When it comes to when and where to write, everyone is different. Maya Angelou starts early and works in hotel rooms with bare walls, Truman Capote claimed he could only write when in bed, horizontal, and Vladimir Nabokov scribbled on index cards for entire nights. Some authors hold themselves to 10 pages per day no matter what (Stephen King), while others force out 500 words a day (Ernest Hemingway). Despite these differences in approach many writers share one commonality: a routine. Like competitive athletes, writers don’t show up for practice when they feel like it. They commit to a schedule and stick with it. Yes, some days will be good, and some days will be bad, but in order to improve one has to keep going.
To be clear there’s no “right” routine, only what works best for you. So what is that? Well, first off, what do you want to achieve? Are you hoping to finish a 100,000 word novel in 12 months? Or complete a short story in 60 days? Once you know, write your objective down and put it in a place where you’re sure to see it every day. A constant reminder will hopefully spur you forward.
Now that you know what you want to achieve what’s next?
- Friends, family, and work will get in the way, if you let ‘em. Don’t. Review your schedule and find a few times a week where you can allot at least an hour of writing time. Put it in your calendar (even set up a reminder 1 hour in advance) or tack up a note in a prominent place on the fridge or by your desk. Make sure everyone knows they cannot bother you unless there is an emergency.
- You have your big objective in place, but what do you want to accomplish in each session? Whether it’s word count or page(s), commit to a measurable goal during your writing time.
- Test out the best place to work. Maybe it’s not at home at your desk, but instead at a coffee shop, your friend’s living room table, or in Maya Angelou’s case, a hotel room. Wherever it is, make note of where you feel most inspired.
- Turn off your Internet connection and while you’re at it, leave your phone in another room. This is your time not to be distracted and trust me, Twitter, Facebook, and People.com will try to lure you in. The worst thing you can do is Google a writer you know or admire who is about to publish his or her first, third, or eighth book. This time is about you, not you versus someone else.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. As I mentioned earlier, everyone has bad days. Anne Lamott wrote an entire book about the moments of despair, and the fleeting glimmers of good, in Bird By Bird (if you haven’t read yet, you should) that are part of being a writer. If you just can’t eke out even a sentence about your current project, describe your surroundings, write a scene from a work not yet started, or re-write the ending of your favorite TV show. Just WORK and reward yourself (ice cream!) afterwards.
- Keep a log of your writing. Perhaps this is “business-y” but once you see your victories add up, sitting down to write will feel a whole lot more plausible. So jot down the date and your word count or number of pages and reflect on what you’ve accomplished once a week or month.
Like anything routine (ie. general hygiene, washing the dishes, etc.) it becomes somewhat second nature after a while. Explains author Kristiana Gregory, “Since it’s now a long-time habit, a day without writing makes me feel naked.”
So, Lulu authors, now it’s your turn to tell us what your routine looks like in the comments section below.