Play to Your Edge: Maintaining a Writing Routine

person standing on edge of rockWhen I tell people that I’m writing a book, they eventually ask about my writing routine. My response usually starts with, “It depends…,” because, while I generally write each night before bed—and occasionally can devote an entire morning or afternoon to writing—I may also go several days without putting pen to paper (or, I should say, fingers to keyboard). My routine (or lack thereof) seemed to fall into the “I write when I can” category.

I wanted to do better.

I knew, for instance, that Earnest Hemingway wrote daily, while standing up, and clocked at least three hundred words per day—he also weighed himself every morning and documented it in pencil on his bathroom wall (Okay, perhaps he’s not the best example.). On the other end of the spectrum, Neil Gaiman has revealed that boredom is the key to his creativity, and so he takes regular walks that allow him the headspace to come up with new ideas. I needed something in between to help me mend the gaps in my writing routine.

So I started waking up an hour early every morning. Whether I used the time to write, journal, read, work out, or some combination, this small adjustment to my schedule energized me and sparked a feeling of productivity that lasted the entire day.

Then one morning, I had to wake up earlier than usual for work. I forwent my morning ritual, stumbled out of bed, brushed my teeth, threw on the outfit I—thankfully—had picked out the night before, and left. When I got home, all I wanted to do was plop into bed and shut my eyes. And so I did.

The next morning, I woke up later than usual—and groggier than usual. Sluggishness and unproductiveness clouded my day. When I finally sat down to write, the task at hand felt monumental. I didn’t know what to write; I just felt an overwhelming pressure to do it. But the words were caught somewhere in transit, inaccessible.

The rest of that week was a downward spiral: My journaling was sporadic and uninspired, I finished my leisure book and had nothing lined up to read next, I had no idea what the point of my scene-in-progress was, both my critique partners had to cancel our weekly chat, and, on top of all that, I had no advice to write about for this blog post!

My intention for waking up early was to complete a task before I started my day, thus boosting my productivity. Failing to wake up early (a task in itself) meant I now had more to do in less time. And the more I thought about needing to do those tasks, the less I felt capable of actually doing them. I had taken motivation and turned it into stress.

I needed to take a step back.

There’s a yoga concept called “playing to your edge”—that place just outside your comfort zone but not so far past it that you’ll sustain an injury. The tricky part is, your edge today might be much further than your edge tomorrow. But the mind has already documented the progress you made today and established it as the new standard.

Therein was my problem. I was operating on the inherent desire to do better than yesterday, but imposing that standard was only hindering my ability to meet it at all! Instead, I needed to play to my edge.

The next morning I woke up with the sun, made some eggs, and got on with my day. And that night, the words flowed again.

So whether you operate on the level of “I write when I can” or on the level of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” embrace your edge—wherever it may be today—and let it guide your routine.

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