Nifty tips. Everyone wants them. Ten Tips for Honing Voice. Seven Steps to Quirky Characters. Three Ways to Ensure your Lipstick Never Moves while Public Speaking. (Actually, I should write that last one. I’ve got it covered).
Tips about creative writing abound and for those of us in the trade they’re fairly easy to knock up.
I recently wrote a ‘listacle’ that continues to get loads of traffic. That listacle was Nine Tips for Becoming a Real Writer. It was a little tongue-in-cheek. But reading back over it still makes me feel vaguely guilty.
You see, I can give good, solid, responsible advice that’s easy to grasp. Or…I can tell the messy truth.
So here goes.
People always want to know what authors do. Like, what we do every day. They want to hear, ‘This is what I do, how I do it, when I do it. This is my ROUTINE. It’s quite magical really and it Gets Results’.
But for some of us, unveiling our routine is a bit like popping up on reality TV. Can you imagine a reality show about writers?
Erm. Here I am…writing. Here I am…walking. Here I am…writing. Here I am…rocking in the corner.
Master Writer. My Studio Rules. Grand Writing. These shows would never take off. Why? Because the daily routine of a writer is boring. Dull as the dullest cliché. Dull as Dudley Dullard’s dirty dishwater. And herein lies the key to success. But I’ll come back to that.
Before every interview I always sweat on the same question. Will they ask about my routine?
What in heaven’s name is my Routine?
I scrabble about in my mind. I better have a routine quick smart or no one will take me seriously. It’s bad enough that I’m a children’s author. Say you write for kids and people glaze over. How nice. She writes…greeting cards.
I’m always looking at my muddled days trying to spot The Routine. The biggie. The one I can package, hand over and say, ‘There you go, sunshine. Let this by my gift to you. Use it wisely.’
The five steps, seven habits, daily practices. Do I meditate, do yoga, stick coloured pencils up my schnoz? Sometimes. But not all the time. And a routine by definition is something you do all the time. Or most of the time. Habitually. Yeah?
The truth is, somewhere in the midst of my jumbled days I do have a routine. But it changes constantly. What works this week might not work next week. Or next week the routine that worked so well last week bores me rigid. So I do things differently.
I get up late. I get up early. I work on Saturdays. I never work on Saturdays.
Or maybe I ditch my Author lanyard and spend a whole week wondering around the city. (And I do mean wondering. I have no sense of direction whatsoever. To wonder, to wander. It’s all the same to me).
When my boys were at home I was wedged into the dreaded School Routine. I worked outside the home in those days, too. But I still wrote my own stuff. I wrote Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children while working fulltime, ferrying kids about and regularly burning the dinner. That book was shortlisted for multiple awards. Who would have thought?
But apart from the boys’ routine I didn’t have one of my own. Not for writing, anyway. I just scribbled when and where I could. While the kids where having swimming lessons. While they were learning aikido. I invited other kids to our house ALL THE TIME. They were the cheapest babysitters I could lay my evil little authorly hands on. Anything to keep my boys entertained while I snuck off into a corner and bashed out some words.
‘Here’s a cake,’ I’d say, smiling sweetly. ‘Now, don’t call me unless there’s blood or fire’.
You thinking I’m kidding, don’t you?
But the kids have left home now and taken their routines with them. Now I’m a full-time author with nothin’ to do and nowhere to go.
So how do I organize my carefree days?
Do you want the truth?
Do you want my confession?
I don’t know. All I know is that I write most days. But some days I don’t. Some days I write 500 average words. Some days I write 2000 that sing.
As a book takes shape there’s a quickening. I write faster. I’m more focused. Some kind of rhythm creeps in. I delight in a blank diary—what looks boring to the average punter is bliss for me. It means I can stay in the zone for days and days and…
You know those young mums who put signs on their front doors? Baby Sleeping. Oh, sure. Like that’s not a veiled threat.
I long to copy them: Back off, bozo. Writer writing.
But even the Quickening Rhythm can change. The buzz of a telephone. The ping of an email. Those blighters can punch a totally new routine straight into my day, my week, my month.
We authors can strive to be as solitary as we want. But the world won’t allow it for long. The world forces us, regularly, to play other games. Fulfill other roles. Break our precious routines!
Yes, I always begin with good intentions. Remember when you were a kid and you got your new schoolbooks at the start of the year?
They were so clean. Smelt crisp and inviting. I spent hours cutting images from Dolly magazines and collaging my three-ring binders.
And I always swore that this year I’d keep everything pristine. This year I’d stay out of trouble. Get good marks. Possibly even learn something.
For me, the start of each project is a bit like that. I don’t worry about a routine. But I do have a clean desk. A nice lecture pad. Some Kikki K pens (sadly I’m not affiliated).
And I have a quota.
I aim low — 500 words a day, five days a week. If I exceed that, I’m the Lizard Queen. Man, I think I’m good. But how and when and where I achieve those 500 words is anyone’s guess.
Routines are…scary. Wedding ourselves to a routine is like inviting the Trunchbull into our home. It might force us to work. But it might also make us miserable.
Better to be kind to ourselves. Go easy. Bend and sway to the changing rhythms.
Set the bar low. Have a little quota and stick to it.
That’s my Top Tip.
Use it wisely.
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