Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ten Things Every Writing Routine Should Probably Have

Yesterday I discussed my beef with the standard advice that one must write every day (namely, that it just doesn't work for every writer!), and concluded with my opinion that a much more realistic goal is for each individual writer to establish a customized regular writing routine which works for that writer

I said there were 10 things I believe you should consider when establishing a regular writing routine.  Here are the 10 criteria I believe a successful writing routine ought to have:

1. Regularity & Duration.
For some, that will mean  a regularity of several days a week, if you have the ability to do so given your life situation, and a duration more than 15 minutes, but not more than a few hours, per session. For others, that may mean 10 writing sessions per month of a specific duration, but scheduled less predictably.  

2. Ease. 
A regular writing routine must not be a burden to maintain in the normal course of your life, or guess what? You won't keep to it, you won't write. When I say "ease" I don't mean make it so easy on yourself that there is no sense of urgency or commitment; I mean that if you make your writing schedule/routine so complicated and difficult, the odds of carrying it out are slim. Don't fight human nature.

3. Flexibility.
Yes, I think you ought to schedule in your writing time, just the way you do a doctor's appointment or the dog's walk. But a writing routine also needs to be realistic and flexible enough that when life's usual deviations erupt, the routine can be tweaked and  somehow maintained, not wither away.

4. Rigor.
Your routine must make a disciplined demand on you; in other words, you work (write) when the schedule says so. Sometimes that may be at an inconvenient time which may be the only time you can given life's circumstances; if you're a night person, that may mean accepting the rigor of needing to write in the morning because that's what your current life situation requires.

5. Enjoyment.
The time/place/action of the routine itself, AS WELL AS the work, should be enjoyable. You enjoy doing it, being there, carrying out the actual physical and mental acts of writing. Why bother if it's drudgery?  Remember, you write to enhance your life, right? (This brings up the need to deal with any "shoulds" in your head -- I should write more fiction, finish that essay, get back to that script...examine those shoulds and see if they match your real writing desires.)

6. Scene-Setters. 
A beverage of choice, the right background music, a non-cranky computer, lovely pens, comfortable chair, good light, the dog at your feet – whatever helps. And yet, let's not skip a writing session because your chair is lumpy, the CD is scratched, you're out of hot chocolate.

7. Solitude / Setting.
A physical place, and a specific time, when and where distractions are minimized; not always possible of course and some writers don't find this important at all. If you've learned to write in the stands of your kid's hockey game, terrific.

8. Writing goal(s) and wants.
Know why you are in that writing chair in the first place. This may take the form of something very specific – new chapters in a book manuscript, three essays on particular topics, the next draft of a short story; or it may be less exacting but still goal- and want-directed:  improving dialogue by trying some new techniques; fiddling with a new batch of poem ideas; turning a serious essay into a humorous one. In other words, think about what you want to happen, and what you are planning to have happen, when you next plan to write; this way, you won't be worrying over the prospect of an upcoming scheduled writing session and not knowing how you'll fill the time.

9. Measurement.
A way to know you were there, that you wrote and something came of it. This could be a simple tally mark on a wall calendar, or mentally or physically taking note of that session's page or word count, or just taking a few minutes to reflect on what you did (sketched out a new scene, revised a pesky passage).  I'm often surprised at writers who have no sense of tracking what they actually get done while at the keyboard/notebook. 

10. Accountability.
This is related to measurement, but introduces the element of being accountable to someone other than yourself.  The idea is to recruit someone, or develop/participate in some system, that forces you to say to the outside world, I'm a writer at work. This could be as easy as asking a writing buddy to expect a quick email from you on writing days: "Wrote today," or signing up for one of the many online systems that help users track progress on any task.

Did I forget anything?  What do you think also has to be part of a successful writing routine? 

The above is adapted from Week One of  *I Should Be Writing!* Boot Camp: Reclaim Your Writing Life).

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