What we should—and shouldn’t—learn from other writers’ writing routines

Why is everyone so obsessed with other writers’ routines? I think it’s because we all feel like we’re somehow doing it wrong and are endlessly searching for validation. Quick tip: you won’t find it. Why? Because we all do things differently. What we can learn from other authors is to feel confident in our own routine and supported by a sense of community.

So, without making ourselves feel inferior or developing unrealistic expectations, how can we use other writers’ routines to discover our ideal writing routine?

Be realistic

A lot of the blogs you might find on this topic are written by best-selling, full-time authors. Chances are, that’s not us.

Steven King says:

‘The way that I work, I try to get out there and I try to get six pages a day. …When I’m working I work every day — three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean. So if the manuscript is, let’s say, 360 pages long, that’s basically two months’ work.’

If you find yourself thinking ‘I can’t be a proper author until I make it my full-time job,’ then delete—delete—delete that train of thought. You’re a proper author if you write. Not if you write ten thousand words a day; not if you have a writing shed at the bottom of the garden; not if you brag about ‘flow’ to your online readers. You just have to write.

The time trap

Murakami says:

‘When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours.’

So, now you’re thinking, ‘Five or six hours! Fat chance. And the only way I’m ever getting up at four a.m. is if my toddler jumps on my head.’

Ignore how much time other people have. Personally, I write for an hour in the mornings; sometimes I have time to do more, but I simply can’t maintain the necessary concentration for longer. I’m sure my capacity will extend over the years, but for now, I’ve had to conclude that it’s a lack of writing stamina, not a lack of time, that limits me. That’s actually good to know: I have no excuse to bemoan my lack of time.

For some of you, the idea of finding a solid hour a day in which to focus on writing may seem laughable—so you have to figure out what works for you, not judge yourself by someone else’s standards.

E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web amidst the chaos of a busy family life, wrote:

‘A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.’

Inspiration or perseverance?

Should you only write when you feel inspired, or keep ploughing ahead regardless? Without a doubt, you will write better content when you’re ‘in the zone’ and feeling the creative flow. But, be honest—how often is that? I know that if I only wrote when I was full of inspiration, I’d never reach the end of a novel. Sure, the parts I write when things are flowing are better; but I can improve all the other parts during edits. Inspiration is wonderful, but perseverance gets you further.

Hemingway gave some advice which I find useful for finding the middle ground with this:

‘Stop when you know what is going to happen next, [and] go on from there.’

If you stop writing while you have a clear sense of direction, then it will be easy to pick up the momentum again the following day. So if you’re one of those people who finds it hard to get started, then this is worth taking on board. I’m talking to myself, here: I often spend the first twenty minutes of my writing time wondering where I’m going. Another trick to defeat that paralysis is to edit yesterday’s writing as a warm-up exercise before you start on today’s words.

John Steinbeck advises,

‘Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.’

Thanks, mate, but I’m ignoring that one.

Plotter or pantser?

This is one of the biggest writing traps—wanting to pigeonhole ourselves into one of these camps. We’re probably all a bit of both; embrace it. If you do no planning, chances are good that you will lose momentum and find it hard to complete a first draft. If you do too much planning, you might scupper your creativity and not be open to what your characters need.

Once again, take what works for you from both camps. You can pants your way through a first draft and then do a load of planning before you edit; you can plan out the first draft and then tear up the whole structure and rearrange everything during edits.


You can find lots of sound advice, lots of inspiring advice, lots of contradictory advice. If you tried to follow it all, you would end up in a Jekyll/Hyde situation. Now, I wonder which of them would have written a better novel…?

Anyway, the main thing we can learn from other writers’ routines is that we are our own person, not a clone of our literary hero. And that’s fine. We can write a book like theirs without modelling our writing routine on theirs.

The one thing all professional writers agree on, and that we can’t afford to ignore, is the importance of showing up. Be consistent. Even if you only write/research/plan/edit for a short while each day, don’t procrastinate and put it off until you have the right conditions. Your inspiration, your desire to tell a story, is the only condition you truly need. All the rest is window dressing.