Friday, January 14, 2011
18 Novelists Share Their Writing Routines
Morning, noon, midnight? All day, a couple hours, a few minutes? In a boat, with a goat, on a moat? Girlfriends reveal their writing routines.
My writing routine involves shuffling to my computer half asleep, and glaring bleary-eyed at the pages stacked up there on the desk that indicate I am, supposedly, writing a book. I then drink copious amounts of tea while reading everything on the internet. And I do mean everything.
When I feel sufficiently guilty--and bored, having read the whole internet--I launch into my word quota for the day. The closer I am to my deadline, however, the more I write, the less I use a word quota (preferring to operate on sheer panic), and the later I tend to sit there into the night. Assuming I bang off a robust number of pages at a decent hour (this never happens, especially if I have distractions during the day, like unavoidable phone calls or lunches or meetings), I have dinner and watch television (I love a good procedural), interact with spouse, then get in bed and read other people's (much better) books before going to sleep. And then I wake up and do it again!
Before I write a word, I have a five-mile run, devour lox and bagel (canceling out the run) and peruse no less than ten internet sites. Then, armed with Extra gum and Cheerwine, I tentatively approach the keyboard. Once I get rolling (sometimes as late as 11 a.m.) and I keep at it until happy hour (5 p.m.) with very few breaks. I also write every day, including weekends and holidays.
I try to treat my writing like a full time job. Once I've gotten the children off to school I give myself 30 minutes for the internet. I even bought myself an egg timer that beeps loudly to try and keep me honest. I have no self-control when it comes to the internet. Hours can go by without me even realizing how long and what I've been surfing. Once the timer beeps I reset it for 15 minutes. I then sit down and meditate.
After that I set the timer for 1.5 hours. This is relatively new as I used to set it for 4 hours and stop it whenever I had to take a break but I read an article about how we are at peek concentration levels for about 90 minutes and then we need a break so I've been trying it and I have to say I like the 90 minute block. I work for 90 minutes and then I take a break. By break I mean I stand up and do something other than sitting at the computer. I fold a load of laundry. Unload the dishwasher. Open some mail. Anything away from the computer and that will take 15 to 20 minutes. Then I go back and do another 1.5 hours. I do this cycle as many times as possible. The first two generally go interrupted... After that I have yoga. Then the kids and homework (the kids not mine) and all the other parts of life. On a good day I can get 6 hours of writing in...on an average day it's 4.5. In the evenings, once the children are in bed, I try to reread what I've written that day so my mind can noodle while I sleep and I am ready for the next day.
My writing routine is mainly over my lunch hour, at night and on weekends. As a result, I seem to have become very antisocial. ;)
When the kids were small, I got in the habit of rising at 5 am every day so I could have some alone time to write before the family woke up. Now they're all teenagers, but I stuck with the routine as I find that I'm most creative and focused in the early hours of the morning.
My routine is flexible by necessity. I'd so love to be one of those authors who escapes to a seaside cottage to craft a rough draft, taking short breaks only to walk on the beach and nap. But since I've got three young boys, my laptop comes everywhere with me. Today one of my sons is taking a test required for him to transfer to a new school. It's a 90-minute test, so my laptop and I will be working together in the lobby of the building!
Rule number one: Along with routine, a muse is an integral part of the writing process. Rule number two: Never count on a muse to comply with routine. If he’s my muse, chances are he’s around back, having a smoke, and tapping into a fifth of gin. Assuming he shows, an optimal routine includes my sunroom on a rainy day, six uninterrupted hours, and the wherewithal to push forward instead of succumbing to editing what’s already there. That said, I’m not opposed to writing in airports, on the front porch, or in the homes of people I’m visiting and whose company has grown tiresome (:
I write all the time, it stretches and snatches, including evenings and weekends. I've learned that the earlier I do it, the better. Deadlines always make me more productive. And I just found this great program called Freedom that locks you off the Internet for a pre-set period of time (up to eight hours). Sadly, it turns out I'm not capable of mustering the willpower to do it all my myself. (http://macfreedom.com/ - and there is a version for both Macintoshs and PCs).
I like to wake up even before the crack of dawn, when it's still dark at 5 a.m. and write for two hours before my 8 year old bounds out of bed with all his energy and the get-ready-for-school rush. For writing, especially first draft and first revision, I love those two perfect, quiet, uninterrupted-by-anything hours. Just pure mind, fresh from sleep, where so much of my plot issues seem to work themselves out, without distraction. Once I get my son off to school and I'm back at 8:30, I spend a good chunk working on my freelance projects (I write 10-15 back covers a month and do freelance line-edits for the publishing house I used to work for) and then when I'm done with my assignments for the day, somehow my brain is fresh again to go back to my WIP, to write or to revise. I revise as I go--I've never written a first draft through without revising, editing, polishing each chapter as I go, though I wish I could!
