Why You Should Always Fight to Get Back to Your Routine When You’re Knocked Off It

“When jarred unavoidably by circumstance, revert at once to yourself and don’t lose the rhythm more than you help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.” – Marcus Aurelius

Have you ever been on a roll–everything is clicking along smoothly? You’re writing regularly and when you should, getting the words done and taking care of all the other aspects of a writing business.  Things are great.

Then your cat dies.  Or one of your children gets sick.  Then the rest of them do, because siblings always infect each other.  Or the car blows a gasket… Something happens that you didn’t plan for.

But that’s okay.  You stay calm and deal with the issue.  You can get back to writing tomorrow.

Only…you don’t.

Tomorrow arrives, and you can’t quite seem to knuckle down to the work of picking up the strings of the story once more.  So you take one more day off, to deal with admin and production stuff, so you can write tomorrow.

When that tomorrow gets here, it’s been two days without writing and nothing major happened.  The world didn’t implode…so who is going to dump on you if a third day slides by?  No one.

Now the minor crisis has grown into a three day vacation from the manuscript and Resistance is building power.  The longer you stay away from the story, the harder it is to bring yourself to just do it.

I’m describing your writing life.  I’m also describing mine.  Yes, everything above is semi-biographical–and I’ve slid far, deeper than that.  I’ve had a whole week go by when I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and write, for love nor money.

I always, always, always hate myself when I do finally find a way back to the story, because now the pressure to get it done at supersonic speed is huge.

We all do it.  We let a little chink in the routine turn into the Grand Canyon.

Why Routine Works for Indies.

If you’re scratching your head about now, wondering why all the fuss about sticking to routines, then you may have bought into the notion that writers are artists, and should live a Bohemian life directed by impulse, in order to woo the muse and experience life to enrich their art.

As many of the creatives living in Paris in the first half of the 20th century learned; a life dictated by esthetics and experiences often left no time and no energy to actually create.  Even Hemingway had to find a house on a remote Florida key.

At its most basic, we have only set amount of energy each day that we can devote to decision making.  Any decisions you make tap that supply, from “eggs this morning, or cereal?” to the main character arc of your protagonist.

It makes sense that the fewer minor and unimportant decisions you make, the more energy you have left for all the decision you make to write a story (down to every single word you type).

This is why many writers find they write best first thing in the morning–before decision fatigue has set in.

This is also where routines and the habits they form help out.  They cut down on the endless angst about “should I do this or that?”

In addition, the habits that form as a result of living with a fairly set routine is that your brain and your body get used to the idea that at 8am every morning, you write fresh manuscript.  Your brain will naturally start to fire up at that time, as you drift from the kitchen clutching your coffee mug, barely without conscious thought or decision at all.

If you don’t develop a routine, then you will always be asking yourself if you should sit down and write now you have a spare hour…and very frequently the answer will be “no”–because…well, you’ll easily come up with reasons not to write.

So routines and habits are a writer’s friend.  Only, things happen and you get knocked out of your routine and that can be a dangerous time.

What Throws You Out of Routine.

Life rolls.  Sick kids.  The unexpected.

Even your own brain will find ways to entice you away from writing (one of my inner kid’s most powerful enticements are craft sites and blogs).

Why do you subconsciously look for distraction?  Because writing is hard.  It is an endless series of decisions and, often, with no certain outcome.  There is nothing about writing that is rote and can be done while listening to podcasts to pass the time.  It’s physically hard, and mentally exhausting.

So it’s very easy to get coaxed away from the routine.

Why It’s So Bloody Hard to Get Back to Routine

  • Nothing dire happens when you don’t write (not right now–although the long term consequences are dire).
  • Not writing is more fun — always.
  • The avant garde creative myth that says routine is deadly dull, boring and will kill your muse.
  • The perfectionism trap.

This last one in particular is a nasty one.  Human nature tends towards completion.  If a job is nearly done, you’ll double down just to get it finished.  Your brain rewards you with a hit of dopamine if you check items off your task list.

So if you skip a day of writing, for whatever reason, the finely tuned sense of completion (which, in more advanced stages, is called perfectionism) tells you that, well, the week is blown now–you’ve “ruined” the record.  Might as well wait to start fresh on Monday.  Or next month.  Or next year.

Perfectionism and the attraction of unspoiled records is why people still set New Year’s resolutions, even though the percentage of people who see them through are in the single digits.

It’s also why Jerry Seinfield’s “Don’t Break the Chain” motivation method works.

Why You Should Fight to Return to Routine As Soon As Possible.

  • Because you’ll drift if you don’t.  The longer you take the get back to routine, the deeper Resistance entrenches itself.
  • The longer you take to get back to the real work, the more damage you do;
    • You get behind in your schedule and have to give up Sundays, spare time, play time, to catch up.  That is not good for your morale, your family who deserve to see more of you, or your work/life balance and mental health.
    • Production suffers — that is, everything else you do after writing to get a book to market gets short shrift.  You end up taking shortcuts, or skipping what feels minor (but really isn’t, in the long run).
    • Readers suffer as a result.  This is perhaps the ultimate sin.
      • If you run a reader blog posts, your posts get shorter or disappear altogether.
      • Email and other communications are more abrupt–you have less patience to deal with the questions and problems readers present you with.
      • What social media?

How to get back to your routine as swiftly as possible.

1. Don’t wait for Monday, or even tomorrow.

This is the toughest part of the remedial process.  If you can overcome your resistance and get moving now, you’ll be halfway there.

Listen to the thoughts and emotions that bubble up in your brain when you tell yourself that you’re getting back to routine right now.  You’ll find yourself making the most amazing excuses.  These feelings and justifications may also give you a hint about underlying issues and beliefs that are tripping you up.

Erroneous beliefs are insidious, but once you’ve noticed them, they lose their power.  And suddenly, you can get back to work.  So take a deep breath and:

2. Write 250 words right now.  Don’t wait.

  • If you haven’t quite resolved your blocks (see above), then you’ll just have to get bloody minded and make yourself do it.  Normally, I don’t encourage this type of white-knuckle effort, but for the 15 minutes it takes you to write the 250 words, forcing yourself will help you overcome the “I’ll get to it tomorrow” habit.
  • Quality is not a concern.  Now, more than ever, shit upon the page is permissible, so long as the words are put down.

This forcing process overcomes resistance and gets your mind back in the story.  Once you’ve done the page, you can stop, for now it will be easier to get back to the story later.

3. Then pause to reschedule your writing over the next few days/weeks. so you can catch up.

This is damage control.  Now you’ll gain a measure of how behind you are, and what price you must pay to catch up.  Console yourself with the thought that you’re getting back to work now, rather than next Monday/month, so it’s not as bad as it might have been.

4. Write another 1,000 words.

This keeps the story warm, and your writing muscle working.

5. Schedule Other damage control.

How badly did you blow it?  Do you need to pull out the stops to get books published?  Missed your monthly bookkeeping?  Have readers screaming at you?

All the non-writing stuff that has backed up and now smells noxious should be sorted out.  Make a schedule to address the backlog and catch up.  You’ll feel much better about yourself when you have.

6. Then go back to writing.

If there is any time left today to write some more, do so.  You’re making a promise to yourself that the book is important and telling your subconscious that you’re back at the wheel.

Psychologically, it sets you up to get to work tomorrow; you’ve already written (even a little) today, so now, don’t break the chain.

Do you have any favourite methods to bring yourself back to your usual levels of productivity?  Share them in comments, below.

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