Ask the Coach: How Can I Build a Consistent Writing Routine?

By Jenna Avery • September 15, 2022

You’ll find periodically that your schedule will need shoring up — boundaries and routines get disrupted by travel, illness, schedule changes, and more. Sometimes that means reworking the schedule. Sometimes it means re-upping the commitment. Either way, see a writing routine as something that can be refined over time.

Welcome to “Ask the Coach.” As a writing coach, I answer questions from writers about making the work of writing happen, tackling craft, business, and personal questions along the way. (Have a question you’d like answered? Check the details at the end of the article about how to submit one.)

Today’s question is about how to build a consistent writing routine:

“My biggest challenge is getting into a creative rhythm. It’s almost like I’m trying to write the perfect script and I catch myself overthinking than just writing freely. How can I start a consistent writing routine that will coexist with my overall day (work, family, etc)?“

Great question and you’re in the right place. As a writing coach who specializes in helping writers make the work of writing actually happen, this is my wheelhouse. Having said that, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned working with hundreds of writers over the years. Think of this as a menu of options you can choose from, and customize as you like.

Here are some tips to help you start to establish a consistent writing routine and rhythm for yourself:

1. Begin with sustainability in mind.

Many writers have fantasies of “finding” big blocks of time to write. However, even if you’re lucky enough to have that wish come to fruition, for many writers (not all) it works out to be more productive to work consistently for smaller increments of time.

In order to be consistent, a useful strategy is selecting a sustainable level of effort for each of your writing sessions. Let’s say you’re aiming to write every weekday. Imagine that you’re trying to put in 2 hours a day. Is that sustainable for you and your specific life circumstances? Maybe, maybe not. For many writers with day jobs and families, it isn’t.

Your task is to land on an increment of writing you can easily complete during each writing session. Ideally, this will be a measurable increment of writing. Maybe that’s 100 words, or 500, or 1,000. Maybe it’s 15 minutes or an hour. Pick something you feel confident about being able to accomplish and set that as your writing session goal. If you select a word count goal, try to identify how long that typically takes you to complete, so you can design it into your schedule.

2. Study your own “resistance threshold.”

Writing tends to feel harder to return to the longer we’re away from it (this is why consistency is so valuable for so many of us). Each of us has our own “resistance threshold,” which is the amount of time that can pass between writing sessions before push-back against writing kicks in. For some writers, it’s 24 hours. For others, it’s longer. I personally prefer taking weekends (and vacations) off to spend with my family, though when I first started writing I worked every day because otherwise, I found restarting too painful.

Pay attention to when it’s still easy to get back to writing, and when it feels too hard. Then adjust your writing routine to stay inside the easy range.

[Ask the Coach: Who Do I Send My Script To?]

3. Explore your optimal time of day for writing.

When do you find you’re most creative and ready to write? Ideally, you’ll schedule your writing time to match (this isn’t also possible, granted). Many writers find that writing in the early morning or later evening allows them to focus outside the day-to-day expectations of availability our culture puts on us, alongside other practical matters, like parenting. Many writer-parents I know prefer to get up and write before their children wake up, or after they’ve gone to bed. This is not necessarily easy, mind you, but it’s doable. (I have two children myself.)

4. Trim time from less fulfilling activities.

While you’re reflecting on your routine, look for opportunities to trim time from other less fulfilling activities. These days, it’s so easy to fall into our phones and devices and streaming services and “lose” time. Putting your writing before those activities puts you in touch with who you are and what you’re meant to be doing. Those less fulfilling activities are surprisingly exhausting, though we often don’t realize it, because they’re masquerading as downtime. Fill your well with your call to write (and with other meaningful activities) and you may discover unexpected energy for writing and for the rest of your life.

[Ask the Coach: Odds & Ends — Building a Script Library, Seeking a Universal Script Structure Method, and Finding Courses]

5. Design a writing schedule.

Using your writing session goal and a sense of the optimal spacing for your writing sessions, design a schedule that includes your other commitments, responsibilities, and personal delights, including your day job, family time, and leisure time doing things you love and fill you up. You’ll be more creative and productive as a result of taking care of yourself this way. Design time to get enough sleep, exercise, and downtime too. Leave some flex time in there while you’re at it, for unexpected events. It’s a lot to factor in, but it’s important.

I suggest using a blank week-long calendar you print out or using a calendar app to design a writing schedule inside a brand new empty calendar as you map all this out.

As you work, you may realize you want or need to revise your writing session goal at this point to make it more sustainable, once you see “on paper” what your target schedule will look like. That’s great! You’re using information to refine your process.

6. Build in writing associations or triggers.

Once you have your target schedule set up, further build out your routine by adding associations and triggers into it that help you know it’s time to write. For example, maybe your schedule calls for morning writing, so you plan to write first thing after waking up and making a cup of coffee, sitting at the kitchen table. Or maybe you plan to write after you get the kids tucked into bed, make herbal tea, and curl up in a big armchair in your living room with your laptop on your lap. Creating the association between time of day and other actions you normally take helps writing at that time become “normal” too.

7. Implement and refine.

Now, start putting your new routine into practice. Keep every writing appointment you make with yourself as sacred as if you were scheduled to meet with a trusted advisor or an author you deeply admire. Periodically review and adjust your routine and schedule as you learn more. If something doesn’t work, try something new. It’s not failure, it’s information.

You’ll find periodically that your schedule will need shoring up — boundaries and routines get disrupted by travel, illness, schedule changes, and more. Sometimes that means reworking the schedule. Sometimes it means re-upping the commitment. Either way, see a writing routine as something that can be refined over time.

***

That’s a Wrap

I hope this helps you begin to craft a consistent routine that works well for you. I didn’t address what you mentioned about trying to write the perfect script and overthinking — a great topic for another article — but I will mention this: writing consistently fosters flow, idea generation, and creativity, so this should help you along the path toward “writing freely” as you mentioned, along with giving yourself permission to do so.

Thank you for submitting your question. I wish you all the best with your writing.

***

Screenwriters, what challenges do you run into that you'd love to see us address in our articles? Take our short survey here.

***

Submit your question to be answered anonymously via my online form here or email directly to askthecoach@calledtowrite.com. Look for answers to selected questions in my monthly “Ask the Coach” column on the third Thursday of the month. And reach out to me on Twitter to share your thoughts: @JennaAvery.


Learn more about the craft and business of screenwriting from our Script University courses!

MUST READ

DON’T MISS THESE CONTESTS

SUBMIT TO WRITING GIGS

THIS MONTH’S EVENTS