filed under How To Write A Book.

The one question I’ve been asked by readers at every event over the last two months has been about my writing routine. I know I’ve blogged about it before, but probably not for a couple of years, and I’ve just realised I have lots of new readers who haven’t read my previous posts on the subject. So, given the number of questions I’ve been asked about it lately, I’m going to shed some light on my writing routine.

The 4 Parts of My Day

My day basically falls into 4 parts.

  • Part 1: 6am-8am, which is before the kids go to school
  • Part 2: 8am-2.45pm, which is when there are no kids in the house and I can work
  • Part 3: 2.45pm-7.15pm, which is when the kids are back and it’s all about them
  • Part 4: 7.15pm-9.15pm, which is when the kids are asleep and I get back to work

Part 1 is all about making school lunches, getting breakfasts for everyone, getting a load of washing on and hung out to dry, getting the dishes done, making sure everyone’s ready for school etc. I like to get as many household chores done during this time as possible because I don’t want to waste my work time on chores.

Part 2 is where the writing happens (more below).

Part 3 is a mix of taking kids to and from dancing and other activities, folding washing, making dinner, supervising homework, getting kids bathed, listening to kids read and reading to them, and getting them into bed.

Part 4 is where the admin of my writing life happens: invoicing, preparing for events and courses I’m teaching, writing blog posts like this one, responding to interviews, emails, social media etc.

I like to divide my day into discrete parts because then I know where to focus my energy and attention for those hours. I find I waste time if I jump from one task to another i.e. from writing to preparing a course, or from writing to hanging out washing. So yes, you can see I very much have a routine. But let’s look a bit more closely at what happens in the writing part of the day.

My Writing Routine

Writing Sprints

I’m a big fan of writing sprints. The idea of sitting down for 2 hours to write can feel a bit like torture. But sitting down for 30 minutes to write feels much more achievable. If I’m really focussed, I can write as much in a concentrated half hour as I can in a poorly focussed 2 hours.

So I divide my writing time up into 30 minute writing sprints. The first of these begins at 8.30, after I’ve cleared out my email and quickly checked social media for the day. I can now write 1,000 words in half an hour, but that’s because I write hard and fast. I don’t edit, and I’ve been doing it for a while so my output is higher. Four years ago, I might have managed 500 words in half an hour.

It means that if I do 5 x 30 minutes sprints, I will walk away from the day with 5,000 words. It will have only taken two and a half hours to do those 5,000 words, split up into 30 minute blocks.

The Non-Negotiables

Exercise

Exercise is my first non-negotiable. I must exercise each day. Because I spend so much time sitting in front of a desk, it plays havoc with my neck and back. Therefore I have to get up and get moving for the sake of my body.

I also find that exercising during my writing time refreshes me and brings me lots of ideas. I don’t listen to podcasts when I exercise, but I might listen to music. I like to clear out an empty space in my mind and not fill it with other people’s words. I like to allow the words of my story to come to me while I’m walking, swimming or at yoga.

Each day during my writing time I will go for a good 40 minute walk or swim, or go to a yoga class which is 1.5 hours.

Lunch

I always break from my desk for 30 minutes for lunch. I used to eat at my desk but it’s so bad for my posture. I use my lunch break to read through a research book that’s related to the novel I’m writing. I’ll sit outside or somewhere different to my desk and read, take notes and eat.

Tea

Cups of tea are my lifeline. Again, it gives me a reason to stand up and stretch, which is so important. And writing seems to flow so much more easily with tea!

Other Stuff

Of course there are other things that interrupt my writing day. School assemblies or sports days or phone interviews or meetings. I try not to have too many of these interruptions in one week – just one if I can manage it, otherwise it really starts to interfere with the flow of my writing.

And there are just the basic things like grocery shopping, which must be done. Friday morning is my half-day, where I’m at Coles at 8am, grocery shopping until 9am, then at yoga until 11am. I really try to make the most of those extra pieces of time early in the morning, which are so easy to waste. So, rather than dropping the kids at the bus stop and then checking email and social media until it’s time to go to yoga at 9am, I make sure to use that hour before yoga to do a job that must be done.

So, that’s it! My very boring writing routine explained in minute detail. Hopefully I haven’t put you to sleep, and hopefully it’s vaguely interesting to some people. Of course, this is my routine for school terms; the school holidays are an entirely different matter!

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19 Responses to “My Writing Routine”

  1. E. Susan Dunn

    Thank you for sharing so openly and in so much detail, Natasha. It’s always helpful to know how someone who is an accomplished writer works their day. I know that best laid plans get messed up sometimes but it’s much preferable to have a plan than otherwise.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Yes, exactly. Having a plan means that when the inevitable interruption is over, I know what I have to sit back down and do. And, no matter how many interruptions there are, it’s usually possible to squeeze in at least one or two writing sprints.

      Reply
  2. Sally Hepworth

    Love hearing how others use their writing days! Mine are all over the place.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Understandably, given you have an adorable little baby in your house right now! I don’t have to stop and breastfeed every couple of hours so I can actually have a routine. Fly back in time a few years and I was all over the place too – but learning to write whenever and whenever, just like you do, was one of the best skills I learned from those years.

