Back in the day, I was up at seven o’ clock every Saturday and Sunday. I’d head to the kitchen and fix a cup of coffee, sit down at my Macintosh PowerPC, and I’d write until ten or eleven. Then I’d make breakfast, and print out a chapter if I’d finished one. I did that from sixth to eighth grade. It was just the most intuitive way to do things—I had school during the week, so I wrote on the weekends.
Freshman year, I tweaked the routine a bit. During the week I utilized class time in some of my duller periods to write story notes, while maintaining the weekend writing.
In sophomore year, things finally changed. With classes I couldn’t just coast through, I had less time to outline stories. Homework fluctuated from weekend to weekend and left no guarantee of a solid chunk of time to spend writing. And when homework was on the weekdays, staying up late to finish it didn’t leave me inclined to get up at seven on a Saturday. I managed NaNoWriMo, but I’ll get to that. The rest of the year I bobbled in and out of my routine. By the time it was summer, the system had been broken and I couldn’t get back into it. I did try, but attempting to maintain the archaic holdover from middle school just meant I didn’t write on the weekdays, and wrote only a couple paragraphs on the weekends before getting distracted.
Trying to force that routine was bad. But here’s where routines can be good. When I did NaNoWriMo, I started a routine especially for it, and set out some rules. Quoting directly from my journal, here they are:
“Every weekday, I will write one thousand words, starting today. Every weekend or non-school day, I will write four thousand words. During school I will outline the plots and characters of the episodes. And school will always take backseat when the choice is between it and writing. ”
That last part was very helpful, and is part of why the NaNoWriMo system worked and my old routine didn’t. But let me clear two things up. First off, don’t worry about the math. I was a bit behind at that point, so it does add up. Secondly, I’m not advocating ditching school as a routine. This was just for a month, so it was fine.
Now here’s my point. Having a system in place, repeating a task day in and day out really helped me. Each successive time I completed what I needed to do for the day, I could look back and have more and more productive days supporting me. The routine was self-sustaining—or self-helping at least. Obviously there were some bumps in the road, but NaNoWriMo’s more fun like that anyway.
So what’s my opinion of routines? I think they can be very beneficial. But they can go obsolete, and if they do I have to step back and reaffirm that writing has nothing to do with circumstance. I’ve written in houses, planes, buses, on a desk, a ping-pong table, my knees, with water, coffee, orange juice—and how productive I am is always up to me.
To put it as simply as I can, routines are only good when they give you a reason to write, not an excuse not to.