The Key to a Successful Writing Life Is Not Worrying About Your Morning Coffee

This article was originally published by The Writing Cooperative.

I move a lot. I love to travel, and the majority of my life can be packed up in a bag and carried on to the next place I’ll call home: a new town, brimming with possibility. The drill is familiar by now. I meet new people, scoping out acquaintances, co-workers, and possible friends. I find a go-to food truck when I’m in need of something delicious and satisfying. I love the uncertainty of it all, and the opportunity to throw myself into a new and exciting situation because it stokes the creative fires within me.

I feel the same way whenever I travel.

On the road, I can feel myself brimming with prompts — single sentences or “keen observations” that give me a little tingle inside, that I know are the beginning of writing something good. If you write, you know exactly what I’m talking about…the feeling that you now have an idea, a meaningful idea, where you can sit down and fire off a free-flowing stream-of-consciousness piece and be proud of it.

 Evening coffee enjoyed in Ubud, Bali

Evening coffee enjoyed in Ubud, Bali

I’m usually overwhelmed with prompts when I’m traveling, because hey — I’m just there for a little bit! It’s easy enough to block out all the irritants of daily life — whether or not my fridge is full, if I have car problems that need fixing, or what my tax return will be like — because I’m on vacation, and there’s no need to worry about the administrative duties of daily life on vacation.

When I travel, I can just sit down and write.

But we can’t always travel, can we? It’s easy to sit down and write when I’m traveling, but to be a successful writer I need to write when I’m home as well. At home, it’s much more difficult to find an inspirational prompt that will strike me in the middle of the day, forcing me to sit down and write.

At home, there is trash to be taken out, bills to pay, and breakfast to make. All of these things make for easy distractions — especially if I’m feeling particularly uninspired. It’s easy enough to say “I’ll write tomorrow”, because I have things to accomplish today.

I aspire to live what I think of as A Writing Life, where I sit down and write meaningfully every single day. It doesn’t need to be a polished piece ready for someone else to read — perhaps I could write about personal things that I’m dealing with, or just sort through ideas I’ve had. But each day I will dedicate time to make it to a certain word count, and see where the flow takes me.

In normal life, it’s easy enough to say I have too much else to accomplish to write my thousand words today. Yoga needs to be practiced, and my body needs that more; dishes need to be cleaned, or else I’ll seem like a bad roommate; my mind needs to be clear before I can write, so I’ll go for a run instead.

We all have our own little “excuses”. It’s not that we don’t want to sit down and write…because we know that it’s the only thing that’s going to make us feel better. It’s just that when writing becomes another thing to do on the list, along with a hundred pushups and grocery shopping, that we forget to truly create the space that we need to craft our personal Writing Lives.

This year, I’ve worked in Colorado, Alaska, and Hawaii — three very different places, requiring three very different levels of household chores. I continue to write as I move and as I settle in. Living in such different places gives me an endless supply of prompts that stoke my creative fires, and for that, I’m ever thankful. I’ve written a lot this year, but I always want to write more.

I love the lack-of-routine that traveling affords, but to achieve a true Writing Life you need a certain degree of routine in your life. The little tasks in life can’t consume your energy; they need to be taken for granted so that you can focus your energies on your writing.

To be a successful writer, you need to produce a lot of high-quality writing content. Anyone who’s ever tried knows that this is much easier said than done, and it means that you need to create the space in your life to write.

If you’re a morning writer, you can’t wake up in the morning worrying about what you’re having for breakfast, or whether or not you’re going for a run. Those decisions take up valuable emotional energy, which you need for your writing.

If you plan on having a truly productive day, you need to know you’re going for a run after your first writing session of the day. And you need to stick to that.

You need to know how you’re making your coffee, and what you’re having for breakfast. You need the lower-level problem-solving done and in the bag before you can worry about higher-level problem-solving — like writing.

That’s why it’s so important for us, as writers, to have a routine. Not a routine for life — odds are that would suffocate most of us — but a routine for writing. One that will ensure we have a comfortable place to work, a time that we dedicate to being in that space, and a good idea of what we want to accomplish when we sit down.

Writing isn’t easy. You can always sit down and type, but to write something worthwhile requires a much higher degree of emotional energy, and it’s your duty to give yourself a routine that will ensure you maximize the energy you have for writing, every single day.