My writing routine is a bit problematic. It’s not that I don’t have one. Oh no. I have a writing routine; indeed I do. The problem is the routine! It’s not the routine I want. It’s not the routine I need. Rather it is a dishonest routine that reinforces mediocrity, hardens bad habits and as a result, showcases my compositional insincerity and bolsters my less than spectacular output. Let me describe it for you.
For the most part, my laptop is the medium of choice on which to compose, but I take/make notes, play with names, compose outlines, make story maps or plot centered ‘blue prints’ in subject specific hand-written journals from time to time as well.
My favorite environment by far is my wonderful personal home library—a room dedicated to books and writing with easy chairs, reading lamps, filled to bursting book shelves, a huge desk, doors that close, internet access, multiple outlets and a large 145 pound Irish wolfhound/Great Pyrenees mix thrown in to make one feel rather…ehm…lordly. I am extremely lucky to have such a refuge and because of it, I don’t need to go to the local coffee shop to get my writing ‘groove’ on. The kitchen and coffee pot are but steps away. Speaking of which…
Music is not a premium requirement for me. Though both the computer and stereo in the room have wonderful sound. I have no problem with the silence having grown up without ipods, mp3-players, iphones, smartphones, unmonitored T.V. etc. I know some of my students are seriously tech-dependant and must have background noise to function productively as that’s the way they’ve conditioned themselves. For me, I work better in the silence, or at most with Baroque music playing very softly in the background, as it allows me to ‘hear’ my characters more clearly and ‘listen’ to my inner muse more attentively.
I have a natural rhythm when I’m in the groove and things are good. I usually have two documents open: an outline and the manuscript. I work much better when I have an outline. Sometimes these outlines are extremely detailed, so much so that often they evolve organically into manuscripts themselves. At other times, the outline is but barebones and as I work on my manuscript, the outline builds and becomes more detailed as I add notes and make changes.
I usually set a goal for myself and my writing session: this scene, that character encounter, a set number of words or section in an outline. I write for about 30 minutes to an hour, or about 500 to 600+ words, and then seem to need a break. If I’m being honest and true, this break lasts but a few minutes: bathroom, more coffee, water or a snack, check a reference here or there. At most I might play some exercises on my bagpipe practice chanter—maybe a tune or two—while my mind is subconsciously working over a scene, character or just ‘what comes next?’, then it’s back to it for the next 30 minute/hour long session. Thus, in the summer time, on weekends or during vacation, I hammer for three to six honest hours in a series of sessions.
If I’m not careful however,—and this is where things get just plain ugly—more often than not it becomes a long break filled with email, forum checking, Internet shopping, blogging, eating in front of the T.V., skimming the pool, practicing my bagpipes, phone calls, minor writing, re-organizing files, starting the wash (which I need to do), a trip to the store, etc. When I do get back to it, I find I have “wasted” more time than I “invested” in writing. My sessions end up truncated like plants without enough sun or water and before I know it, I’ve lost a whole day. I’m grouchy and grumpy for the rest of the day.
More than once I’ve made handwritten logs of my activities during my “writing time.” If I am honest and list everything down, from bathroom to book reading, it is a dismaying exercise in self-examination. I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t the dogs; it isn’t the phone; it isn’t family; it isn’t other legitimate interests; it isn’t my profession; it isn’t my spirituality; it isn’t even the internet; it’s me. I am my own worst enemy and to make things even more ironic, I have trained myself to be so.
I joined the JulNoWriMo to see if I could instill a new habit and write not so much a novel as a decent working manuscript—I think the term ‘novel’ is used a bit too casually, but I won’t go there in this post. I wanted to see if I could actually write 50k+ in a concentrated space of time and based on the experience honestly evaluate if I have the dedication required to farm and husband a manuscript into something that might be worthy of refining into a novel. I’m happy to say things are close to being on track word-count wise, but I am dismayed at the obvious weaknesses that have risen to the surface in my less than dedicated and productive routine. Fortunately, it is a conclusion I suspected all along and realize there is no magic to writing other than plain honest, and sometimes ruthlessly, hard work. If I want to produce…honestly become a published author…I need to make a serious change. Otherwise I’m no less spinning my wheels now as when I write at any other time and casually approach it. I have a deep seeded feeling that it is the lack of an honest and productive routine that separates the wannabes from the writers and ultimately the published authors.
Luckily I have 15 more days in which to write and observe, to attempt to “ruthlessly” weed out the self-distractions and instill a more sound work ethic and productive writing routine. I have to, because in mid-August school starts again and I’ll have to re-adjust the whole damn opera! LOL!
P.S. That was 1003 word which might have been better spent adding to my manuscript word count! Oh, I mean 1020, er 1023—ah, oh never mind!
Originally posted in the now deleted “Marchers of Khaldenthea” blog and The Salamander’s Quill 1.0