writing wisdom that Publisher’s Weekly is already calling, “Insightfulness that is a rare combination akin to having a Big Mac and carrot salad…”

Bike typewriter copy In a way, establishing a writing routine is a lot like going to the gym. Except that you don’t get sweaty, never leave a seated position and, unless you write romance or erotica, you probably won’t increase your heart rate much.

But aside from that, it’s just like going to the gym.

When I first started writing in an actual newsroom, my routine consisted of sitting at my desk, staring blankly at the screen and banging on my keys as quickly as possible until it was time to go home, where I would do my actual writing.

Why did I do this?

I was intimidated. On either side of me, journalists were typing feverishly — seemingly non-stop — while I sat waiting for inspiration. My brain was still hardwired for waiting until the kids were asleep before slinking off into the study/laundry room to do my writing, as long as nothing else needed to be done. I was a single parent of two children under the age of 10 at the time, so there was always something else that needed to be done.

I realized two things one night sitting in my luxurious study/laundry room:

1) I needed to push myself to establish a new writing routine that fit my lifestyle and commitments, and
2) By putting my daughter’s favorite sweater through the drier, it was now the perfect size for our neighbor’s Chihuahua.

I couldn’t do much about the sweater, which she’s still bitter about seven years later. But the first thing — establishing a set routine for my writing — became a priority and it should be for you, too. Married or single, with or without kids, stay-at-home or away-at-work parent, full- or part-time job, setting a writing routine says to yourself and others that your writing is just as important as other responsibilities you have. Whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours, every day or certain days of the week, making that commitment to yourself as writer — to write without exception, excuse or apology — is something you owe to yourself as a writer. No one objects to your making dinner, doing laundry, ironing or picking up the kids after practice, and your writing routine shouldn’t be any different.

I’ll admit, re-programming myself took time and persistence. And I had to get over the fact that, as my fellow journalists were typing away, there were long periods of silence — some as long as 10 to 12 seconds — echoing from my cubicle. The truth is, my brain actually adapted quickly to having a real writing schedule, much in the same way your body adapts to a workout routine. And I say “your body” because mine still hates going to the gym no matter what time it is.

I realize not everyone has the luxury of writing full time. However, the same rule applies to anyone who is serious about writing. In addition to priming your brain to be ready for action at a set time on a regular basis, setting a strict writing routine says something very important to yourself and others:

I’m a writer and you’re not, so neener neener!

Ok, not really.

…Well, actually, yes — but that’s not my point.

My point is that it says your writing, just like making time for each of your other responsibilities, is just as important. Bottom line: If you take your writing seriously, so will others.

Unless you iron your manuscripts; that’s just weird.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

26 thoughts on “Establishing a regular writing routine will shape your literary thighs”

  1. Although I don’t have the luxury to write full time, the last time I past a customs officer she asked me what my job was, to which I said ‘writer’…It was the first time I ever advertized myself as such. Next time I have to go through customs I’ll up the stakes a bit and say tell the customs lady: ‘I’m a writer and you’re not, neener neener!’
    Thanks for the advice and I look forward to your book. I’m sure it’s way better than Bob’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing!

      1. Thank you! I think for me part of the reason I have difficulty saying I’m a writer is because it’s not what I do to support myself (yet;)), so in my mind that puts me in the ‘failed writer’ category. Of course failure and success can be expressed in more than money, but…

        okay, you’re right, no ‘buts’. I’m a writer. Period. Thanks for this post, Ned. Definitely worth more than a nickel!

  2. ” My brain was still hardwired for waiting until the kids were asleep before slinking off into the study/laundry room to do my writing, as long as nothing else needed to be done. I was a single parent of two children under the age of 10 at the time, so there was always something else that needed to be done.”

    This! It’s a daily battle!

    “Bottom line: If you take your writing seriously, so will others.”

    Also this, and the strange twist (that’s twistedly common in life) is that this is the very thought I’ve been pondering for two days. Your post popped up first in my Reader this morning, so I’ll take it as a message that my thoughts are on the right path.

    I’m not sure how to accomplish this without at least one paycheck that comes from a writing assignment.

    What was your first paying writing job? I’m new to your blog. Is there already a post about it?

    1. I know that battle well, and my respect to you for waging it for your writing. Your thoughts are definitely on the right path 😉 My foray into full-time writing was a mixture of sacrifice and dumb luck — although I have to say I believe dumb luck doesn’t get the credit it deserves; to have you, you have to put yourself in a position to receive it.

      Below is a link to my first Nickel’s Worth post, which explains how my career as a columnist got started. It also has some specific advice on how to shop yourself around to newspapers or magazine publishers. Or even dating websites… 😉

      Don’t ever hesitate to ask me questions. If I have an answer or suggestion, I’ll be happy to pass it along. You don’t even have to have a nickel!

