Routine. The most hated and feared word of people everywhere.
Routine? Routine is the essence of boredom, the same thing being done repeatedly day-after-day, a life restricted to steps in a process. Who the heck wants a routine?
One might argue that part of the reason writers write is because of a distaste for routine, they want to rise above the normal human condition, to share the depths of their imagination and revel in the unknown. Routine? Pshaw. That’s for mere mortals, not us author types.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but routine isn’t a four letter word. It’s seven. I checked.
As a writer, you’re likely a victim of routine without even realizing it. Pounding your fingers into the keyboard, generated word after word and page after page, handing things off to betas, passing them along to your editor, cover designer, revisions, it’s all baked into you so much that you don’t even realize that you, too, are part of a routine.
Why should your health be any different?
I would argue that getting (and staying) healthy are just as important as putting down those 1,000 words first thing in the morning. I mean, after all, the longer you live, the more words you can put down going forward, right?
There was a point in my life when I tipped the scales at 325 pounds. I was a big guy and pretty much always had been a big guy. Breakfast was Egg McMuffins at McDonalds, lunch was a Whopper at Burger King (or a cheeseburger at Wendy’s if I really wanted to mix things up), all washed down with copious amounts of soda and french fries. My body was a temple – one of those old Aztec temples that’s crumbling into dust.
So I decided to make a change. In 2002, I told myself that I was going to designate an hour in the morning to exercise and I was going to pretty much blow up my entire diet and start over.
And I did. And have been. For sixteen years. I’ve lost nearly 150 pounds, but more importantly, in my mind, I’ve built a (scary word coming) routine. A routine where I carve out an hour a day in the morning to exercise.
I know, I know – exercise in the morning? That’s unpossible!
I’m a forty-four year old guy, married, two kids, a full time senior management job, and I’ve written 1.1 million words so far this year (publishing 15 books so far in 2018). Trust me when I say it can be done. It’s all about the routine.
I wake up at five, get ready for work, get the kids lunches ready, type for a few minutes if I can. By seven I’m dropping the older kid off at school, then I come straight home and from 7 – 8 I do whatever exercise I can. Most of the time, I run, getting in around 5 miles if I time it just right. When I can’t (or don’t want to) run, I lift weights, ride a stationary bike, or other forms of cardio and high impact. It’s nothing special, but it’s a routine. And hey, for what it’s worth, nothing sparks my creative mind like running… I can almost always work through a challenging scene or sequence when I’m out on the trail, the wind in my face.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand, not everyone can do this. Some people have trickier morning schedules. But the key is, you need to form a routine and set aside a time every single day to follow it. Some days you’ll miss it, and that’s okay, but focus on the next day, and promise yourself you won’t miss it two days in a row.
Some days you can use that one hour to exercise. Some days you can use that one hour to meal prep. Some days you can use that one hour just to get an extra 1,500 words in. The important thing is to carve out that one hour and tell yourself that’s your hour to maintain your health. Then stick with it.
Of course, as the old saying goes, you can’t outrun a bad diet, and I’m going to say it here, too. Health starts in the kitchen. You’ll notice I mentioned meal prep up there, and I did that for a reason. Focusing on real food is going to save you money and save your body, and I’d argue the single most important thing I did for my health was to actually start thinking about what I’m putting in my body. Even if I don’t always stick with it, I am ALWAYS thinking about it, fully aware when I’m making bad choices and ticking off in my head how I’m going to make up for it in the future.
Oh, by the way… losing 150 pounds, changing my eating habits, basically reinventing my lifestyle is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the key to it is routine.
Get in the habit of avoiding fast food, you’ll be surprised how quickly the cravings go away. Get in the habit of not drinking so much soda, you’ll be surprised at how soon the bubbles hurt your throat on the way down. Get in the habit of burning a few calories at designated times during the day, you’ll be surprised at how damn good you feel afterwards.
Habit. Routine. The words aren’t fun, but they might save your life. And if you miss a few hundred words a day because of it, well, you’ll make those up with the extra years at the end.