Routine: A writer’s best friend.

I try giving my toddler time to adjust to new activities. I give him a heads up, minutes in advance, that we are starting something else. Kids are well known for having trouble switching gears or their schedules being out of whack. That’s the one thing I hear a lot from pediatricians: stick to a routine. You risk melt-downs otherwise.

You probably get a bit irritated when you have a schedule and it’s not going as planned. We, as adults, are better at adapting than children are. We know life is chaotic and that we sometimes must go with the flow. Still, we find ourselves anxious at the thought of being late to work, or late to a doctor’s appointment. I have nightmares of being late. It’s one of my things.

Before I get into routines, I want to add that you need to allow yourself room for mistakes. Be kind to yourself. To make mistakes is to be human. (Even Superman and Superwoman made mistakes, too. It’s universal. See?)

Going back to neuroplasticity. Remember the hiking trail analogy? The more traveled it is, the better defined it is? Routines are just like that.

Let’s talk about the time is takes to form new routines and habits. Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, did a study that was published here in 2009. She took nearly 100 volunteers and recorded how long it took each one to form a new habit. Results were staggering.

First, it depends on an individual for the length of time before the habit sets in, but it took only 66 days for the habit to become automatic. It can take up to a year for a habit to set in, but again, it depends on who you are.

That probably made you a bit depressed. A whole year for me to show up every day to my writing space to form a habit? A whole year?! Look at it this way: what’s a year compared to something you want to do for the rest of your life? A routine makes you show up every day and get it done.

It’s not as overwhelming as it feels.

I’ve stated before that I have intense anxiety and fear. I have it about everything, small and large. Leaving my house to go into the backyard has been known to trigger it. Commitments are hard for me sometimes. I get invited places but don’t show up. Most of my friends understand—I do what I can and push myself at the right times.

But, I’m harder on myself more than anyone else. Writing is important to me, so how do I keep the commitment? I have a few factors, like writing space, relaxing, and exercise. The one that helps me the most, though, is keeping it in small doses.

I mentioned a book I bought before that mixed psychology and writing. It’s called Around the Writer’s Block and Rosanne Bane wrote it. You can check it out here. I fell in love with this book, as it combined two of my favorite subjects. Ms. Bane talks of 3 different routines to get into, and I’ll touch on all of them as they are all habits that help you as a writer.

Product Time: 15 minutes

Product time is your work time. It’s where you focus on your piece. This can be research, actual writing, brain storming, or any other part of the writing process. You only commit to 15 minutes, though.

That’s it. That’s the trick. You’re probably asking: 15 minutes? What in the world can be done in 15 minutes?

First, let me state that the commitment is only 15 minutes. You can certainly write longer (but you don’t have to). If you show up for Product Time 15 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, you’re on your way to forming a habit. Plus, the sense of accomplishment keeps you coming back!

Seriously, keep track of it. You’ll feel great about it.

My anxiety used to flare up when I thought about how much work I still had to do on my piece. It was bad. When I sat down at my desk, I did everything but focus on my novel. Queue limbic system hijacking. Often, when I entered my writing space with the time limit of 15 minutes, I couldn’t wait to get started.

At first it was hard, but after telling myself that the world wasn’t likely to end in the next 15 minutes, my creative cortex would shove my limbic system back into the passenger’s seat. (This is silly, but make sure you let your limbic system know how much you appreciate it, otherwise it’s like a toddler trying to get your attention. It’s relentless.)

I applied something I learned in therapy in the beginning of training my neural pathways for Product Time. Sit with the anxiety. The limbic system creates anxiety for a very good reason. I’ve stated before it’s important to have. It can save our lives. However, there is a time and place for limbic hijackings, and in our writing space isn’t one of them.

Sitting with anxiety and fears means that instead of pushing it away (which hardly ever is productive), you acknowledge it, but you push it gently into your peripheral view. With the car analogy, you can put it in the backseat with a seat belt. That’s letting it know that you appreciate it and value it, but you’re focusing on the road (your piece) right now.

Process Time:

Process time is creative play. It puts you in the right mindset for product time. Though you certainly don’t need to do Process Time before Product Time, I find that it helps me write.

Process Time works because it calms you. When you’re calm, your creative cortex takes a leisurely drive on back country roads. Two keys for Process Time: 1. Stick with your 15-minute time limit. 2. Go into it with no expectations.

Think about what you like to do. For me, I have a list of things I try to alternate, but I have favorites.

  • free writing
  • journalism
  • coloring
  • crafting
  • music (playing or listening)
  • day dreaming
  • dancing
  • going for walks
  • doing small adventures
  • reading
  • watching a movie
  • watching funny videos or looking at funny pictures
  • playing with my son
  • putting together puzzles

Process Time can be literally anything that makes you calm. No judgments here. You like skipping down the road? Go for it. Browsing shoes online? I hear there are some great deals. Reading fan-fic or blogs? That’s why you were taught to read.

Make Process Time a habit you do 5 to 6 times weekly.

Ms. Bane pointed out in her book that we can’t call it “play time” because it sounds…childish, for lack of a better term. I get that. Most adults have long-since been encouraged for play time. I find that’s a problem, especially for my mental health and my writing journey.

Check out this article here about the benefits of play for adults.

Self-Care

I feel as if Self-Care, the third habit to help writers, can also fall under Process Time.

Self-Care is self explanatory: Take care of yourself.

  • Listen to yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Exercise.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat right.
  • Be social.
  • Write your feelings in a journal.
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Teach people how to treat you.
  • Teach yourself how to treat you.
  • Get outside.

Exercise and sleep are big ones. Exercise can get your creative juices flowing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an idea while on the stationary bike or taking a walk. They also help fight against depression, anxiety, and stress. Stick with your 15 minutes but go longer if you can. Don’t use Self-Care as an excuse not to write, though. You have time for it all.

Check out this website here for the amazing benefits exercise has on mental health. Huge shout out to Rosanne Bane for her book. Check out her site here and her book. This is an interesting blog that tells the benefits of routines as well as cites famous writer routines (as weird as they can be. No judging!).

Stay tuned for the next tip: Writing spaces.

Let me know in the comments how you do Product, Process, and Self-Care. Follow my blog if you want more free therapy (who doesn’t like that?).

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