“You need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well. … Don’t wait for the muse.” — Stephen King, On Writing
Writers are often told to establish an early morning routine to get into the flow. So, for years, I’ve been obsessed with morning routines to improve my writing productivity. Yoga, journaling, setting my writing goals, and then starting to write immediately— I was determined to get all this done before the kids wake up. I got up earlier and earlier, first 7 am, then 6 am, then 5 am to squeeze everything in. Until I completely exhausted myself.
Then I switched to an evening routine instead. Not only did it save me time, but it also helped with my creativity and made me feel better about my writing.
Why an evening routine for writers?
“The very act of thinking and planning unlocks your mental powers, triggers your creativity, and increases your mental and physical energies.” — Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog
There are three benefits to an evening routine for writers.
- In the evenings, you are in a good mindset to reflect and set writing goals. The work is done, the kids are in bed, and the house is quiet. You have time to unplug and set intentions for the next day without the pressure of having to start writing immediately.
- You will feel satisfied before you’ve even started the actual work: you go to bed happily, knowing everything is pre-planned and ready to go.
- When you think about tricky writing goals in the evening, your brain gets the chance to digest them overnight. It’s very likely that you’ll come up with solutions or creative ways to tackle these issues when you wake up.
Think of it as helping your future self to get on the right track in the morning.
Here’s a simple evening routine for writers that takes less than 15 minutes.
Evening routine for writers in three steps
Step 1: Wrap up your day with three ‘wins’ of the day
At the end of each day, measure three “wins” that you had that day, and then visualize three new ones you want to have the next day. — Dan Sullivan, The Gap and the Gain
Reflect on the day and write down three things that went well. Maybe you tackled a difficult scene or finally started a new chapter. Maybe you sat down to write for five minutes after having been blocked. Maybe you managed to turn off your phone notifications and write in the flow for an hour. Maybe you just had a good idea and made a note of it. Each win, no matter how small, can go on this list.
If you did get distracted in your writing or feel the day was not your best, then re-frame your thinking around it. Don’t see it as a failure and slip into negative self-talk. The ‘win’ can be that you have learned something from it and you can now commit to changing it.
Reflecting on the day — and focusing on three wins — helps you to finish your day on a positive note. You can now reset and focus on goals for the next day.
Step 2: Write down three writing goals and circle the ‘frog’
“You need to know what you’ll do in a given situation. The decision needs to be made before you get there, otherwise you become inconsistent, constantly going back and forth with yourself.” — Benjamin Hardy, Personality isn’t Permanent
Write down three writing goals for the next day. A new scene for your novel, a blog post, or research for your non-fiction book — whatever has to get done tomorrow. You can also include a behavioral goal, for example, you will not read your emails until lunchtime, or you will turn your phone on airplane mode from 8 to 9 am to write.
Next, look at the writing tasks on your list and circle the frog.
“Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.”— Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog
Commit to swallowing the frog first — completing that goal first — no matter what. Not sure what your big frog is? It might be the scene that requires thinking and effort to make it work, the one that makes you want to go on social media and email instead, the one piece of writing that can give you great results if you just do it.
Here’s an example:
I’m currently taking part in a book proposal boot camp. The task for week one was to write a full table of contents. I was instantly blocked and dreaded the task. I knew it involved a lot of thinking because I didn’t know all the details of the book yet. Still, I wrote it on my list and circled it as ‘the frog’ to promise myself I’d give it a go.
Step 3: Write down micro goals for the frog task
“The important thing is that you got started.” — Neil Fiore, The Now Habit
Since you will start your morning with the uncomfortable ‘frog’ task, you need to make it very easy to get into it. Otherwise, you might abort your list and procrastinate or get distracted by tasks that are less important.
Take your list of three writing goals for the day and write three additional micro goals under the ‘frog’ task.
A micro goal is a tiny task or action that gets you into the writing flow. For example: find my notebook; open a new word document; locate the last version of my scene.
A good micro goal:
- can be completed in no more than 30 seconds
- tells you the exact physical action you need to do
- is a full sentence that starts with an action verb, e.g. open, read, write…
Here is an example of my micro goals for the dreaded task of drafting an outline for my book (my frog):
- Open email from boot camp instructor.
- Open a new excel sheet.
- Copy existing headlines from my word document over to excel.
The next morning, these micro goals — written the night before and ready on my desk — pulled me into the writing flow. It was extremely easy to follow my pre-planned steps and swallow the frog.
At the end of the day, I felt extremely accomplished as a writer. And it went right on my list of three ‘wins’ of the day when I went to bed.
All it took was 15 minutes of evening routine to plan my writing day.