My writing routine is very simple: get up and write a thousand words
before moving on to anything else. Ahem. Actually doing it is a little
more tricky! My writing brain is much sharper in the morning, so I try hard to
write before responding to emails, going to exercise class, or doing a
million other things that all seem more appealing! And some days the
words are harder to get out. It might take me until noon to get four
or five hundred. So I move on to lunch (always a highlight), walking
the dog, checking the mailbox, reading the paper, and then go back to
the grind.And I always keep Annie LaMott's excellent advice in mind: A dreadful first draft can be improved later!
My writing schedule seems to vary with each book, but one constant is that I set a word goal for each day. This works better than writing for a set period of time. Usually, my word goal is 1500 words per day. I generally don't write on weekends (my brain needs resting and I find I come up with all sorts of ideas when I'm not even thinking about it).
Whether I'm working on a first draft or a revision, I'm thinking about it 24/7. I'm not a good sleeper so I'm often up in the middle of the night, either writing or jotting down notes. I don't have a specific schedule so I basically just work on and off all day and often on the weekends. I do like to get other writing-related stuff out of the way early: emails, blog posts, Facebook, etc. Then I dig into the book. Okay, yes, I'm antsy, so I'm up and down a lot, doing laundry, running errands, and tackling other household tasks. I don't have a set amount of pages I do daily either, although I love it when I get at least four fresh pages done. With revisions, if I can do a chapter a day, that's fantastic! And, somehow, despite what seems like perpetual distractions and disorganization, everything gets finished and turned in on time (or close to it!).
I don't really have much of a routine. I generally just write as much as I can, whenever I can.
Here is my writing routine before sale of debut novel:
• carpool line drop-off,
• brisk two-mile walk to prime the writing pump,
• light a fragrant “writing candle”,
• write straight through lunch into mid-afternoon,
• extinguish same fragrant “writing candle”,
• carpool line pick-up.
Here is my writing routine after sale of debut novel:
• carpool line drop-off, checking email during slow turns,
• walk two miles while searching memory for name of new novel’s protagonist,
• light fragrant “writing candle”,
• perform blogging responsibilities and check email while avoiding: face book, blog stats, Amazon pre- pub sales ranking, and Goodreads shelf count
• pull up work-in-progress and locate name of new novel’s protagonist,
• check email, respond to requests from editor, publicist, sons, miss lunch, complete task for
editor, publicist, sons,
• CARPOOL!!! Drive to school frantically while calling home for someone to extinguish “writing candle”.
I have been a writer for over twenty years and when I think back to my original routines, I actually long for those simpler days. I had three children underfoot and though there was plenty of whining, crying and he-hit-me's to interrupt the creative flow, my kids were still a lot less disruptive than the Internet turned out to be.
For me, Email, Google, Facebook, Syype AIM and online shopping are like a drug, especially on days when my bad girl muse, Ms. Procrastination, shows up and doesn't want to work. Then it's diversion time and boy is it hard to get back into the swing.
So for my new writing routine? The one that keeps me focused and in my chair? It's all about not logging on, not checking my cell, not checking my Facebook page, not interacting with anyone other than my characters, who do seem happier when they have my undivided attention. Best time of day then is early morning when nobody but me and a whole bunch of other writers are up pounding the keyboard.
As for those little kids of mine, now adults (the nerve of them)... I miss, miss, miss, those deliriously sweet days when they'd barge into my little office, tug at my arm and say, "C'mon mom. Be done already. We wanna play."
I don't have regimented hours set aside to always do one task or another, but I work on writing or promotional things for most of every work day. When I'm approaching a deadline or when a book is just about to be released, I work well into the night also. There are a great many business-related aspects to being a novelist that I hadn't realized until after I sold my first book. Those things (like designing/buying ads, doing guest blogs, giving phone interviews, preparing presentations, logging expenses for tax records, etc.) definitely cut into the time I'm able to spend actually writing/editing the novel, but I do try to make sure I'm doing some work on my current manuscript every day.
If I'm working on a novel, I pretty much work straight through from 7am, when my daughter gets on the bus, until 3pm, when "General Hospital" starts. If the writing is going strong, I'll put in more hours and sometimes on weekends. I used to write 7 days a week, but now I only work 7 days a week, meaning lots of times the weekends are devoted to answering business email or doing promotion. People wonder how I can write so much and there's the answer: I treat it as a full-time job.
To be honest, my writing routine is all over the place. I'm not good at sitting at the computer for longer than 2 hours, so I slot 2 hour intervals for writing. For example, I might get up and write from 7-9 am, then do errands or housework till noon, and write from 1-3 pm, and so forth. I find that after 2 hours, my creative juices run dry and the mundane activities I do in between the writing time helps to rev me up again.
I write when I can, but I don't beat myself up for not writing every day. The act of writing can also exist in my head. I can work out plot and character issues in the shower, when driving to the grocery store and while waiting to fall asleep.
Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been, is now a New York Times Bestselling author.
"Sins of the Mother," a Lifetime movie adapted from Carleen Brice's Orange Mint and Honey was nominated for a NAACP Image award.
Laura Spinella has a new blog post "Transaction Complete" with pics from her first booksigning ever: http://lauraspinella.net/blog/ and an interview here: http://www.fictionall.com/