“Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration.” - Ralph Keyes
I once had several misconceived notions about the writing process. I cannot say what I expected when I decided to try my hand at writing, but I am willing to tell a story on myself (just this once). After a period of research, I decided to start writing one Friday night, so I got myself a large cup of coffee and sat down with my research notebook and started typing away. I had no plot, no character profiles– nothing save an unclear vision of the story setting. Deep into the night, I typed away, grappling with every word. In the wee morning hours I conceded defeat, having produced a mere 3600 words for all my labors. The following Sunday, I sat down and tried to make an addition to the literary heap without much success. I wanted to cry! My hopes, dreams, and big ideas of writing a novel were quickly unraveling. That’s right. After two sessions, I was almost ready to admit that I could not write a book.
If you are reading this blog, you are probably aware that I did complete the novel. If the readers had been a fly on the wall during that first seventy two hours after I declared with confidence, “I’M GOING TO START WRITING NOW,” you would wonder how I ever got it done. I definitely have greater affinity for the quote by E.L. Doctorow, “You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
Something I learned about the writing community was most authors do not keep “trade secrets.” Most are more than willing to share tips and tricks. Of course, each author takes their own approach, deciding which of those pointers they wish to apply to their personal technique. I had to discover my method and definitely had to do it the hard way, but I had a lot of help. Not only did I ask questions of other authors, I utilized the vast resources of the world wide web to discover the routines of others. One video I found interesting and helpful was one in which Roald Dahl described his writing habits. He had a certain chair with a special footrest, a particular lap board that he used for a writing surface, his preferred type of legal pads (he hand wrote his drafts), and an exact number of sharpened pencils in a cup next to him. I had to develop my own version of the “Dahl Writing Hut” before I could concentrate. I wrote in the same room, with the same materials spread out before me, at roughly the same time every evening, etc. I had to go back and do some additional tasks as I went along, but before I knew it, I could produce a chapter within an hour, which I did almost nightly until I finished the first draft.
For me, the success of completion rested on the routine. So I would like to wrap this week’s blog up by making a plug for routines. I feel like people get down on routines. When they hear “routine” their brains say “boring,” but routines are really indispensable if you want to accomplish a task. From the simplest, everyday task to a long term creative task like writing a novel– routine is your friend! A routine can help eliminate all of the distractions and excuses we tend to generate before doing something. Studies have even shown routines to have noticeable mental health benefits, like increasing our ability to cope with change and stress. So whether you are planning to write or are just trying to navigate from one day to the next, seek out your friend, ROUTINE!