“What’s your writing routine?” If you’re a writer, you’re going to get this question or one of its derivatives: “Do you write every day?” “When?” “How much?” “For how long?”
I wish I could describe myself as the kind of person who gets up at 4:30 every morning and writes for two hours. Well, maybe 5:00. As far as I’m concerned, 4:30 is not an hour of the morning. It belongs to the night before. The truth is I’m a sporadic writer, an episodic writer, a make-a-new-resolution-every-few-months writer. I’ve only had two routines that have ever worked for me.
The first is to sit down with my calendar at the beginning of a year – which for me is August or September, since most of my other work is based on the school calendar – and block out a week every month just for writing. I actually put it on the calendar as if it’s work or a social engagement. For that week, I park my car around the corner, turn off the phone and the Internet, drink endless cups of Earl Grey tea and write, sometimes at my desk, sometimes on the couch, wrapped in a throw. When I’m describing this to other people, I often tell them “I have a writing month every week,” as if that were possible in this particular time-space continuum. Wishful thinking.
During my writing weeks, I write ten poems or ten pages of whatever novel I’m working on, each day. My poet friends get a very peculiar expression on their faces when I say phrases like “ten poems a day,” so I hasten to assure them that most of them are truly awful, mere exercises that warm me up and get me ready to write a decent poem or two. I have to sneak up on poetry, pretending that I’m not trying to write anything worthwhile, until something I like suddenly appears amidst the dreck. This means writing a lot of very bad poems. With fiction, it’s different. As soon I’ve tapped into the voice of my narrator, I’m usually good to go.
If I’m writing poetry, I sit crossways on the couch and write very messy early drafts by hand with a fine point (0.7 mm) Uni-ball Vision Rollerball pen on a white legal pad, with lots of crossings-out and arrows to move lines to different places. Journal entries go into a notebook or bound book – in unpacking my books and other office materials from storage, I recently discovered that I have over twenty-five notebooks awaiting me, all clean and fresh, so maybe I should stop buying them for a while. A few years ago, I broke my attachment to writing fiction by hand, and started composing my novels on my computer, either at my desk or in the living room. I’m a fairly fast typist, so I can keep up with my thoughts, but I tend to take a “two words forward, one word back to correct a typo” approach.
I have to be very careful not to break my commitment to myself in any way during my writing weeks. If you’re a workaholic, as I am, it only takes one sniff of work to lure you to some dark alley where you’ll find yourself hooked on responsibilities again – a meeting attended, a workshop taught, even an email answered – and there goes that writing week. I wrote a note to myself several years ago, which I post when I’m fearful of sacrificing my writing for other work. It reads: “No phone, no electronics, no other people before 1:30 pm.” I recommend writing something like that for yourself. Feel free to adjust the time and admonitions as needed.
The other writing routine that sometimes works for me is to write fifteen minutes a day, every day. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be smart. It doesn’t have to connect with what you wrote yesterday or what you’re going to write tomorrow. Just fifteen minutes sometime before bedtime. If you miss a day, you don’t have to write thirty minutes tomorrow. Just start again with fifteen minutes. I invented this process when I finished my MFA, a time when many people stop writing for a while to recover from all those words. I wanted to keep myself going, so I started with the fifteen minutes a day plan – and wrote my first novel that way.
So now it’s your turn. When do you write? How much? By hand or the computer?
Share your own writing routine with the rest of us in your comments, and come join me at the next Piedmont Laureate event:
Flirting with Your Reader: A Workshop for All Writers
South Regional Durham Public Library – Meeting Room
June 15, 2017
Find out more about this and other events at https://piedmontlaureate.org/readings-events/
Love these tips! I’ve started making my breakfast time my writing time – I hardly ever skip breakfast so it’s a good way to keep consistency! Love that quill and inkwell. What a treat.
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Slow Reader said:
Wonderful essay, Mimi! By sharing your routines and rituals with us, you help us understand that the most important thing about writing is to simply do it.
In whatever way works for each of us. I will never be able to match your poetic productivity; if I write one line of poetry a day I am very pleased. But that is precisely your point, you have your way of writing poetry and I have mine.
Reading now The Way It Is by William Stafford, who apparently wrote a poem a day and junked hundreds/thousands of them.
I can only write my poems by hand in wide-ruled composition notebooks which have blue covers, the cheaper the better because I love the thinner paper.
And only with BIC Cristal 1.6 mm pens, which leave gobs of ink all over the pages. Which keep me from taking my poems too seriously!
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Elizabeth Emerson said:
Such an intimate peek into your writing routine and life! Also some great advice about shutting out the distractions that impinge upon our creative process. I have found that sometimes if I give myself permission to “just do it for 20 minutes”, that the 20 minutes expands into really long and productive time, whether it’s writing or painting. Also, if I tell myself that it’s just going to be something I create for myself only and that no one else will ever see it, I create some of my best work.
Thanks for sharing!
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