Building a Writing Routine one Minute at a Time

For those of you who are writers out there, I am curious, do you actually have a routine that helps you be productive with your writing?

If not, is it because you don’t feel the need for a routine since you are consistently productive without one? Or did you try to establish some kind of regular schedule or goal-setting and it just didn’t work?

Routines?! Ugh

Personally, I have rebelled against routines all my life. I’m not sure why. Maybe they seem to remove the creativity and novelty from life. Or maybe they make life too predictable, and I’ve always loved surprises, unique experiences and new possibilities.

But now that I’m older, I appreciate how routines simplify life and make room for what is most important to me, things like family, friends, and writing. I’m even trying to establish a routine for meal planning! Unbelievable.

I’ve finally realized that I need a writing routine because it’s still not working to “get everything done on my To Do List and then write.” (I know people say it’s impossible to get everything done on your To Do List, but I don’t understand why, so I’m still trying to.)

A To Do List seems to act just like Facebook’s news feed: when you get to the bottom, it magically adds a whole ton more, so you can never, EVER finish reading your news feed. And it feels like for every item I cross off my List, five or ten items magically appear at the bottom.

The one minute a day challenge

In my last post I mentioned writing courses, and how helpful the Reedsy courses were. In one of the lessons of “Stop Procrastinating! Build a Solid Writing Routine,” they go through some ways of setting goals that will make it easy to establish a habit of writing regularly. One tip mentions having a tiny goal.

Oh sure, I thought. I can’t wait to see what they consider a “tiny” goal. With my schedule, I doubt if I can find the time to write even 100 words that are intelligent and meaningful EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But what they suggest is considering starting with one minute of writing, or three words. Every day. Until the habit is established, then adding more.

Well, I had to laugh. That just sounded funny, and fun. So I had to try it and see what happened.

(If you are interested, at the end of this post you can see 3 days’ worth of what I came up with, using various writing prompts)

So? Any thoughts? And by the way, if you do have a routine that works for you, will you share it?

I’ll close with a story that gave me a chuckle, about James Joyce, who was apparently a notoriously slow writer:

“A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair. ‘James, what’s wrong?’ the friend asked. ‘Is it the work?’

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always? ‘How many words did you get today?’ the friend pursued. Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): ‘Seven.’

‘Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.’ ‘Yes,’ Joyce said, finally looking up. ‘I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

attributed to Stephen King

You might also enjoy this post, “Write Everyday, Right?”


A 3-Day Sample of me attempting to establish a writing routine by writing one minute each day [Unedited!]

Day 1 Writing Prompt from the website Writing Fix: “Create a title for a story using unique alliterative words that begin with A, and write the story”

Adorable Avery arranged the alpacas

The chill of the morning turned little Avery’s short breaths into steam, and, as it bent down to nuzzle the clay bowl of breakfast scraps, Blondie’s breath puffed into Avery’s face. His face only coming up to the llama’s belly, Avery nevertheless barked out his annoyance. “Back! Back! You greedy girl! You’ll be last with such bad manners!” He turned away from the tan animal and squeezed his small body between two black llama’s even larger than Blondie. Setting down the bowl, Avery ducked under the necks of the hungry animals, then climbed between the round posts of the fence.

Giselda, Avery’s mother, watched from the window of their family’s small shack. She smiled, then closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun. “Gracias,” she sighed. She was watching a promise come true.

* * * * *

Day 2 Writing Prompt from the website Writing fix: “tiny pig dashing over the North Pole”

Dear tpdotnp: For crying out loud. It’s been three months. Surely you trust me enough to reveal the mysterious meaning of your username. Greg75

Dear Greg75: Okay. You’re right. I do trust you. Even though you chickened out. Tpdotnp

Dear tpdotnp: You know very well I got stuck in traffic. The four-car pile up? Remember?

Dear Greg75: Just joshin’. What are you doing right now? We could attempt another meeting.

Dear tpdotnp: I’m at work. Supposed to be working, but there are no customers, and my shoulder is still too sore to stock.

Dear Greg75: Sigh.

Dear tpdotnp: Why don’t you come on over?

Dear Greg75: Are you kidding?

Dear tpdotnp: No.

Dear Greg75: Give me the address and instructions on how to get there.

Dear tpdotnp: Black’s Photo in Southcentre.

