Friday, 1 October 2010

The importance of routine

Discipline is a great help to the struggling writer.  It can mean the difference between a relatively painless job and a drawn out frustration where your writing becomes a drudgery that never gets started, much less done.  Full-time writers have a hard enough time sitting down at the keyboard.  Since writing is such a cerebral occupation and thinking and research provide so many excuses for distraction, the writer has to work very hard at ignoring temptation and not wasting time.  When the writer works at home and friends, neighbours, and relatives take this as meaning said writer is always available for some little errand.  Get enough of those little errands together and you can lose an entire week.  It's for this reason that the professional writer often acquires the reputation of an anal-retentive curmudgeon who answers the phone with a growl.

It's even worse for the beginning writer because he has to deal not only with all the problems of putting words on paper, but also the responsibility of family, friends, pets, and a paying job.  If he doesn't, then he's in real trouble.  Finding time to write at all can be like jamming a quart into a pint.  You can start the day with the best intentions of writing 1500 words and end up going to bed promising to make it up tomorrow.  Then tomorrow comes and it's the same story.

So, how to prevent this from happening?  The answer is to make your writing a matter of routine.  Set aside a particular place and a particular time every day and reserve it exclusively for writing.  Preferably, this should be at a time when you have the most energy and in a place with the least distractions.  I find the public library at about three o'clock in the afternoon is good, but if circumstances mean it's six AM in a McDonald's or propped in bed with a reading light at 11 PM while the significant other is sleeping, then that works, too.  The important thing is that it is in a time and place that you know you can get to each day.  It doesn't have to be a long time; two hours is great, but fifteen minutes does the job if that's all your day can spare.  You won't get as much done, but you'll get something done.  And look on the bright side; if you can't write all down tonight, you'll have something to start on tomorrow.

It's hard at first.  For the first few weeks it will feel like a miserable chore, but soon this routine will become, well, routine.  Eventually, it will be like running is for fitness nuts; you'll feel uncomfortable if you don't get your daily scribbling in.

That's all well and good, you say, but what if I can't come up with something to write at exactly that time of day?  Maybe I can't get the muse to strike at 8:15 every night.  Think so?  Here's a secret I learned years ago:  Muses are overrated.  True, being struck by inspiration and getting on a role is great.  It's an exhilarating rush like skiing over fine powder combined with the comfort of a cigar that's drawing nicely, but you don't need it in order to write.

I'll say it again.  You. Don't. Need. It.  I learned this when I was writing a comedy about twelve years ago and I was facing all sorts of deadlines.  I was annoyed, I was miserable, I didn't feel at all in a joking mood, yet, to my astonishment, I discovered that I could be funny even when I didn't feel like it.  I could turn the funny on at will.  I could turn out ten pages of farce and wit, then turn to my dog and scream, "What the *&^% are YOU looking at?!?"

If you have something to say, it will come out during your writing time.  You won't be able to stop it.  If you don't, then work on something else.  Blog, journal, compose e-mails, brainstorm, free associate, make outlines of your next book.  It doesn't matter so long as you stick to your routine and keep writing.  You'll get into the groove before you know it.

Final point:  When's the best time to start a routine?  Right now.

What are reading this for?  Get going!

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