Writing Routines

Whether you call it routine, ritual, or method, it’s important for writers to establish work habits that contribute to–rather than hinder–the creative process. Perhaps you like to sit down at your keyboard with a cup of tea, or write while listening to certain types of music. You may prefer a certain hour of the day when you feel alert and at your best. Perhaps you place a chocolate chip cookie on a pretty saucer and put it on your desk to be your reward when you type your daily word quota.

It’s also fun to learn about the habits of famous authors. Balzac, for example, had to write in a particular room at a particular desk. Hemingway preferred to write while standing. Faulkner liked to scribble his plot events on the walls around his desk. I keep a quote from Somerset Maugham near my workspace that announces his preference for starting work at nine sharp every morning.

The benefit of these little rituals is that they create a focus within us, a signal that triggers our imagination and helps prepare us for the concentrated effort to come. It is the same principle as switching off electronics thirty to sixty minutes before retiring to bed, dimming the lights, taking a warm bath, etc.–activities that help prepare the body for sleep.

Of course, we do not all have the benefit of a day’s uninterrupted writing. If we’re scrambling to type a few paragraphs before we have to roust the kids for school and get ourselves to work, or if we’re wearily sitting down to type our five pages after we’ve cleared the supper dishes, helped with homework, walked the dog, and finished three loads of laundry, we may lack the patience for rituals. Some writers scoff at the idea of not being able to write until the sun sets or all the ink pens are aligned with the desk’s edge. They boast proudly of being able to write anywhere at any time.

Certainly it’s important to have that flexibility. I know when I have a deadline looming and I’m writing as hard and as fast as I can, I don’t always bother with pretty saucers. The entire bag of cookies may be tossed on the desk instead. If I’m fully immersed in my story, then I’ll write during my usual time plus at any other opportunity I can carve out for myself.

But even that is a ritual of its own. During my teaching days, I write in odd corners of available time, the moments stolen and therefore sweeter. But the day after classes end for the summer, I am in my chair in comfortable jeans and bare feet, and my fingers are rocketing the computer keys. Knowing that time is coming helps me keep control of my patience as I grade papers through the warming days of April instead of writing just one more scene. It helps me focus and prepare for the sweet advent of May.

What are your writing rituals? Do you have a regular writing time? A dedicated writing place, even if it’s just a room corner? Do you check your emails first or last? Do you set yourself a word quota, or do you just allot an hour for writing? Do you always save your work when you’re done for the day? (The extra save to the Cloud or to an external hard drive).

Do you allow yourself time for creative exercises to get your imaginative juices pumping? Exercises such as art projects or cutting out pictures from magazines to represent your characters or their house? What do you do to support your inner writer?

Writing is challenging work, but we should never forget that it should also be a joy.

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