How to Escape the Limits of Your Routine

How to Escape the Limits of Your Routine

Every writer has felt the tug of new ideas. They crop up in the middle of another project, demanding your attention. Feverishly, you increase your pace, hoping to reward yourself with more work at the end of your regular work. A chance to let the plot bunnies nibble and clear your head for tomorrow’s work. While lots of writers advise working on one project at a time, lots of us still use side projects as a reward for inching ever forward on the big stuff.

Lately, I’ve struggled with balance. I have ideas piling up, demanding attention. I want to fit them into the extra hours of my day – but there are no extra hours. It’s true that I regularly meet my daily writing goals. My off-days have become few and far between, and I’m grateful I can maintain that momentum.

When I started writing full-time, my biggest struggle was getting work done. Suddenly, a million tasks needed my attention. Despite motivation and inspiration, I never accomplished anything writing related. So I came up with a plan. I divided my day into pieces and scheduled my work in blocks. Since that time, several people have complimented my steadfast discipline, but developing that discipline took a lot of time and muscle. I still feel the unending pull of Youtube and Tumblr. Epic 80’s music binges happen. But at least my work gets done.

As we have moved through different timezones, I’ve shifted that schedule to fit my situation. There are ideal times for social media (usually measured by North America’s Eastern timezone). When I lived in England, I did my interactions in the evening. Now that I live on North America’s west coast (Pacific timezone), it’s imperative to interact in the mornings. The more I’ve fiddled with and compartmentalized my schedule, the easier it is to switch out certain tasks until the timing works.

Or so I thought.

Though I’ve been meeting my writing goals of late, I don’t feel successful. I want my accomplishments to feel rewarding. Instead, I feel like I spend half the day in panic-mode, worrying about how I’ll ever get finished. I want time for extra projects. I’m sick of feeling like I ‘steal’ time at the end of every day just to relax. I’ve been drowning in the process and that’s no good; writing should feel exciting and rewarding even when it’s tough.

How had I gone from successfully disciplining myself to accomplish a satisfying amount of work to feeling like I worked every moment but barely accomplished anything?

The first step was to track how I spent my time. As I mentioned before, I started keeping a daily calendar. Not only did I record my to-do list every day, I marked how much time I spent accomplishing each task. By doing this, I hoped to find wasted time (and boy did I ever). I used to spend my entire morning on social media, interacting with other writers and potential readers, a must if you want to succeed as an indie author. But that time grossly outnumbered the amount of time I spent writing in the afternoon.

No wonder I barely felt like a writer anymore.

I tried to limit my social media time. The draw of networks like twitter and tumblr can be difficult to escape. There are tons of resources, chats and interesting people at your fingertips every hour of every day. But while social media can increase your contacts, it doesn’t translate directly to sales in many cases, and it can suck up all your time and energy if you aren’t careful. The amount of interaction I used to achieve on social media crept into my consciousness and I kept trying to do more. My writing continued to suffer.

It may sound as though I’m blaming my writing struggles on social media platforms; I’m not. I quickly realized my second problem, aside from how I spent my time, was ‘expectation creep.’ Now that I’ve spent a few years successfully producing novels I, somewhat mistakenly, believe I should be able to produce the same quality of work at a faster pace. The belief that I should be able to accomplish two projects at once is somewhat arbitrary; who says that I can magically write faster just because I’ve been doing it for awhile? Writing takes as long as it takes. But I could see the marks of wasted time on my calendar. I could find a way to utilize that time, but I would still have to adjust my expectations.

I’m a creature of routine; spontaneity is something that I struggle with. I like my day to follow a predictable outline. But in the end, life is chaos, and flexibility allows us to overcome unexpected challenges faster and more efficiently. I had become a victim of my own rigid discipline. My routine had begun to stifle me. Spending my mornings on marketing left me tired and stressed by the time I sat down to write. If something went wrong in the early afternoon, it might be late afternoon or early evening before I wrote a word. The more circumstance compressed my writing time, the more it stressed me out. I even resisted tools like automation, fearing scheduling any kind of social media message would make my interactions ‘impersonal.’

In a moment of clarity I asked myself; what is most important? The simple answer was creation. I want more time to write the novels and stories dancing in my head. Marketing is important for indie writers, you can’t sell anything without devoting time to it. But the misery I’ve been generating by devoting an abundance of my time to it isn’t counterbalanced by the benefits.

I threw my schedule out the window.

When you start a new endeavor, it’s difficult to keep on task if you have nothing and no one holding you to your goals. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to create a habit, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. In the 5 (!) years I’ve spent writing full time, I’ve certainly developed enough habits to hold me on course. I don’t need my old tactics anymore. They’re only stifling me.

I created a new schedule, because having one makes me feel at ease. I created it around the idea of flexibility and, so far, it has worked. I have slotted marketing and social media into the quiet spaces between writing and editing, space previously eaten by procrastination because I need a break anyway. I forgave myself for not being able to be in two places at once and even started using a small amount of animation to free myself up for more meaningful online interactions.

My frustrations haven’t disappeared. I still worry I’m not doing enough of the right things in the right places at the right time to find my audience. But I’m happier. I’m writing more. I’m stressing less. At the end of the day, I’d rather feel happily accomplished than frustrated and vexed. I’d like to believe if I keep writing, keep putting myself out there, I’m going to find my audience, however slowly. And while I remain a creature of routine, I have learned not to let my routine take control.

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