Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Breaking my routine, cheating myself

I should start this post by saying that I'm completely and whole-heartedly a morning person. I wake up early, wide awake, usually in a good mood and ready to start my day. Obviously everyone's not like that (I'm married to a night owl!), but I want to talk about what works for me.

When I first moved to the UK, my job didn't start until 9. After years of teaching (and years of early starts), it was luxurious. So I used my extra time in the morning to write.

I'm not working anymore, but I've continued the same routine. Every morning, first thing, I write for an hour. I always do my best and most creative work then; when I'm completely stuck on something I'll even save it for the next morning.

After my hour is up, I'll have breakfast, get dressed, and spend some time checking the news, email, Twitter, etc, before I go back to work for a few more hours.

Except lately my routine hasn't been quite like that. Life's been busy, and I've been waiting on a lot of things, so I've been letting myself check my email before I start writing.

I kept telling myself it was okay. I was impatient, I couldn't focus on my writing until I checked.

Except I wasn't focusing on my writing after I checked email, either. If a message was important, I'd respond right away, and that took time. But sometimes even messages that weren't important would get stuck in my head. Good things, bad things, sad things, all jumbled up, stressing me out, taking away from my best time for writing.

And of course, once I gave myself permission to check email, I started checking Twitter and blog stats, too. And anytime there was a pause in my writing I would check again.

I was getting less and less done in the morning.

So finally this past week I told myself enough. The rule is that I can turn on the internet only after I've written for an hour.

Strangely, I've gotten a LOT done the past few days.

What's your writing routine? What distracts you from it?

*The picture is mine; sunset (unfortunately not a sunrise!) in Cairns, Australia


  1. Wow, imposing a rule like that is a great idea!

    I don't have a regular writing routine. However, when I *am* in a writing phase, I find that switching off my computer's internet access helps -- or even resorting to writing longhand.

    If you use a Mac, there's also an app called "Freedom" which switches off your internet for a period of time. It's a great help when I'm feeling distractible!

  2. Arg! The web ate my post! I hate that :-(

    My biggest distraction: the Kidlet. I can only write when she is not at home or when the Husband is home and runs interference.

  3. Anne, I feel (narcissistically!) as though you might have written this post purely so that I could read from it. Like you I'm a morning person and like you its when I do my best creative work. And like you, email tends to be my undoing! This is such a wonderful strategy and I have a fantastic feeling about it working for me too. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  4. Funny, I've imposed a similar routine on myself recently. I used to eat breakfast and check email, etc. first thing, but now I'm trying to spend a little time writing by hand first before I let myself turn on the computer. I don't always succeed, but I'm hoping to make it more of a routine. Good luck to both of us! :-)

  5. Wow, thanks for all the responses, everyone! Guess I'm not alone in this problem! =)

    Skye: I'm a big believer in longhand, too! Even getting away from the multi-tasking that the computer provides is helpful. I've heard about Freedom but never actually tried it... now I'm thinking I should give it a go. Thanks!

    Elisabeth: Sorry! I've just switched up the posting on the blog to hopefully make it eat posts less (per the BBers suggestions). Ah well! *sigh*

    I'm can imagine how the kidlet might be a bit of a distraction! And unfortunately they really can't get turned off or ignored! =)

  6. Anna: Of COURSE I wrote this post just for you. =) I hope it works for you. I'm sure it will... the hardest part really is just avoiding the temptation to jump online!

    Anna S: Yes, good luck to both of us indeed! So nice to know I'm not the only one playing around with this. I think there's something to be gained just from jumping ahead with writing first thing, too. My brain is still a little fluid, I'm thinking about dreams, jumping from one topic to another, and not worrying so much yet about the day ahead. It's a great state of mind to get some writing done in.

  7. Anne, I love your rule. It's one I need to do a better job of incorporating into my writing time, though I do find myself imposing goals like I'll finish xyz before checking my email. I'm just not as consistent as I'd like to be. I need to look into Freedom...

    Great pic, even if it is a sunset. I much prefer sunrises, too. :)

  8. no worries on the lost post - I should have copied first but I was lazy...

    yeah, we've been trying to find the off switch on the kidlet for years, but we've decided our model didn't come with one! :-P

    I think that's why I like quiet when I write - I know some people listen to music, but seriously, the quiet is so blissful, I'm like pavlov's dog - when it gets quiet, I'm ready to write.

    I find that using my alphasmart, which i'm doing now that my poor macbook suffered a not-quite-fatal accident, has been good for me. No internet, no email, no telling myself "I'm doing research!" - only a keyboard, small display and a memory to save everything to. Keeps me focused.

  9. Andrea: Glad you like the pic, thanks! It was a beautiful evening.

    I'm usually like you for the rest of my work time. I check my email, but only as a reward for finishing a tricky section or a chapter. But like you, it isn't consistent. I'm beginning to wonder if I really would benefit from using Freedom and avoiding the internet completely.

    Elisabeth: hehehe. I'm sure she's an extra charming model, though. =)

    Really interesting about the alphasmart... Yeah, I'm beginning to think I need to get even more serious about my rules.

    "I'm doing research": Hah! I do that too! =)

    I need quiet to work, but haven't yet developed the conditioned response. Too funny. =)

  10. Oh, yes! I use the same excuses to check email, twitter, etc. and like you my best writing and my most productive efforts come before I check in. My ideal routine is to get all my writing done before I get online. (2-4 hours of writing) That rarely happens. I do like to stick to the 1 hour rule though like you. It usually means that I'll return to writing after I've gone online.
    I'm so glad I'm not the only one!!:)

  11. Bridgette: So nice to find others share these same bad habits, isn't it? =) 2-4 hours is really ambitious for no internet! I think I have to at least check after an hour to make sure no one's died or I've won a million bucks or something. But perhaps that's just me. =)

  12. Wise words Anne. I sometimes think that enabling an internet connection to the attic where I write was a bad idea. Once emails and Twitter enter my headspace I've had it! Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Thanks, Dave. Ohhh, it would be even harder to check email if I had to climb downstairs to do it! I do like that idea! =) It really is hard to keep your head clear for writing, isn't it?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.