Okay, so Shakespeare actually wrote "Assume a virtue, if you have it not" (Hamlet). As a master of the appropriated phrase however, I think he'd give me a pass.
Recently I was talking to new writers about developing a writing habit / routine. Unless one writes, and pretty much only writes, on a full time basis, I'm not an adherent of the you absolutely must write something every single day camp – unless of course that's what works for you. But I do think every writer needs a routine, a habit, a regularly occurring method -- and, the good sense to change it up when it's not working.
Here are a few things I know about my own current writing routine:
- I write most happily in huge spurts, for several hours a day, a few days a week.
- I keep a notebook next to the bed and at least a few mornings a week, it's where I go first.
- When I have a new idea, I try to write about 500 or so new words a day on that topic for several days, without looking back.
- I've been known to get up earlier than usual each morning for a full month to write about 2,000 new words each day on one particular theme. This is wildly counter-intuitive because I am by far the world's worst morning person. But I have learned that it is the ONLY time when I can be assured of no interruptions and no appealing distractions (for example, even though I am wide awake at 1:00 a.m., and often do work then, I also love late-night TV).
- For me, a long, involved, emotionally rich literary piece usually begins in short, unorganized, random bits and pieces, in longhand, in my notebook, at a time when I least expect it. So I make it a habit to "visit" that notebook several times a week to see what happens. I also tend to keep it nearby when I'm watching old movies late at night when everyone is asleep – I found I get a lot of ideas when the house is dark and quiet and someone or something else (the film maker, the actors, the music) is doing some of the pointing and suggesting for me.
- For a short (under 1000 word) essay intended for mainstream media, once I have a topic, I head straight for the computer keyboard and do a (rough and maybe bad) first draft from beginning to end.
- I need at least three (large) notebooks going at the same time (not counting the tiny ones in my purse, car, bathroom, laundry room, etc.). One is for rambling free writes – this one is next to my bed. One is for passages of future pieces that are still only ideas as of yet. This one is on my desk, and I often take it along when I'm making progress and I know I'll have down time somewhere. The third is for my (developing but nascent) tries at poetry and my (quite awkward) attempts at fiction, which I keep it on a shelf near my desk and often grab it when I'm particularly stuck on something or a little rebellious.
-Yes, I have a favorite pen, room in the house, background music and all of that. But I’m also quite content to write on a train, in the car (while waiting for someone, not driving), poolside (when I'm lucky), and on one occasion, in the lovely lobby of a grand old hotel.
I'd love to hear of your routines and habits, especially the odd ones, in comments.