I’ve always envied those people who say that they treat their writing like a nine to five job. They sit down after breakfast to write, break briefly for lunch, and then write until dinnertime. I envy them their discipline, but I also strongly suspect they are lying. I mean, who can really do that? I certainly can’t, even during those times when I’ve had nothing else going on.
I do know that the successful writing life is one part showing up (discipline) and one part creative. If one half of the equation does not work, then it doesn’t matter how creative you are or how disciplined you are. Nothing will happen. You will either have lots of great ideas that never get written, or fill page after page with nonsense that you can’t turn into a workable story. But there is still a lot about my own writing life that is mysterious to me.
Here’s what I know for sure about my routine: I need to exercise every day or I will turn into a grump. Part of my process is thinking and fretting about my story when I am doing other things. I don’t like every day to be the same, and that’s why I’m a freelancer (and always laugh politely when someone offers me a job).
To get some good productive writing done, I need a minimum of an hour and a half to concentrate. But I also can’t sit still for more than three hours. I’m not good at having word count goals (I always cheat). I work better with a deadline, so I always give myself one (if no one else does). I must have a rough outline so I know what I’m going to write next (since I put down and pick up my writing a lot). And I somehow got way more done when my son had preschool three mornings a week then I do with him in kindergarten all day five days a week (so maybe having less time makes me more efficient?).
I have to take breaks between drafts and between projects, and the breaks usually stretch for several weeks. I read a ton of books, dig out my desk, make Christmas/Valentine/Birthday cards and presents, and cook extremely elaborate dinners. And then, at some point, I realize I really need to get back to writing because I’m getting crabby (even with the exercise). My husband will catch me doing something like sorting the sheets in the closet and will ask me if I have some writing I should be working on. That’s when I realize I’m driving everyone crazy (most of all myself), so I return to my writing, refreshed and eager to start again.
Is it enough a routine? I’ve written Posed for Murder, two books and nine screenplays, managed to stay married, stay sane, have a child, and keep my cats alive to age nine–so I guess it works well enough for me. But if I ever had to write two books a year, I might have to try that nine to five thing. Or at least lie about it.