With everything you have to do, a writing routine feels impossible. You barely have time to do your laundry or make your bed. You barely have time to run to the store and get dinner on the table.
Your calendar is full of activities. Your house is full of kids.
You yearn to write. You really do. But you’re considering abandoning your creative dreams altogether. Because how can you write when there are more significant, more urgent issues to tend to?
In her beautiful, honest book Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path, Nicole Gulotta invites readers to meet ourselves exactly where we are. Which is really the key to a sustainable creative routine.
In other words, work with your schedule. Work with your responsibilities and the realities of your life.
Of course, you can move things around. You can delegate and hire out. You can wake up earlier.
But if you can’t make these changes, don’t give up.
Below, you’ll find four suggestions from Wild Words for maintaining a writing routine when it feels like you can’t.
Have a mantra. Come up with a quick mantra you can tell yourself when you’re feeling discouraged and wondering if you’ll ever write (or if writing is even worth it). Gulotta shares these examples: “I’m the only one who can tell my story,” “When I write, I nurture an authentic part of myself,” or “One thing at a time.”
What words feel encouraging, inspiring, and supportive to you? Use Gulotta’s suggestions, or create your own mantra.
Capitalize on margins. We tend to think that we need an entire hour (or day) to devote to writing—or there’s no point. Writing in fragments can be hard, but it’s certainly not futile. After all, writing a few sentences and paragraphs adds up. This is how Gulotta wrote her first book, Eat this Poem, and Wild Words.
Gulotta has brought her notebook into her son’s room and written while he’s playing with his xylophone or jumping on the trampoline. She also captures ideas throughout the day, whether it’s a line for a poem, a topic for her newsletter, or a theme for a blog post. “The most important thing is to not let the thoughts disappear, because there’s no guarantee they’ll return,” she writes.
Gulotta also suggests embracing technology—such as using your phone to jot down notes. You probably have your phone with you. All. The. Time. Instead of scrolling social media, use that time for capturing ideas.
Another often neglected margin is waiting: Write any time you’re waiting in line, sitting at the doctor’s office, or even waiting for a slow website to load.
Write through it. Use writing to help you cope with your day-to-day frustrations—whether your creative intentions are to keep a consistent writing routine (about anything) or to write a sci-fi novel.
For example, Gulotta likes to make an “I Wish” list to help her cope with “bubbling emotions.” She suggests picking the most pressing concern and reflecting on how you can solve it. If you wish for more time to read, maybe you can listen to an audiobook on your commute. If you wish dinner would make itself, maybe you can use a meal delivery service several times a week.
Write one line a day. Gulotta keeps a journal by her bedside and jots down her single line before falling asleep. She encourages readers not to overthink it. “Please don’t feel as though every sentence should be eloquent, insightful, or even grammatically correct,” she writes. “I tend to vary my entries between quotes, food I ate, something my son said or did, or how I’m feeling.”
Here are a few of Gulotta’s entries:
- Today’s mantra: cook, write, repeat.
- Plucked two gray hairs from the top of my head. They looked like violin strings.
- Traffic. Yoga. Reading old poems. Worn. Hopeful. Need to recharge. Lesson: Listen to your body.
- Grateful for sunshine.
When your days are full, your writing and your life can feel like competing forces—and life usually wins out. It can feel like the universe is conspiring against you and your creativity. And it’s easy to get demoralized and believe that quitting is your best (and only) option.
But writing in the margins, solving a real-life irritation, or penning a phrase per day can help you stay the course. Because your writing is important. Because it’s a reflection of your deepest yearnings and needs. And that deserves at least a few minutes, a few lines each day.