Dear Greg75: See you in about forty-five minutes.

Delsie knew that Southcentre Mall was only fifteen minutes away. But she wanted to spy.

* * * * *

Day 3 Writing Prompt from the book, Writer’s Book of Matches, p.32 “What time is the next train?”

A man dressed in a suit and groomed sharply stood behind the yellow band of the light rail station, awaiting the train. Motionless, he stared down at the concrete beneath the steel rails for a minute without seeming to breathe or blink. It was 6:45 and the sun shined benevolently on this tardy friend, who was expected at a restaurant near his home, an hour’s train ride away. He inhaled deeply, silently releasing the breath. His expression wasn’t angry or sad; just thoughtful. Or neutral, without any thoughts. Or overwhelmed, with a crisis or a whirlwind of ideas creating noise in his head. Certainly he was oblivious to the sounds and people that came and went around him.

He looked tired now. Had it been the outburst of tears from the little girl who tripped going up the stairs to the parking lot? Clenching his jaw, he’d only glanced backward at her for a second before returning his gaze to the tracks. Was he willing the tracks to hum with the approaching train? Or did he even care if the train came? Did he care if he made it to the restaurant? Did he care if he saw his friends?

* * * * *

Okay, now that you’ve read some of my attempts, care to share one of your short writing practices in the comments section? Aww, come on…

Image courtesy of Pxfuel,

The Institute of Children’s Literature

The Institute of Children’s Literature

Long, long ago in the spring of 1996, I found an ad about the Institute of Children’s Literature in West Redding, Connecticut, offering their course on writing for children.  I was impressed that they required their students to take an aptitude test before accepting them, so I decided to take the test.

A few weeks later, I received a letter congratulating me on passing the test, along with a personalized commentary of my writing.  The Institute invited me to register for the course, which wasn’t surprising to me, since I figured they probably wanted as many students as possible to pay the tuition.

As parents of two young children in a one-income family, however, we really could not afford luxuries like this—nor did I have the extra time and energy to devote to a class.  Besides, I wasn’t convinced that I needed a teacher to hone my writing skills, and I already had some of the course books.  So I thanked them and explained why I wasn’t registering.  But I kept their letter and complementary comments about my writing skills, and over the years that followed, I dreamed of one day being able to take the course.

About a year ago I was able, so I researched many different online and traditional children’s writing courses, and read some online reviews.  As far as I was concerned, the “Writing for Children and Teenagers” course offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature still looked like the best.

I sent in a slightly different aptitude test (this time via the internet) and was delighted to receive their congratulations for the second time on passing it.  Then they surprised me by telling me that I hadn’t needed to re-take the test, because they had already accepted me into the course in 1996.  Imagine an organization that keeps initial contact documents for fourteen years!  I was impressed.

I am now working on Assignment 8 of this 10-part course and love every minute of it.  Well, maybe not every minute—it is hard work, but still enjoyable.  Here are some of the benefits I’ve found:

  • Students receive an assignment binder, assignments & course books in the mail, then email assignments every 6 wks or so.  I’ve typically gotten a response from my mentor within 3 to 7 days.
  • No problem getting an extension (I needed one at Christmas time, and the extra 2 – 3 weeks was great)
  • Each assignment is about 30 pages (plus assigned reading in the course textbooks—very manageable and flexible according to your time constraints).
  • Instructions are step-by-step, not intimidating or overwhelming, and if you want additional exercises there are more than enough.
  • Students have options for payment (I saved a bit of money by paying $730 in a one lump sum payment).
  • Most of what a student writes as assignments are ready to be submitted for publication—especially after revising per the mentor’s comments.
  • The Student Center on the ICL website is extensive with many resources, including chat rooms.
  • There is a nice camaraderie with the mentor; we don’t just send letters about the writing assignments.  It feels like a friendship.
  • Students get a free trial of the excellent Children’s Writer newsletter, published by ICL, with the latest info on markets and writing for children (very worthwhile, so I’ve subscribed).

Even after doing my own studying into the art and skill of writing for over fifteen years, I am learning a lot from every single assignment.  More than anything else, I appreciate my mentor’s personalized and very detailed edits, comments and suggestions on all of my writing.  The work is strenuous, but the help, support and encouragement are wonderful.

The school has fulfilled all of its promises and I highly recommend it!