Writerly Routines

A recent link from a friend to this: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/ reaffirmed Kipling’s notion that when it comes to processes, including writing, ‘there are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays. And every single one of them is right!’
I would often approach professional, productive authors with the question, “What is your routine?”, hoping for the secret to applying seat of pants to chair and fingertips to keyboard. The magic ‘routine’ for starting, continuing and finishing the next opus didn’t pop out in any consistent method. The common answer usually contains the phrase ‘whatever you find which works for you’.

What worked for me when it came to short fiction, was a binge approach. I would note ideas for stories: plot, character and setting kernels. The next step involved the percolation in the subconscious or fringe of consciousness of the ideas until sometime later, the vision and arc of the complete story would manifest in my brain. Then, I couldn’t wait to get the story onto paper in a weekend or week-long frenzy. Sitting down every day with no ready ideas seemed unreachable or at the very least, if I did attempt the daily routine, a series of unremarkable stories.

Novels were begun but often the momentum ceased between 20 and 30 thousand words. I wrote a number of marketable short stories but never satisfactorily finished longer works.
The opportunity to change the routine came with cutting back in my professional career to a 2 ½ day work week. My writing week now begins Wednesday at noon. Novel writing became the goal and I had to find a process which worked. I have. The energy to write every day either comes out of the process or drives it, I’m still unsure which. The key for me is to set writing as priority-one Wednesday noon thru Sunday. It’s the hard duty but the correct one. Chores, internet and email distractions are all easier; I let those be my reward.

So, write first. I make a daily list, not too specific but the general form might be: write, exercise, lunch, write more, shop/household stuff/motorcycle ride, etc. Solving plot issues while running often happens in the temporary ‘down time’. Creating first draft novels by visiting them every day surprises me with ideas which spring forth while I’m typing. I don’t over-outline; I begin with pretty detailed arcs and an overall plot. The interesting subplots appear as I write though no doubt the subconscious processing is at work. The key for me is not to spend eight hours in a day in the first-draft creative process as I’d run out of the neat surprises. Write, reward, write, reward. If I get 3 to 4 hours per day of initial draft completed, I’m happy and still creative the next day. I don’t go back and revise during this stage. I will read earlier scenes for reference and note where I need to make changes to set up later new ideas. I retro-outline scenes each day which become my second draft revision guidelines. Each scene outline has a summary of events, POV character noted, other characters involved and how it ties to overall arcs and theme. I leave space for revision notes to one side. Second drafts are heavily laden with the same creative process because I’m still adding new things. The 3 to 4 hour days with reward breaks continue. Third and subsequent passes are less creative and more editing focussed so the daily hours can be stretched without losing spark.

Short stories still fit into the routine, though I try write them in the gaps between novel drafts.
As an almost-full-time-writer, the distractions of the profession linger: website maintenance, marketing and publicity, submissions, blurbs and synopses, critiquing fellow writers’ work, research. Add these to normal life duties and it’s little wonder that I tell people I’m semi-retired and working 7 days a week.
I love it.

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