Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Keep Your Writing Routine from Becoming a Rut

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 

JH: Falling into the "same old, same old" can be counterproductive for writers. Shanna Swendson shares tips on shaking up your routine and boosting your creativity. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music. Her newest novel is the paranormal mystery Interview with a Dead Editor

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Take it away Shanna…

Routines are great for productivity. They mean you get your work done on a regular basis because you have a set time and place for working. But routines can be terrible for creativity. When it comes to creating, routine can be boring and lead to ho-hum results because your thinking can fall into a rut. 

How do you find a balance that gets the work done without getting stuck in a routine that hurts your creativity?

The way out of a rut without giving up your productivity is to shake things up as much as you can within your routine. You may have found your optimum schedule, and you’ll want to stick with it, but you can keep your thinking from being too routine.

It’s harder to get a change of pace these days when we’re mostly stuck at home and a change of scenery means moving from the living room to the bedroom, but even tiny changes can shake up your thinking. 

One odd little bit of advice I’ve seen for changing the way you think is to do routine tasks with your non-dominant hand. Brush your teeth, wash dishes, or stir a pot on the stove with the hand you don’t normally use. That will create new pathways in your brain that will affect your thinking for other tasks. 

Try a new food, grab a random book from the library shelf, listen to new music, or watch a movie in a genre you don’t usually watch. These days, when algorithms point us to things we’re likely to enjoy based on what we’ve read, listened to, or watched previously, it’s easy to find ourselves in a bubble made up of things we’re sure to like. Make an effort to get out of that bubble every so often. 

For writers, it’s especially important to read widely. I like to read the books that are finalists for major awards in my genres because it’s a reading list I didn’t select, and it forces me to keep up with what’s new and considered worthy of praise. That’s a great way to broaden your horizons. 

(Here's more on Balancing Writing and Working Without Losing Your Mind)

Find the parts of your routine that are essential for productivity and leave those alone, then tinker with the rest. 

For instance, I really must do at least a little writing work before I go online and check e-mail or social media in the morning. If I write first, it makes a big difference in the rest of my day. If I don’t, I feel behind all day. I won’t change that part of my routine. 

But if I’m feeling stale, I might change where I sit to write. I might try writing by hand instead of on the computer. I might play different music in the background or drink a different kind of tea. I might try winging a scene instead of outlining it, or I may try outlining it in detail.

Or I might add to my routine. I’ll do the usual work in the morning to get my day started, but then instead of working in the afternoon, I’ll take the afternoon off to go for a hike, bake, or read, then I’ll work again in the evening. That changes my day around enough for it to feel fresh without changing what works. 

Doing something different with non-writing time can help. 

Take a different route on your daily walk. Mix up your meal times. Try a different kind of exercise at a different time of day. Get new scented candles or essential oils to change your atmosphere.

To come at a problem (like what should happen next in your story) from a different angle, take whatever comes to mind first, then look for the exact opposite of that and try to justify it to yourself. Even if it’s utterly ridiculous and something you could never use, try to find ways to prove to yourself that it’s the right decision to make for your story. Along the way, you may see some new ideas that hadn’t occurred to you before and that you would never have considered while you were locked in your usual way of thinking. 

(Here's more on Time to Evaluate Your Planning Process: Change Can Be Good)

Changing little things about the way you work can also help without completely changing your writing routine. 

Try using a different font for writing. You won’t see your work in quite the same way. Change the font or the page parameters between drafts so that the story looks entirely different to you. Then when you go back to your usual settings, that will be a change and feel fresh.

How do you know you need to shake things up? 

If you’re feeling blah, not having the same energy for your work that you’ve had in the past, you might need a change. If you’re not getting the results you want, and especially if you’re getting the sort of rejections that mention your ideas not being very fresh or different, you probably need to give your thinking a jolt. If you want to level up or try something new with a new project, making a change as you dive into it can help give you a boost.

Or, really, if it’s 2020 and you’ve been stuck at home for months and need a vacation but aren’t comfortable with travel, shaking up some things can give you some of the same mental benefits as a vacation so you can return to your routine feeling refreshed.

Worst Job Interview Ever!

Alexa “Lucky Lexie” Lincoln has always had a nose for news and a knack for being first on the scene whenever there’s a big story. Now her luck seems to have run out. First, she loses her reporting job. Then she gets an interview for a job at a small-town paper, only to find the editor dead on the newsroom floor. That makes her a suspect in the eyes of local policeman Wes Mosby.

To make matters worse, someone sabotages her alibi, and a freak ice storm strands her in town. That’s when she learns that this idyllic little town right out of a movie set is full of secrets, including people with uncanny abilities and the ghost who really runs the newspaper.

To clear her name (and get the job), Lexie will have to find the real killer—a killer who seems to think she knows a lot more than she does. If she’s not careful, she could be the next victim.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting idea will try it; however, I and the type that has to get my ducks in a row before settling down, in my home office, to write.