J. Zachary Pike's

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My Daily Writing Routine

Otto von Bismark famously said, “laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made.” I suspect that independent novels also fall into this category, and so I must warn you that any romantic notion of the American fantasy author that you still hold is in great peril. Ignorance may, in this case, be bliss.

But for the brave and/or morbidly curious, I’m going to record my daily writing routine.

Photo of My Writing Station

4:00 AM: Wake Up. My morning starts with the alarm going off at 4 AM. Most explanations of my writing process also end with the 4 AM alarm as well—usually the listener raises his or her eyebrows and walks away with a bewildered shake of the head.

I know waking up so early is “eccentric” or “abnormal” or “absolutely bonkers,” but I’ve always been a morning person. If writing doesn’t get me out of bed, reading or video games or even just thinking will. My mind fires on all cylinders in the morning.

(Conversely, my brain shuts down at night. Case in point: I’m blogging this at 8:00PM, and I wrote “$:00” three times in a row in a misguided attempt to start this section with a capital “4.”)

4:00-4:05 AM: Vacant Puttering. I may be a morning person, but waking up to an alarm is still decidedly unpleasant. My morning begins with a some bleary-eyed staggering around my bedroom and ill-tempered grunting. Towards the end of this stupor, I assemble a morning outfit out of whatever clothes and pajamas I can find on the floor like some-sort of bedroom-dwelling decorator crab and stumble downstairs.

4:05-4:15 AM: The Essentials. Once downstairs, I immediately brew some coffee. As a rule, I grind the coffee at night so I can be sure that it’s waiting in the french press by the time I get to the kitchen. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough.

As the water boils, I browse the news on my iPad. When the coffee is ready, I pour it into my favorite mug (a souvenir my parents brought me from London), settle into my comfy chair, and pull out my trusty MacBook. It’s time to get productive.

4:15-4:25 AM: Browsing the internet. Okay, this isn’t that productive, but I always find myself starting a session with a mix of writing and browsing the internet. This is not a productivity method that I would advise. On the contrary, I’d welcome any tips you have for not doing this.

The fact is it takes me a while to get into the groove while I’m writing. Maybe it’s the caffeine kicking in slower than I’d hope, or the time it takes me to really wake up. I suspect, however, that no matter how awake I am, I need a while for my mind to pick up the narrative threads that it set down a full day ago and get cranking again. And in the meantime, there are some really funny videos on Facebook.

4:25ish AM: Holy crap! My writing goals assume that I write for two hours a day. This might seem like a bad assumption, since it would require me to teleport from my bed to the writing chair, but the faulty logic has one useful side effect: I’m always startled into a productive panic when I realize that nearly a quarter of my “writing time” is gone.

4:30 to 5:59AM: Pomododo Sprints. I use the Pomodoro Technique to write, albeit imperfectly. I’ll break at 22 minutes if I’m getting distracted, and occasionally I’ll work through a break if I’m in the zone. Because of those discrepancies, a Pomodoro purist would tell you that I do it incorrectly. (That represents just one of the reasons that nobody likes Pomodoro purists).

I use tomato-timer.com to time my sprints and breaks. It works perfectly and it’s free.

5:59AM: Transcendence. After three Pomodoros, I’m in writing nirvana. Plot lines and witty quips dance before my eyes, and I am at one with the narrative. I know exactly what I need to write next, and I could keep going for hours. If only…

6:00AM: Back to Reality. The alarms go off.The children wake up. We only have a few minutes left to get out the door for a busy day. I save my work, back it up, and pack away my MacBook. Whatever I’m writing will have to wait for 4:15 tomorrow morning.

And that, folks, is how the magic happens. With my recent adventures in Habitica, my morning sessions have been more productive and consistent this year, but beyond that recent change this is largely how I’ve been writing for years.

How do you work on your passion projects? Any tips for increased writing output? Submit a comment or drop me a tweet.

4 thoughts on “My Daily Writing Routine”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This is great Zack. I love it. I could do this. Well, minus the $:00 wake up I think. Thanks for sharing!

  2. GT says:

    Something I’ve found useful to “get into the groove” – as you describe in your 4:15am web browsing – is having a song that I listen to on repeat when doing work (over and over and over). I find this also helps get me into the “Transcendence” state a bit quicker too, especially if I’ve been using the same song for multiple work sessions in a row. It’s like an immediate reminder to my brain that it’s now work time.

    I will note though that the songs I select tend to not be music I’d listen to during other parts of my day. They need a consistent tempo and typically to be so pop-ish that I don’t get distracted by the music; white-noise ready songs. For example: I’ve been using this song quite a bit recently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBIE8waeHCI)

    Nice blog article buddy! I enjoyed it, especially as a fellow early riser.


  3. Laura says:

    Did you hear about Cold Turkey already? If you don’t need the internet or at least no time wasting websites, you can schedule your writing time and never worry again. 🙂 I love that tool and I cured my youtube addiction with it.

    1. Thank you for telling me about this. I installed it this morning.

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