Thursday, March 19, 2009

What is Your Daily Writing Routine?

It has happened more than once now, people asking me what my daily routine is. This question invariably comes from other writers—aspiring writers. I understand it. I’m curious too. There is a sense of wondering if you’re doing it right. There’s no writing boot-camp where a drill sergeant teaches you to rise before dawn and field-clean a Word doc in under eight minutes. There are legends of course, like any mysterious, romanticized profession—and let’s face it, a profession done alone and in secret that invents people and even new worlds, is pretty mysterious. The best legends are drawn from the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, hanging out at coffee shops in Paris, or the Inklings meeting on Tuesday nights at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford to read aloud their newest works.

Some people don’t care about where, when, or how they work. My wife, for example, is very utilitarian and can work in a cluttered laundry room with the television blaring in the next room and be just fine. I tend to be an idealist—one of those people who embrace the atmosphere as much as the work. How I live my life is just as important to me as what I do with it, and I tend to embrace the traditional cliché. If I go to an Irish pub, I don’t want to drink Budweiser and watch basketball on a flat screen; I want to drink a pint of Guinness and play a game of darts. If I go on a picnic, I want a basket and a checkered cloth. So while I have written in less than perfect circumstances, I do make an effort to imbued my writing life with the ideals of writing.

I don’t wear a tweed jacket with suede patches, (usually jeans and a t-shirt), but I do have an “office” or “den” if you prefer, with a door I can close.



As you can see, I line the place with books and dark woods. I’d love to have a fieldstone fireplace and a secret door behind a built-in bookcase, but one does have to make concessions. I use a computer to write—an IBM laptop that I plug into a keyboard and monitor at my desk. Some writers insist on the virtues of handwriting and then transcribing into text, but personally, I’ve never understood that since I think far faster than I can type and I write by hand at a snail’s pace if I want to be able to read it later. The hand-writers would claim that this is the very point of using a pen—to slow down, but I find that creativity comes in deluges and if the pipe is too small to accommodate the flow, much is lost. The only time I use a pen is in my notebook when I am jotting down notes I want to remember. Usually this is done when I don’t have access to my computer—I almost always carry a little Molskine notebook with me just in case inspiration strikes.

I use MS Word (2007.) I used 2003 until just recently, being reluctant to change tools. I also use WordWeb, a free downloadable application that I find indispensable as it allows me to ctrl+right click any word (regardless what program I am using) and instantly bring up a dictionary and thesaurus on that word. Add to these, the Firefox web browser, and you have all the tools I use on a regular basis.

My average “writing day” then begins first thing in the morning. By eight AM, the kids are off to school, my wife to work, and I am left alone in a quiet house with my dog, Toby. I make a pot of coffee from a special mix of decaf and caf, which I have over the years determined to suit my metabolism. I drink perhaps four cups of strong, black coffee over the course of the morning as I write and if it were full strength, I’d probably have a heart-attack.

I settle in at my desk, with my coffee and my dog at my feet and check email. By nine, it is time to dig in. I have a playlist on iTunes and a radio station on Pandora both of which are called “writing music.” Fact is, I can’t read or write if someone is singing. The lyrics interfere as I start listening to them. It is like trying to compose a sentence while someone is speaking to you. Still, dead silence is dreadful. Music, I found, greases the skids. Emotional, dramatic, or soft and soothing, music can evoke a mindset for creating. The best I found for this are movie scores. Not soundtracks mind you, not a compilation of songs, but the theatrical, background scores, the music you usually don’t consciously hear in a movie. I find it works the same way while writing.

So with the music playing, and my dog resting on my feet (Toby is an American Fox hound we rescued from a shelter last year), I begin by re-reading the last page or so of what I wrote the day before. I edit it as I read and this gets me in the mood to write, it also refreshes my memory of where I was, the flow and the pace and when I hit the blank edge of the last line, I know just where to go next.

So far, I have never had writer’s block. Someone asked me that recently as well. I’m not even sure what that is exactly. Does that mean not having an idea to write about, or locking up in the middle of a project? Perhaps it means both. I have had it where I was stalled while I searched for the solution to a logic problem, but that usually only lasts a matter of hours a day or two at the most.

I write until noon or one, then I stop for lunch. I eat alone in my dining room where I read a textbook on history. I only read it when I eat as it lays open so nicely and eating alone demands something to read. I usually only read a page or two each day, but I have managed to read several massive textbooks this way.

If the day is nice, I usually head outside after lunch. I take Toby for a walk in the woods, or ride my bike on the trails, or (if it is spring) I will set up my easel on the patio and paint oil on canvas. I only paint outside, and by July the misquotes make it impossible. The family returns near dinnertime, which I cook—stews, roasts and soups in winter, and lots of grilling in the summer. After dinner I might write for an hour or so more, then I read until I’m too tired to keep my eyes open, then turn out the light.

As mentioned, this is a “writing day” and days vary greatly. With the launch of my first book, I haven’t had many writing days. Most of my time is spent in promotion or editing. The desire to create is gnawing at me, but with the release of Avempartha only weeks away, there is little chance I will have the luxury of enjoying many writing days in the near future. I have this idea in my head that if I push hard now and manage to succeed enough to gain a following, then I can return to writing and let the momentum carry me. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a lie. Something tells me that the need to promote never ends. Luckily, all the books in this series are done, or I’d be panicking right now.

That’s my writing routine. If you’re interested in the daily routine of other writers and famous people in general, check out
http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/
after visiting this, I found it fascinating how many writers choose to write in the mornings and not at all after that. Here I thought I was just strange.

Do you write? When, where and how do you do it?

1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete