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Monday, February 8

Bouncing Back When Your Writing Routine Gets Disrupted

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

My husband and I recently moved to another state, closer to family. Between the packing, the moving, the unpacking (still not done), and our new hectic life, my writing routine has been completely shattered.

I accepted the disruption before the move, since I knew there’d be months when writing wasn’t going to happen much (or at all), but we’re “settled” now, and I’m trying to get back to normal.

Except “normal” has changed.

I used to have 10-12 hours every weekend to write. I spent Saturdays on my Real Life Diagnostics, and scheduled articles for the week. Sundays I wrote at a local Starbucks with a writers’ group and got all my articles done for the site for the next week. That left me Monday through Friday mornings to work on my novels and nonfiction projects.

Only now, my weekends are full of family and chaos and way-too-much house stuff to do. I usually can squeeze a few hours of writing in there before the sun comes up, but some weekends even that doesn’t happen.

The busy weekends are awesome, and why we moved, but I’ve been struggling to keep up with everything the last few months. I needed more time I didn’t have.

So I made some.

I’m a morning person by nature, and I write first thing. The most logical fix to my time issue was to get up earlier. An hour per day earns me an extra five hours per week. I also try to sneak in some writing in the afternoons to handle the blog tasks I used to do on Saturdays.

Things aren’t back to normal quite yet, but I see it heading there as I get used to the new routine. The hardest part is actually getting up when the alarm goes off, and I admit, some days I just don’t. Sometimes an extra hour of sleep matters more, and when I really need it, I take it.

If your routine has been knocked out of whack lately, or you’re trying to get back to writing after a break, here are some things that helped me:

1. Look for the easiest place to add writing time.

For me that’s getting up at 5am, but others might carve out an hour in the evenings, or half an hour a few times a day. Look for places that wouldn’t affect your daily routine all that much.

(Here’s more on being a more productive writer)

2. Don’t try to do too much at once.

Until I’m regularly keeping to my 5am schedule, I’m not going to add another hour to my day. I know it’s too much change too fast and I won’t be able to keep with with it.

Pick smaller steps that you can fit into your routine and adjust slowly so they become habits. We can do almost anything for a week or two, but after that, we stop if we can’t keep up that pace.

(Here’s more on avoiding distractions)

3. Reorganize non-writing tasks to be more efficient.

I’m looked for ways to make my other tasks more manageable. I work well with scheduled tasks, so I designated an hour a day to chores or marketing, or blog stuff. I ignore it the rest of the day, and get what I need to do done then.

I can focus more easily, and anything that doesn’t get finished is moved to the next day. There are enough light- vs. heavy-task days in a week that it usually balances out.

(Here’s more on avoiding procrastination)

4. Don’t just try to do more.

Simply giving myself five extra hours of work a week wasn’t going to work, because I’d be exhausted after a few weeks of that schedule (I know, I’ve been there). I needed to find a way to be more effective during my work hours. Getting up at five means I’m heading to bed earlier as well, but the morning hours are my most productive. That’s when the extra time works best for me.

Creating longer days works for a short period of time, but then it starts wearing on you and you’re too tired and stressed to get anything done. Doing it once in a while when we’re on a deadline is manageable, but beyond that just wears us down.

(Here’s more on avoiding time sinks)

5. Be realistic about the new routine.

Don’t expect it to work out overnight, and give yourself time to adapt and adjust to a new routine. You’ll probably have to try several different things before you find the right balance between writing, work, and family.

Believe me, I know how frustrating this is, and I’ve had plenty of stressful and upsetting moments the last few months. Trust that you will figure it out and find your way again. I can already see the path, even though I know I’m not there yet.

When life changes, it changes your life. Adapting to the new can be rough, but it’s less stressful than trying to continue with what isn’t working. Things will be different, and finding your feet again might take awhile.

Has your writing routine even been disrupted? How did you handle it?

Looking for tips on planning and writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those    with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter(Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.

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  1. I've been grouping "house stuff" together for years to give myself a block of writing time whenever possible. That block varies in length depending on life and I live with that. A long time ago I read an article in Writers digest that said even when u don't have much time, do something related to writing every day. As a mother with small kids that was helpful. I also reserve blogging/book reviewing for evenings so as not to take away from prime thinking time. And I've learned that when life is full (moving qualifies) sometimes it just doesn't happen. And that's ok too.

    1. Good tip. Being able to mentally walk away when we have to is one of the hardest parts, at least for me. The move has helped with that though.

  2. I love that you are getting enough sleep. We can't do anything if we are too tired and sleepy. Best wishes in the new place!

    1. Thanks! I do try. I'm a nightmare to be around when I haven't had enough sleep, so that's non-negotiable :)

  3. Janis, thank you for sharing more about your move and that "normal" has changed. I find my "normal" is always changing. I'm trying to go with the flow, but tend to push myself too much which only leaves me exhausted. Like now. So I'm giving myself permission to rest. 😊

    1. Good for you! I pushed myself for too many years and all it did was hurt health, well-being, and writing. A sustainable pace is best, and breaks when we need them. That way, when we need to push we have the reserves to do it.

  4. Thanks so much for this article. With three children and a busy life I could relate to all the points you made. I am trying to find more time in my week so that I write every day, even if only for one hour, and think I will need to set the alarm. Not being a morning person, this will be hard for me, but you have inspired me to get started. Thank you!

    1. Most welcome, and I hope it works out for you. If you're more of a night person, you might also try taking an hour before bed, or after the kids get to sleep and see if that works better for you. Good luck!