      Good luck 😉

  3. I find that inspiration is my the thing that holds back my writing. Without a specific circumstance I can write into a joke I tend to sit staring at my screen for hours whereas I can be driving in my car and have to get my voice recorder out quickly because I’ve suddenly got 3 pages of new material to dictate. Any tips how to get round this stop/start way of writing?

    1. Maybe mount a steering wheel to your computer keyboard? Or just accept the fact you do your best thinking while driving — which can’t be said for 90 percent of most drivers on the road.

      1. Haha well driving was an example. Washing dishes, showering, hoovering, literally anything that puts me on autopilot is the best catalyst for my writing. The annoying thing is it’s then unfocused, the topics aren’t of my specific choosing they’re whatever my unconscious mind has decided to find funny while amusing itself.

        1. It sounds like your creativity is at its best when your guard is down and you aren’t trying to “produce.” Nothing wrong with that, as long as you recognize it (which you obviously do) and can find a way to harness it. I’m kind of in the same boat, and tend to let those ideas stew (fester?) in my head before writing on them.I still think establishing a routine eventually helps your brain bring those ideas into focus when it’s time to fine tune them.

          Or you can just watch America’s Got Talent and have a beer.

  4. Okay, so I just had to hop on here and boast just a little. You know me well enough to know that doesn’t come easy. However, much of what I’m getting ready to brag about is due to your informal mentoring and the influence of NWOW. Three things straight from you:

    1) I’m so proud of my writing schedule.
    5 a.m every morning without fail. It works SO well and it’s true about how the body becomes accustomed to the process and routine. I even wake up about 5 minutes before my alarm goes off–my husband loves that part. So does the dog who is my faithful side kick on the floor beside me.

    2) “Bottom line: If you take your writing seriously, so will others.”
    This is one of the first things I read in the series several months ago and tried to implement as professionally as possible. I don’t advertise or “market” what I do, but I try to write each piece like a publisher might read it. I’ve been doing this about a year and people who I know or work with (who I didn’t know knew that I blogged) have started to talk about it. I don’t know how they even find me, but it makes my day when they comment on how my words have helped them or want to write some of their own. It’s small potatoes, but the men’s group at our church asked me to speak at their Sunday breakfast because some of them want to start blogging. It makes my heart soar when someone calls me a “writer.”

    3) I just received a hand-written letter from my high school English teacher this week.
    I haven’t seen him in 30 years and he doesn’t own a computer. Somehow, he found my Life is a Highway series and felt compelled to let me know how happy he was to see a former student still writing. He’s not Fr. Robert, but he used to play one when I was in school. He may even be missing a few teeth at this point.

    Sorry for the length of this, but I truly wanted to say thank you and to give hope to any new readers to your NWOW. You’ve taught me to be patient, thorough, honest and consistent and even if I never publish a single thing, I’ve found the joy in the process and the output. You’re good people, Ned!

    1. Golly… Thanks, Michelle! I think I will just copy and paste this to the back of my book cover 😉

      There’s nothing I like better than knowing I’ve helped someone gain a foothold as a writer. Except maybe knowing where to find a really great Reuben sandwich. A writer friend once made me the best Reuben ever. It was one of the best days of my life. Even without the sandwich this time, it ranks right up there, Michelle.

      Thank you for that, and for the kind words. I have to say, I gave my freshman English teacher, Mr. Danielson, a copy of my book last week and I’m still smiling. And not because I knew he couldn’t grade it 😉

  5. I really need to do this, Ned. I’m the worst. However, I am fairly good about going to the gym at least semi-regularly, and now I’m just used to it. I gotta get there with writing. Thanks for the kick in the butt.

    BTW did the chihuahua appreciate the sweater?

  6. “The only failed writer is the one who doesn’t write.”

    Thank you, Ned. Now I have a title, “A Failed Writer”, maybe I’ll start to write again. That title will be on a post it note and stuck to my laptop in a jiffy. Just the push I need to pull my finger out and get writing. You are a gem. 🙂

  7. Good morning Ned –
    As I sit here drinking my coffee (feeling sorry for myself because I can’t draw today – the son has a double football scrimmage, then we have a party – oh, the horror) I realized I’m making excuses. I can certainly find a bit of time to draw and write later tonight. I simply must not drink too much wine at the party and return home at a reasonable hour. Reading your post has put in me in the proper mindset. When I’m drawing tonight and the rest of my family is fast asleep, I’ll know who to direct my scary drawing at 😉
    AnnMarie 🙂

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