How I Developed a Daily Writing Routine

It isn’t complicated, but it can be challenging. To develop any daily habit, all you gotta do is do it every day. Here’s how I got there.

Start First Thing in the Morning

I fill three pages every day. I have a big cup of strong, hot, perfect coffee in my right hand and a pen in my left. (Reverse this if you are a righty.) I start first thing. It’s the only way for me. If I start my day with other more pressing things, promising I’ll get to the writing later, my day gets away from me completely.

When I was working full time, I trained myself to get up a half hour earlier on work days. I found that writing before work settled and grounded me. It gave me a place to discover what was really going on with me and to work out solutions. My relationship with the notebook has always been a sacred place where I can say anything.

If You Miss a Morning, Write After Work

On mornings I didn’t manage to write, I felt the difference. I came home and wrote the three pages after work. No longer off kilter, I went on to have an evening. This is how I learned the value of morning writing.

Don’t Worry About What You Are Writing

For years and years, I didn’t worry about what I was writing. I didn’t try to write a particular thing. I used writing to know myself, to be in the world, to find my voice, and to grow. My daily practice was the best way I could demonstrate my commitment to becoming the person I was meant to be. It just happened that that person was to be a writer. The value would have been the same if I had become a scientist, illustrator, mother, or chef.

Another Approach

If you want to work your way into waking up a half hour earlier and writing three pages, try this:

Start in the Morning But Write for a Shorter Time

Wake up 15 minutes early, sit up in bed, set a timer, and write stream of consciousness until the timer dings, then go about your day. (Okay, you can go to the bathroom first.)

Spread It Out Over the Whole Day

Bring a small notebook to work and do 5 minutes of timed writing at lunch somewhere where you will not be disturbed–in the car, in the bathroom, in a park, in a closet. Take another 5 minutes after dinner when everyone is re-grouping, figuring out what to watch on TV, or doing homework. I would do this 5 minutes of writing before doing the dishes. Just pretend you’re having an urgent call of nature, and lock yourself in the bathroom (with a timer, of course!) Then write for 15 minutes again before bed.

A Cumulative Effect

The next morning, your writing will be less cluttered with the previous day’s muck, because you will have dealt with some of that the night before. So just write and let whatever comes, come. Do the same routine each day, working up to 30 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes during the workday, another 5 after dinner, and 30 before bed.

See where that takes you.

And, yes, in about a week, read it all back if you want to, but don’t feel obligated.

Some Common Experiences

Anything can happen, but these are the three biggies.

Suddenly everything else in the world seems more interesting than writing.

There’s almost nothing like making a commitment to make everything else suddenly show up in bold relief, too. Why, you could choose to commit to working out in the morning. You could grab 5 minutes and read a novel. You could send everyone off to homework and surf Facebook for a while.

What to do: Write anyway. Just for one day, put writing first. If you don’t feel accomplished, exhilarated and/or intrigued, then maybe this writing thing wasn’t that important anyway. That’s just fine. But give yourself the chance to know from experience rather than giving yourself permission to avoid and resist, two thinly disguised forms of sabotage.

Out-of-nowhere brainstorms and inspirations

There you are, eyes half shut, writing mindlessly away when suddenly the solution to world peace, what to serve for the dinner guests on Friday, or how to alter that favorite shirt of your honey’s comes flashing onto the page. Or you find yourself writing something like, “I think I should commemorate my fiftieth birthday by learning to skydive.”

What to do: Grab it and write it down. Ride those ideas until they are spent. Then, if the timer hasn’t gone off, quickly underline or put a star there in the margin and keep going.

Big, empty, dry places in which it appears you have nothing to say

What to do: Describe the place you are in. It feels like I have nothing to say, for example. Having nothing to say feels how? Feeling that way feels how? It reminds me of the time___I wish I felt ___. Just keep going, writing your experience now and now and now, being patient, kind, accepting and safe with yourself.

Be a Safe Person To Write For

You must be the ultimate safe listener for yourself. You must not edit as you write. This is not English class. You will naturally judge, label and analyze yourself. Write that down, too: I feel like I am the last to know. I should have gotten this already. How backward and clueless. Etc. But even that must not throw you off your writing. Write through it and onto the next thing. And there will be a next thing.

Expect To Hit Strong Feelings

When I started free writing and morning pages, I thought I would never come to the end of the self-deprecation. I had tapped a lifetime of pent-up feelings that had never been acknowledged or named. I had never had the means to know them. I had to allow them to come out. It was like pulling a shard of glass out of my finger.

And then it was over. I was conversational with myself. I started to discover a voice in there, a sensibility, preferences, a world view, a particular and unique person, neither perfect nor defective, but human. I discovered my humanity by writing down everything that was inside me. Those reams of negativity, while I wouldn’t go back and read them today, are precious to me. They represent the painful birthing of a person. They record the process of becoming real to myself.

Expect Your Life To Change

This process lead directly to my getting off drugs and into recovery. Even a stoner can see, with infinite repetition, that some patterns are just not changing. I remember the morning when it happened. I woke up right there on the page. I recorded the moment when I realized daily drug use was making me come unhinged. It was a wake-up I hope I never forget.

If You Feel You Are In A Rut

The biggest pitfall of the writing life that I know is having the writing routine become a lifeless rut. It is possible to become glib and fool yourself into believing you’re still growing when what you really are doing is vamping.

What to do: Give yourself something new to master. Get out your writing bucket list, and pick a new goal. Right now, I am adding an hour of writing fiction to my routine, and I am taking my first writing class since college. Get into an uncomfortable place. After years of writing, it won’t scare you to be uncomfortable. You will have developed trust and strength. You will anticipate, rightly, that your new project will yield you new openings, greater self esteem and the familiar feeling of “Hey, I’m flying!”

How about you? Do you have a writing routine? What do you do? How did you get started? I would love to hear about YOU in the comments.

With love,


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by Phyllis Capanna © 2015 joyreport

All content is the sole property of Phyllis Capanna and joyreport. If you are reading this content on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA.  © 2015 Phyllis Capanna

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