      Reply
  3. sonyaf

    i do 24-minute writing sprints also. have you heard of the pomodoro technique? it’s a time management method using 24-minute blocks of work time interspersed with little breaks. if you haven’t heard of it before it sounds like you worked it out for yourself!

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Sonya, yes, when I interviewed Lauren Sams, she mentioned she used the Pomodoro Technique and she explained to me what it was. I couldn’t believe that a similar version of what I’d been doing had so fancy a name! I don’t think I do the exact Pomodoro, but close enough I guess!

      Reply
  4. Natasha

    This is timely for me as I’m working out how to get baxk to writing. I have a 3.5 year old home with me 24/7 and finding uninterrupted time to think let alone write is stressful.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      I remember those days! I wrote my first 3 books with 3 kids at home and while it seemed so hard at the time, I’m actually really grateful for it now because it taught me discipline and to be able to write in small pieces of time, both of which are skills I depend on now. Good luck with it – I’m living proof that it can be done!

      Reply
  5. Jessica Hamby

    Thanks for sharing, Natasha! I love how you have non-negotiables. I’m working on them, especially exercise, but I’ve a long way to go. 1000 words in 30 minutes is incredible. Something else for me to aim for 🙂

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      I didn’t have those non negotiables for many years – in fact, it’s probably really only been this year that I’ve drawn a line in the sand and told myself I must keep those things scared. And it’s made a big difference. In fact, taking the time out to exercise ends up saving me writing time because being clear headed makes me more productive anyway!

      Reply
  6. Rosemary Argue

    Hi Natasha, thank you for sharing your writing routine with us. It’s great to know how others write. I have a question though, I’d be interested in how you edit your work or redraft as I find this is a much slower process than writing a first draft.

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Thanks Rosemary! I basically work out how many weeks I have for a redraft – usually about 8-9 weeks as I like to complete a redraft in school term time. Then I divide that into the number of words I have in the first draft, usually about 110,000. I’ve just finished the second draft of the 2019 book, and I worked through 16,000 words of the first draft each week, rewriting, adding, deleting etc. For some reason, this book has been a dream book to write and I actually did about double the number of words each week. But, generally, a redraft will take me about 8 weeks or so.

      Reply
  7. Ingrid

    Thanks for this great insight Natasha … I see that self discipline is the key – probably my greatest weakness 😐

    Currently I am nursing / recovering from a broken shoulder (cycling accident) … perhaps I can utilise all this ‘spare’ time I now have to be doing some productive writing?

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Ingrid, I think you’re right, it really does come down to self-discipline. I guess I was lucky, in a way, to have had to write my first 3 books around kids’ nap times. It taught me not to waste time, and it taught me that I could write in small pieces of time, without waiting for ideal conditions. It didn’t seem like a blessing at the time but now I look back and I’m so grateful for what that time taught me.

      Reply
  8. Marilyn Rainier

    Hi Natasha, thanks for this very helpful advice. Can I just ask you…When you say ‘write’, do you write in longhand or work on the computer? If it’s on the computer, have you always written this way or did you switch at some stage?

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Marilyn, I always write on the computer now. For my first 2 books, I did a lot more by hand, but after that I was more easily able to write straight into the computer. It does feel different writing by hand and if I get very stuck, it’s something I try.

      Reply
  9. Jill Bartos

    Hi Natasha, Your idea of breaking the day up into parts is brilliant. It’s helping me to plan a schedule that’s somewhat flexible as I begin “pre-drafting.” I’ve been reading your posts about the Pre-first Draft you do when beginning a novel. I’m interested to know, do you type the first 20K words in Scrivener and are these scenes typed in separate documents like you do in the Drafting stage? Or do you type one long 20K document that you divide up later? Thanks so much for sharing your routine and writing process. I wish I lived in Australia and could take your plotting workshop. Perhaps you’ll offer an online course some day?

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Jill, thanks so much for your questions! I write the first 20,000 words of pre first draft straight into Scrivener. I divide it up into separate scenes and often those scenes are very short, almost vignettes as I try to work out what’s going on. It works for me doing it on Scrivener because I can write any scene in any order and know that I can easily reorder later once I’ve worked out the story, or just delete if needs be. You’re not the first person to ask if the plotting masterclass will be available online so I might just have to get onto that someday soon!

      Reply
  10. Sarah

    Hi Natasha, your insights are always awesome and I am going to try a version of this. My downfall with writing is that I’m not yet published and I work from home as a communications and media consultant. I find that my planned pockets of novel writing time too often get swallowed up by my paid work, which is often unpredictable, and in my head still always has to take precedence because there is income attached to it. I often resent this but it’s a reality I have to live with. I’m hoping a more defined segmentation of my day – similar to yours – might help. I love the idea of the sprints and I’m going to give them a whirl. How do you make night-time work valuable (the 7.15-9.15 slot)? My brain doesn’t achieve much at that time of day. Also, how do you get your kids to bed by 7.15? I start the bedtime routine for my four at around 7 but it’s closer to eight by the time anyone is actually settled. Anyway, thanks again.

    Reply

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