Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Brought to you by the letter R: Routine

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 15•17

Well my snow dreams have come true and last week a foot of snow fell on our area. And snowlandit’s still here. An unusual circumstance in the Willamette Valley, though I’m now living further east in the valley and closer to the Cascades. It was a snowfall to delight children, wet and heavy, perfect for forming snowmen and lovely enough to delight anyone who appreciates beauty that comes wrapped in winter. I walked as it came down in a white whisper, rose before dawn to be alone outdoors in the hush as it continued to frost branches and bushes, and later stepped out at night to witness pearly moonlight streaming down on the laden trees and glimmering ground. And then it turned to ice.

So I’ve been sequestered indoors a lot. I finished editing a client’s manuscript, I’ve puttered, made soups and one-pot meals, I dreamt so vividly of living in Victorian times that when I awoke in the 21st Century I was truly startled, and I’ve thought a lot about how I want to be involved in politics this year and what I’m going to write and accomplish.I’m especially thrilled to look ahead because 2016 was hectic and hellish.

For me, writing goals and plans are all accomplished by a routine. A routine that nourishes, centers, and gives me what a friend calls the ‘sacred space’ to fall into words and stories. This routine is anchored by early rising, but also allows for late-night inspirations and writing scraps in notebooks. It involves reading widely, listening closely, noticing what needs to be noticed, jotting random notes and impressions, and focusing once I’m at a computer. It begins with making a cup of Earl Grey tea,recalling dreams, and opening a document. I don’t pause or warm up or freeze, I just start in.

It was wasn’t always this easy to just sit down and begin. In years past there was fidgeting and avoidance and doubts. Now, I still fidget, pace, and doubt at times. But not before I start. And the writing gets done anyway. I keep moving forward no matter my state of mind or aches and grievances. Something happened to me 20-plus years ago when I finished writing a novel. I never sold this story though I came close, but I learned so much in accomplishing it and somehow I mysteriously crossed a chasm that had defeated me for years with its yawning vastness. And I wrote that story while working three jobs, in my attic apartment at a scarred wooden desk that overlooked treetops. I wrote it as dawn arrived and although I drove a crappy car and worried about scraping together the rent and didn’t know what the future held. I finished it because a routine gave me backbone when I needed it. Then I got six books published.


Alas, I don’t have a magic formula for your routine, although I do believe in writing first thing as the day dawns. It needs to be aligned with your rhythms, schedule and desires. Maybe you hate mornings or your kids are early risers. Maybe you can only write in coffee shops.

No matter. I know with great certainty that you need a fixed and reliable routine. A daily or near-daily immersion in the world of words. I guarantee that routine trumps fits and starts, waiting and longing and making excuses. Writing is not a waiting game. It’s a push-yourself-no-matter what, roll-up-your-sleeves game. 

I will go out on a limb, however, and suggest it’s likely that you don’t need to scrap everything you’re doing now and carve out a whole new routine.  Few of us have the luxury of scrapping our lives and starting over. Many of you probably need to tweak and adjust and go to bed earlier. Watch less television. Maybe you need to ease into writing a novel by spending some time outlining. Or maybe you can slip in small bursts or start writing during your commute. Maybe you need to create a playlist that keeps your spirits buoyant. Or two playlists, because you might want one for quiet immersion and another one for when you want to crank up the tension or suspense. I’ll bet something you’re already doing right just needs more of you. So it adds up to a routine. 

A routine brings strength and purpose. A routine simplifies your days, reduces stress, and lassos time for what matters. Writing. Storytelling. Connecting.  A routine brings quiet within the way snow silences the newly-white world.

I would love to hear about your writing routine. Meanwhile, keep dreaming, keep writing, have heart



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  1. Dan Haag says:

    Sticking with a routine is often an exercise in frustration for me. Just plunking down where ever and when ever I have down time and writing is not the answer, though it’s the best I can do sometimes. My best efforts are usually in the quiet of the early morning, like 5 am.

    • Jessica Morrell says:

      Dan, Thanks for reading and I understand your frustration. Like you, the quiet of 5 or 6 a.m. work best for me. But I left out something in my suggestions–routines and habits work for many reasons. Lots of neuroscience studies have been done on how they work or don’t work. What I’ve found is that a routine is a powerful signal to the layers of consciousness that it’s writing time. And then your subconscious, unconscious, memory all join to help.I like to think of them as inner librarians that dig into the book stacks and start bringing you just the perfect book, along with all its words and images, to make the writing happen. Good writing to you in 2017. Jessica

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