Since I first began putting pen to paper, I’ve learned there are two basic approaches to writing: Plotting and Pantsing. There are many ways to define these two methods but in the spirit of keeping it simple: Plotters tend to write with an outline, while Pantsers prefer to write by the seat of their pants, letting their stories take flight without a guide.
I used to think a writer couldn’t be both, that you were either a linear thinker or a lateral one, and never the twain shall meet. At least not while engaging in the same activity. Instead, I used the left side of my brain in any situation that required an analytical mindset and allowed the right side to take center stage whenever I wanted to be creative. The chasm between the two was wider than the Grand Canyon.
Especially since, in contrast to the methodical way I was marching through work and life, I was convinced that being creative meant frolicking with my Muse every day in a sun-drenched meadow overlooking sea and sky. Think, The Sound of Music, but without those pesky mountains to climb. It didn’t matter that I’d never approached any task in life that way before, it was just how creatives operated. It was how poets wrote sonnets and musicians composed masterpieces. Wasn’t it how Michelangelo sculpted David, and van Gogh painted The Starry Night? If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.
Except, it didn’t work. Instead of a clean, publishable piece, I ended up with 200,000 words and a whole lot of plot holes. It seemed pantsing wasn’t for me, after all. Something needed to change.
Part Four: Try Before You Buy
I believe there’s a third category that brings plotting and pantsing together in a perfect symbiosis. Granted, plantsing doesn’t really have the same ring to it as Bennifer or Brangelina, but it does have a magic all its own. Of course, it took me awhile to figure out that plotting doesn’t have to mean certain creative death and pantsing is best done in a controlled environment, but I did! What matters is that I tried, reevaluated, and tried again.
The same is true of the routines you build. You don’t have to commit to them forever and always. In fact, it’s likely impossible to do so. Our lives aren’t straight lines, they twist and turn and lead us in directions we never expected. Just because something works today, doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. The trick is to stay open to the possibilities so you can recognize opportunities when they present themselves.
Four years ago, I established a daily lunch hour writing habit that was working…until it wasn’t. A few months into my new routine, I decided to take a leap of faith and change careers. Suddenly, lunch hours were spent in meetings with clients discussing their teams’ marketing processes, or in working sessions with those teams. If I wasn’t onsite with a client, then I was in an airport, an Uber or on a train. The travel was exciting, and the work was challenging, but so was finding time to write. For a while I dedicated much of my business travel time to writing. Planes, hotel rooms, random coffee shops in random cities were all fair game. And that worked, too, until it didn’t.
Starting to see a pattern?
All work travel ceased during the Pandemic, and I found myself trying to work out yet another routine. Any illusions I had about writing being easier in a work-from-home model, were dashed on day one. Instead of using what was once commute or travel time to write, I just spent more hours at the computer, working. My usual eight-hour workday, stretched to ten or sometimes eleven hours, not counting time spent answering emails on my phone.
In a 2009 study published by the European Journal of Social Psychology, researcher, Phillippa Lally, found that it took a group of 96 volunteers 18-254 days to develop a habit. It took me almost two years. Most of 2020 and 2021 was dedicated to learning to cope, with work, with COVID, with a move to a new house, and with changes in relationships with family and friends. I even gave up writing for a while in favor of establishing a new normal.
When I finally came up for air, I did it with a fresh perspective on old faithful. I looked at my calendar, made some adjustments to my timeboxes, and decided to give it a try. Here’s what my schedule looks like today:
Since I no longer have a commute, I dedicate my early morning to writing. Two solid hours is my sweet spot, but I adjust on the days I have less time. My daily, at-home yoga regimen means I don’t have to spend precious writing time driving to and from the gym, and I’m saving a little money by not having a membership. Instead, I walk in the afternoons, or run a couple miles on the elliptical machine in our basement on the days when I need a little extra cardio. Most of my daytime hours are still spent “at the office,” but I’ve managed to timebox most of my meetings into a set number of hours to keep to my schedule.
These days I’m more in-tune to what is and isn’t working. If the transition from one thing to the next doesn’t suit me, I change my mind. You can change your mind and, you will.
If you’ve come this far, you know by now that there’s no one-size-fits-all technique for establishing a solid practice. There’s only you, an intention, and a willingness to commit to the attempt. Over and over again. Good habits inspire change and learning how to adapt them to any situation is what gives them longevity.
It’s how you create a routine that works.
Ready to take it to the next level? To close out this series, we’ll discuss ways to optimize your routine by taking a more mindful approach to everyday tasks.
Have a great week, all!