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The Rhythm of Routine

by Tom Ashford

There’s a reason why so many people talk about writing a book, and yet so few actually manage to do it. It’s not a lack of ability, because there are plenty of great copywriters and producers who, despite their flair for the written word, never get around to that novel they’ll “start some day soon”. And there are plenty of novels out there that have been published (via both self and traditional routes) that aren’t quite up to scratch.

No. The reason so few ever get around to penning that story is this: they see the task as too big. “I don’t know where I’d find the time,” they might say.

I’m not one of those people who insist it’s always possible to achieve something if you want it enough. I think that way of thinking is harmful – there are plenty of reasons outside of one’s control that limit one’s available time and potential success. A single mother with two children working multiple jobs to put food on the table shouldn’t be expected to “find the time” to write an eighty-thousand word novel, and to suggest she doesn’t “want it enough” if she can’t is madness.

But most of us do have the time to write. We just have to find it.

Some people may have very erratic schedules and need to fit in that writing time as and when they come across it. That’s great if you make it work for you. Writing on the train can be a great way of avoiding the infinite distractions of the internet (granted, this is easier done on a longer commute than on London’s Northern Line). If you need to tap a few words out whilst standing in the queue at your local grocery store, that’s good too.

The real trick is to find a routine that works for you, if you can.

A novel looks daunting to the first-time writer. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a great epic or a novel that just about crosses the qualifying 40,000 word threshold – that’s a lot of words, particularly when you consider that most university dissertations are 10,000 words long and even those paid to write copy for a living don’t go far over a few hundred in one sitting.

That’s a huge investment for someone who doesn’t know if their story is worth telling, let alone if they’re the one good enough to tell it.

Break it down into daily chunks though, and now that end goal is in sight.

That daily word-count is going to vary from writer to writer, and from style to style. Some authors can bash out a few thousand words a day, but it’s so rough that afterwards they have to go back and do a second draft practically from scratch. Others painstakingly labour over each and every word, and only get a few hundred done each day… but those few hundred go into the final book with only minor edits. Both approaches are fine, so long as they work for you.

Let’s say you’re aiming for an eighty-thousand word novel. Let’s also say that because of factors outside of your immediate control – you have a demanding job, you have a small child that needs looking after, that new series on Netflix isn’t going to binge itself – you can manage a total of five hundred words each evening (or morning, or lunch break).

Writing that book is going to take you one hundred and sixty days. You could write two books a year at that rate – that’s enough to give any traditional publisher a heart attack!

The important thing is to stick at it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel motivated, or if you’ve had a bad day, or if you’re feeling a little under the weather. It may not even matter if your friends have invited you out for some drinks. You have to stick to your routine, whether you want to or not. Eventually it becomes habit… and habits are easy. They’re also very hard to break.

(Don’t become a hermit, though. Go see your friends every once in a while, please.)

Here’s an example of my own routine.

  • Wake up, get ready for work, commute to work.
  • Work from 9-5:30(ish).
  • Commute home.
  • Write from 6(ish) until 7:30, or until I give in to hunger (unless this is a day on which I work on freelance projects, then I get a pass – from the writing, not the food).
  • Dinner.
  • Chores/ collapse in front of the TV, feeling guilty because I should be writing.

Now, I am fairly lucky in that I have no children and no responsibilities beyond keeping myself clean and fed. I also have a very understanding wife who works longer hours than I do. But even though I possibly could write for longer each evening (both my day job and freelance job are concept writing/ copywriting based, so please let me off a little), I still consistently get an hour and a half of fiction-work done each and every day – barring the occasional night off.

By sticking to that set routine, on good days and bad, I’ve written eight books over the past three years. By the standards set by some indie writers that seems small… but to all those who’d like to write a book and haven’t, that’s an enormous amount of work.

For me, and as it should for any budding author, it’s as much a regular part of my day as brushing my teeth or getting on that crowded Northern Line. Feels weird if I don’t do it.

Maybe you need to wake up an hour before the rest of your family. Maybe you need to go to bed a little later. Maybe you need to shun your colleagues and shut yourself away during your hour lunch break. But find that routine, whatever it is.

Don’t be one of those people who insist that they’re going to write a book, and never will.

Commit.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.