In January, 2014, I quit my job and moved to a new city, where my partner had landed a job. Rather than look for a job myself, I decided to dedicate myself to writing full-time, and the two of us would live on one income, for one year.
Which was a thrilling, and also terrifying(!), decision.
On the one hand, I have this unprecedented chance to fully immerse in something I've wanted to do pretty much all my life (I have two decades of novels in various states of presentability -- most of them are better off buried in the hard drives!)
There's also a (crushing, at times) sense of responsibility. THIS IS MY CHANCE OMG DON'T SCREW IT UP. So that's productive.
It's taken me am embarrassingly long time to figure out what works. After so many years of having a schedule set for me -- arrive at work, read emails, respond to emails, go to meetings, complete tasks on deadline -- a day left totally open to me was as intimidating as a blank sheet of paper can be.
In the first month, I thought, well, I'll just write every day; how hard could it be? Turns out, it's hard! I don't know about you, but working from home has always been difficult for me. There are always so many other things to do. I'll sit down to write and then remember that I forgot to empty the dishwasher, or there's a load of laundry that could go in right now, or the dog will remind me that he'd like to sit in my lap or play with me or -- LOOK THERE'S THE POSTAL WORKER I MUST BARK AT HIM.
Then I started clocking my word counts, and that helped a lot. I started an excel spreadsheet and put all projects into it, and logged how many words per day I managed. For my personality, it was motivating, because I'd look at the count and think, okay, I managed 1800 words, what's 200 more? Let's try to get to 2000 today! And then when I got to 2000, I'd think, okay, maybe I could squeeze out another 250? What about 500? My daily goal was 2000, and with this system, I found myself exceeding it frequently. If I didn't meet it one day, I'd make it up the next day.
I tried setting up a schedule for myself, but I found myself breaking it constantly. When your days flow, it's easier to accommodate changes than when you are beholden to someone else, or a corporation. I'd get frustrated at the broken schedule, and I'd feel like the entire day would go past and I'd have gotten so little done that I felt depressed.
At about month three (I'm a slow learner) I noticed that when I was able to have a good, productive morning, my whole day was more productive. If I had a crappy morning of frustrations, chances were higher that my whole day would be almost a wash. So I decided to focus on strategies that would make my mornings the most productive and inspiring that they could be, and then let the afternoon be free to take care of itself.
Here's my morning routine (which, I should say, I am not able to follow EVERY day because, you know, life!):
1. Get up, make a green smoothie. This has replaced breakfast for me most days. I find it filling and energizing.
2. Take the dog for a walk. We try to walk for at least a half hour, and sometimes up to an hour. I try to use this time productively, to think about story points or work out some characterization problem as we walk, otherwise I find I start getting frustrated that I'm not at my computer writing.
3. Come home, make coffee, start writing. The most important part of this phase is a trick I learned from another writer/artist/creative friend of mine: no internet before noon. If I'm really stuck, I let myself look up something (if I'm writing a historical novel, for example) but no email, no reading blogs, no Facebook, no Twitter. I usually just switch off the wifi on my laptop, unless I'm working in Google Docs (which I've been doing more of recently.)
4. About half-way to noon (I start around 8 so that's usually 10 for me) I take a break and get a snack. Walk around. Stretch. Sometimes I'll also switch projects, or switch to working on something else within the project, unless I'm on a roll in which case I let myself ride it out. I find that, for me, my brain is not that good at focusing on ONE thing for more than two hours, so I let it do something else.
5. Noon: Make lunch.
By the time lunch hits, I have usually already made my 2000 word count (or very close to it), so after lunch is dedicated to things like catching up on news and blogs, posting on my own blog, working on other non-writerly things, running errands, and working out. The most important thing, though, is that the morning is complete and has been productive and inspired, because that sets me up for the rest of my day.
One thing I had to struggle with was fitting in exercise. In the past, I strongly preferred to exercise in the morning, when I'm at my most energetic. So I was torn for several weeks between wanting to write and wanting to work out. Both writing and working out make me feel really good, but writing felt like it was more pressing. Now that I'm half-way into month six of this routine, I think I want to try switching it up a little and fitting in a workout in the morning, after my walk. That will delay my writing start time by an hour and a half, but I can also move lunch out to 1:30 and still preserve the "no internet before lunch" rule.
We'll see how it goes!