Do you have a routine for writing? A way of doing it which has become habit and which you know will get the best out of you? I was thinking about this having read a recent article on the subject.
Many famous writers seem to have these habits. I think the reason is that, to write a novel you need to get your backside on the chair and your fingers on the keyboard – regularly and for long periods of time, just to get the work done. I know only too well that novels don’t write themselves.
Here’s what the brilliant Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami had to say on the subject in an interview:
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
The idea that the routine almost hypnotises you, puts you in a changed state of mind, is interesting isn’t it?
That kind of focus and dedication perhaps isn’t an option for us writers who also have to do a day job – but I suppose when I am in the midst of writing a novel I do something similar in my own small way. I make myself sit down in front of the computer each evening and work for an hour, an hour and a half, without distraction. If you do that every day then pretty soon the words start adding up.
I’d say that for me the formal side of it – sitting in front of the screen, goes hand in hand with a more freeform, casual, approach, where I carry a notebook around with me on my journey to work, or at the weekends, and jot down scenes and ideas, chunks of prose, to be typed up later on. I find both approaches get me where I need to be. But I really do need the discipline of sitting at the desk for a set ‘work’ period in order to make real progress.
Here’s Ernest Hemingway talking about his writing routine:
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.”
So the same idea of a definite routine, a time for working, a focused period of hours in which you get the words down on the page.
Personally, I don’t think it matters very much whether you think those words fabulous or so-so at the time you write them, you will come back and rewrite them later anyway. The point is to make progress, and to do so in a structured way. When you think about it, a novel is a large undertaking which takes place over a period of months. It’s like building a house. And, though you might not see much difference in the construction of your house from one day to the next, if you keep at it methodically you know that after a certain amount of time it will be done.
Sometimes full-time writers have a separate place – an office say, which they visit to work, even though it might not be far from where they live. I suppose the idea is that you need to be in a work place, a work frame of mind. The painter Magritte apparently used to dress in his suit and tie, as if for the office, then ‘commute’ on foot a mile or so round the block before returning to his house to work in his studio.
Here’s a surprising quote from an interview with Maya Angelou about where she works:
“I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month. I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible…
I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!”
But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.”
Do you have a particular routine for writing? Let me know in the comments.
Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.
You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.