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How I’m Focussing my Writing Routine

November 12th, 2013 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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I wrote recently about my lack of focus and how I’m combating a wandering mind. But I’m fighting this battle on two fronts! The second is how I organise my day.

Wood for the Trees

This reassessment started, as it often does, with me being frustrated at my total lack of progress. Insert as many swearwords as you can into that sentence, and it wouldn’t be enough.

It happens occasionally ­- I’m tootling along, vaguely aware a lot of nothing is getting done and thinking next week it’ll get sorted. Then I get frustrated with myself and decide to actually sort it out.


Where is that damn wood? Great image from Nic McPhee.

When it gets really bad, I attack the problem in the best way I know how – I write through it. What came out this time was a moment of clarity where I saw the bleedin’ obvious.

A Stranger’s Mind

It always seems to come back to routine. I think I have one, then subtley it deforms into something grotesque and unwieldy: a monster forcing its tendrils through me and taking me over like a rhizocephala does a crab (tweet this if you wanna) (I’m not sure where that analogy was going so I think I’ll just leave it there).

The horror of the puppet crab!

I include this mostly because of how freaky it is. Read the link, I dare ya. (Image from Wikimedia btw).

To give you an idea, here are the things I’ve been trying to do:

  • Improve the blog (visual changes/features/newsletter (now live – yay! – sign up on the right!)
  • Finish a final edit on my current fiction project.
  • Get a list of magazines together to submit my work to.
  • Write a blog post every week (of course).

And there are other things I want to do that aren’t on the list, but always on my mind.

So, naturally I organise these things in a sensible way to maximise the chances of getting them finished, right?


Somehow, my once workable routine has mutated to try and fit all of these things not within a month; not within a week, but within a day!

It looks a little like this:

  • Morning, before I travel to work: magazine list.
  • On the train to work: work emails, followed by blog post.
  • Lunchtime: the blog imporovement stuff.
  • On the train home: edit my story.

What actually happens? I get distracted easily, potter about, and if I ever actually start on something it’s time to stop before I get anywhere. Then it’s on to the next thing.

No wonder I can’t concentrate! This horrific routine’s got me swapping so many hats they bump and fall in the process. All I’m left with is a pile of battered Fedora’s around my chitinous legs.

(The sad part of it is the length of time I’ve been doing this – just take a look at the amount of posts on here and how far they go back. Absurd! But it’s too depressing to think about so I’ll only give it this one paragraph. Done.)

So before my routine bursts through my carapace and wraps me in it’s warm, soft tendrils of despair, I should probably do something about it.

Beat a Path Through the Wood!

What if, instead, I focussed on one thing a week?

Follow this, Red Riding Hood.

When ya feel lost, give yourself something to follow. Image from David Saddler.

So for example, I might say, “this week is a blog-post-generating week” and I do only that.

As sensible as that sounds, it does make me nervous about the next time I’ll get around to working on my fiction writing. If I spend a full week on each of the things I want to do, there could be four weeks between sessions.

No good. This is utlimately supposed to get me writing more fiction after all.

So I need to focus on the most important things first – my fiction writing and blog posts (as they must be out every week).

What are your most important projects, and do you prioritise them? (Ask your Twitter followers)

I need to focus for a whole week on fiction, so I am not generating a blog post that week. That means I need to generate at least two the week before.

In order to do that I need a week focusing on blog posts (I can get three done in a week – it’s good to be ahead).

And the rest? I think I can afford to sacrifice one of my time slots (lunchtime I think) to other activites.

They’re Called Milestones for a Reason

Now I have a path to follow, it seems sensible to have something to aim for.

For this, each week will have one single goal I wish to accomplish. It might be the number of posts I write, the number of words, or to have edited up to a particular point.

Have you set your goals? Do they have a timeframe, and how long is it? Perhaps your project can be broken into smaller goals so there’s always one on the horizon.(Ask your Twitter followers)

At that's as near as I want to get

Measuring is important too. image from Peter aka anemoneprojectors (to give him his full title).


So, here is the method I’ve followed to ensure my mind is my own, and not that of my rotten routine:

  1. Identify the most important projects.
    • What absolutely has to be done?
    • Make sure you don’t pick too many. Ideally I’d say pick one just to be sure it progresses, but I wouldn’t have any more than two if you’re pressed for time.
  2. Pick a reasonable timespan where you will focus the majority of your “free” time on a project.
    • This will of course be one of your main projects.
    • Make sure there is enough time to reach reasonable goals.
    • “Book out” your time on a calendar so you can see how much you actually have. Don’t guess!
  3. Are there other things that need to be done, but aren’t as high a priority? Can you fit them anywhere whilst still ensuring you’ve enough time for the main projects?
  4. Pick some goals.
    • Certainly choose some for the first week of each of your main projects. But you might also want to plan ahead and break down your project(s) into milestones.
  5. Plan some time to review your routine.
    • Put a note in your calendar, once a month, to review your routine. This way you can avoid “routine creep”, and make sure Little Red Writing Hood stays on the path.

Over to you:
Have you ever suffered at the hands of your routine? Perhaps it changed while you weren’t looking, or maybe you get on better without a routine at all! Share your experiences in the comments.

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