[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]
You’ve got to do what works for you. No less true in writing, than in life. And to do something well, you must do it consistently. And that’s where routine comes in.
I’m a big believer in routine, especially when it comes to writing fiction. For me, each writing day is the same: I get up, hit the gym, grab lunch. Then, it’s time for a late coffee and some light reading. Right about then, I’m ready to dive into the writing. I write until about 5-6 p.m. and I’m done. It’s not a long day, but it’s a tiring one and lot of energy is spent in that one afternoon.
Now, that routine wouldn’t work for everyone. And my routine has changed over the years. I used to write in the morning, at home, but now I write in the afternoon at a café. Even my routine has evolved over time. So, what will work for you, if you’re trying to write fiction? It’s hard to say. But I do know you’ll have to experiment and find what works for you. And once you find it, you’ll probably be best sticking to it.
Let’s take two successful fiction writers as examples of how different writing routines can be. First, there’s Haruki Murakami. A pretty famous guy. What does he do? Here it is:
Murakami rises at 4am on most mornings, writes until noon, spends the afternoon training for marathons and browsing through old record stores and turns in, with his wife, at 9pm.
Pretty boring, right? But as he says, it’s a routine that works for him.
“It’s just routine,” he says and laughs loudly. “It’s kind of boring. It’s a routine. But the routine is so important.”
Well, that routine has gotten him through several long novels, including the 1,000-page plus 1Q84. So, will what he does work for everyone? No.
Let’s take another successful writer: Kei Miller. Miller’s routine is almost the opposite of Murakami’s. In fact, it’s not really a routine at all.
There are too many distractions. I succumb to them all. And I would like to tell you that my distractions are noble–rereading the classics, diligent research. But they are not. I am distracted by bad TV shows from the US, by the top stories in the Jamaican newspapers, by Candy Crush (God did I just admit that?), by the entirety of the internet…
Sound familiar? Despite all that, somehow, a pattern does emerge.
Writing periods, when they come to me, do not come neatly. They stretch across days, from 10 at night to five in the morning, me going to sleep only when I see the sky brightening and suddenly in my head is the warning voice of an old Caribbean woman: “Don’t make tomorrow catch you looking into yesterday!” I go to sleep then, but it is a restless sleep, and I wake up just a few hours later to write again…
And what does he produce as a result? Nine books in 10 years, as well as articles and essays and reviews and blogs and lectures. An output perhaps more staggering than Murakami’s.
So, what’s the point of all this? You have to find your own routine or pattern. And then stick to it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Sometimes, I add or subtract little things from my writing routine: will things change if I don’t workout? If I listen to music instead? You must try earnestly and forthrightly to find what works for you. Write down how many words you wrote on a certain day and see if it was more than yesterday and analyze what you did differently. Did you produce more? Maybe there was a change in your routine that contributed to that higher word count…
There’s lots of ways to become more productive, but routine is probably the best. And nobody can give that routine to you. Not me, not your significant other, not your writing sensei. You just have to go out there and start doing it. That’s the only way there’s ever been.