Sunday, 13 January 2013

Routines Suck, But Are Necessary

I've been inspired recently reading Stephen King's On Writing (check out my gushing review here), particularly by the writing regime King "prescribes."

He spends the morning working on the current composition, writing with "the door closed" until he's reached his arbitrary goal of 2,000 words. He saves naps and correspondence for the afternoon, and spends the evening enjoying his family, reading, and working on whatever revision he cannot ignore.

Sounds like heaven, right?

That's four to six hours a day focusing on writing, in some way, shape, or form. I admire his perseverance (2,000 words a day is like EXTREME NaNoWriMo writing) and envy the freedom he has to do what he wants.

Learning to write well takes practice. You must fail on a daily basis. That means writing all the time. Every day. Though the 21 day rule might not be true*, it does appear that habit forming activities have a sort Pavlovian response. Creating those behaviors is key to molding the habit, refining it, and keeping it. This is why as writers, we need to write every day.

Unfortunately, parts of my days are eaten up with this pesky little thing I call my job, so I take my writing time where I can get it. Here is my writing routine:

1. I write early in the morning, which is something I've heard in writing classes and read in advice books again and again. Not all of us are morning people (thankfully, I am - my eyelids start drooping at about 11 PM and I naturally wake up around 7:30 AM), but the morning is a great writing time. Nothing's happened in your world yet - no nagging obligations or pressing responsibilities. Your mind is clear, your imagination piqued (waking up from a strange dream can be a huge motivator for me). Use your morning time wisely.

2. I created fun associations with writing to help ease me into the mood. Instead of at my desk, I write at the kitchen table where I can spread out my papers. Before I start writing, I brew a pot of coffee. If I feel like it, I erase the previous day's quote from the chalkboard wall, spend a moment browsing writing quotes, select the one which most reflects my writing mood that morning, and write it on the wall. That's where you see those pictures in my Weekly Wrap posts. It all feels very silly, but I enjoy it. I roll right out of bed, put on the coffee, take Boo out, feed her, and sit down still in my PJs. There's nothing fancy about it.

3. The only thing I don't necessarily agree with in Mr. King's prescription is sticking to a solid word count, especially 2,000 words. That's a mammoth feat to conquer each and every morning**. I just aim to write something, anything. It can be a blog post, a new story, a writing exercise, new material to add to the manuscript, something. I sit down and make myself do it and I don't get up until I do.

That's it. It's very simple, but I have found in the short time I have kept this routine that I'm naturally chipping away at my revision, I'm writing more than ever, and it has started to become a habit. I feel guilty on the days I don't have MORE time to write. If I have the time after work or class at night or in the afternoon, I utilize those precious hours as much as humanely possible. If I'm working the lunch shift at the bar, I get up earlier to create time.

At first, I felt rushed and like I was setting myself up to fail each morning, but instead, it's done the exact opposite. My brain now wakes up ready to drink that first cup of coffee and get going.

Try it! I believe every writer should find what works for them, but I do believe that committing to the craft on a daily basis is crucial. You can't wait for the lightning strikes of inspiration***. They're pretty, but rare and you'll spend more of your time waiting for them than actually getting to the task at hand. You have to write when you aren't inspired, when you don't feel like it, when you didn't sleep the night before.

It's all part of the process and if you do, I think you'll find you improve every day. Happy writing days, y'all!


So, writers, what's your secret? Do you have some quirky routine that you follow or ways to get the words flowing? Share below! 

*Looks like it takes us more than 21 days to form a habit - about 66 instead. Hang in there, folks!
**In college with my first manuscript, I somehow cranked out between 2,000 to 4,000 words a day. Momentum was a much different monster though and the writing was slow.
***But if you get one of those strikes, don't you dare waste it! They are precious, but few and far between.

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