Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's Your Writing Routine?

Cricket McRae

"Can you tell us a little about your writing routine?"

"What time of day do you write?"

"Do you have a daily quota?"

Sound familiar? Lately I've been speaking to local libraries about my books, home crafts, and writing. There are always aspiring writers in the audience, and they always ask one or more of those questions.


I'm a signing/reading junkie from way back, so I get it. When I first began writing I wanted to know the magic formula as much as anyone else. Of course, there isn't one, but it sure seems like there ought to be.

JB's post yesterday touched on a lot of the magic, not least of which is applying butt glue, sitting down, and writing in some kind of regular way. That's what I encourage folks because I can't really recommend my personal routine to anyone else. Everyone has to find what works for them.

Having said that, here is mine in brief:

I research primarily at night. After seven o'clock I lack creative bandwidth, but am able to spend long hours reading, googling, checking and cross checking to the point of tedium. First drafts are better written in the morning. I start out writing a thousand words a day on a book, which eventually turns into about twenty-five hundred as the story gains momentum. My left brain likes afternoons, so editing and rewriting happens then, and I try to sit outside if it's nice. However, I may polish twenty pages or only three.

So my routine depends completely on what stage of a project I'm in. And when I'm working on more than one project, I may be at it at all hours of the day, especially taking into consideration how much time goes into book promotion.

My writing habits don't make much sense to anyone but me. However, the desire to know how other people write and create is so strong that there is a site called Daily Routines
where you can try to discern the magic formula from the greats.

For example, did you know W.H. Auden consumed Benzadrine, Seconal, and vodka to keep his routine balanced? Not high on my list of recommendations, btw, but still.

A few other tidbits:

According to Lisa Rogak who wrote
Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, King has a glass or water or tea and begins writing in the morning between 8:00 and 8:30. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon."

John Grisham told the San Francisco Chronicle in February, 2008 that when he began writing he had "these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important ... The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week."

From Joan Acocella's article about writer's block in The New Yorker, June 14, 2004: "[Anthony] Trollope reported in his 'Autobiography,' he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him. He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next. The writing session was followed, for a long stretch of time, by a day job with the postal service. Plus, he said, he always hunted at least twice a week. Under this regimen, he produced forty-nine novels in thirty-five years. Having prospered so well, he urged his method on all writers: 'Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.'"

Also from The New Yorker in October of 2008, regarding Emily Post: "Post worked on 'Etiquette' for nearly two years. Claridge describes her daily routine as follows: she woke at 6:30 A.M., ate breakfast in bed, and began to write. Midmorning, she took a break to give instructions to the household help; then, still in bed, she continued to write until noon."

I rather like Emily's regimen, myself.

Okay, so how do you write? You know you've developed the short answer to the question, so give!


Keith Raffel said...

Cricket writes that W.H. Auden consumed Benzadrine, Seconal, and vodka to keep his routine balanced. When I lived in Oxford, I went to police station to register as a foreigner -- as required. In front of me in line was Mr. Auden. Now that I understand what he was consuming, I understand the explanation for his dissolute appearance.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Routine seems to be the key to productivity. When I follow mine (up around 5, exercise, writing, then to day job), I'm much more productive. If I write at night, it's a bonus round. When my routine is off kilter, as now with no computer at home, I quickly fall behind - then comes the HOURS at the computer close to deadline. I used to shoot for a daily word count, now it's a weekly page count, which works better for me.

jbstanley said...

I like Emily's routine too! I don't think I've ever had breakfast in bed unless you count the Pop-Tart crumbs my kids have dribbled on my sleeping form.

Jessica Lourey said...

I have no writing routine, except that when I do sit down to write, I don't let myself get up until I've got 1000 words on paper. If I have a book deadline, I do that five days a week. Ironically, the busier I am, the more I write. As a teacher, this is my slow time of the year, and I haven't written in three weeks.

Interesting post, Cricket! Thanks for doing all that research for us.

G.M. Malliet said...

What I laughingly call my schedule depends on where I am in the process, but I never can keep to my own rules about page or word count. I go by "X number of hours in the chair." If I sit still long enough, something gets written, if only because I'm overcome with boredom otherwise.

I am greatly disturbed by Stephen King's comment: "The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed." That is completely the opposite of how I always, always arrange the pillows. might be worth a try...maybe that's the real key to his success?

Alan Orloff said...

When I'm in my routine, I write 2000 words per day.

Now, getting into my routine, that's the trick!

Cricket McRae said...

Keith, I wonder whether Auden was going up or coming down when you saw him? ; - )

Sue Ann, I'm envious of your ability to get up at 5:00 a.m. The best I can ever do is 6:00.

JB: Mmmm ... pop tarts

Jess, I'm the same way -- the more I have to do the more I can do.

Gin, I had the same reaction to the pillow case thing! They should always, always be open to the outside of the bed.

Alan, I bet you're a lot more disciplined than you're letting on...

Lisa Bork said...

I have no routine. I only write when I feel like it, but once I get going, I leap up from the dinner table or jump out of bed as ideas come to me. I often think about ideas or scenes when I walk the dog. I find it easier to get my ideas on paper after I've thought about them for a while, even months.

Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, my motto is don't get mad, get even.

Anonymous said...

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