I want to talk about routine, which is a necessity for me. My mind tends to race, and putting it in some sort of race track helps me stay focused and productive. Routine helps me organize my life and manage a household. It lets all of us know what to expect, and lets me know when I can be done for the day.
It makes special things more special; lazy days lazier and cozier.
Writers talk about routine, and many espouse writing every day. I think I tend to write every day but not necessarily “writing-writing” if you take my meaning. I journal to help me process what I’m thinking when I’m buzzing through the rat race I set up for myself. As for “writing-writing” I am always working towards something. I don’t watch TV because I know I have a problem. Recently however, I’ve been snuggled up with Vietnam documentaries in my very-tired late-night hours sans children. I’m learning (taking notes, even) and it helps me get in a headspace to write about my father’s experiences there.
You don’t have to write every day, honest. My friend Allison Spooner wrote one of the most liberating pieces I’ve ever read on the subject, and I thank her for it in my head fairly often.
Whether or not you write every day, there are opinions about what time of day you write. (Opinions about e’erything, I swear.)
When do you write? Does it matter? Depending on my routine, I’ve changed my writing time to fit the needs of my life at the time. I have experience writing at most every part of the day, including snatches of thoughts on napkins, speech-to-text emails to myself, and notes to my future self on the kindle in the middle of the night. Here are my thoughts on the matter.
Writing in the morning
I wish I did it more often. Because of who I am as a person (i.e. not a morning person) my children have learned to be fairly self-sufficient and generally quiet in the morning. A perfect time for writing! I tend to use this opportunity to edit, since that’s my paid work, but here and there when I can get some words in it’s a highly satisfying experience. There’s a freshness to it, with or without coffee, and putting your own words first can boost the outlook of the rest of your day. If, by noon, I’m a bucket of protoplasm or I had to pick my kid up from school because he sneezed, at least I got some writing done. It can all go downhill from there but I’ve planted that flag.
Writing during the day
Those stolen moments are…oh, how do I say it? They’re sexy. Thrilling. You’re working on borrowed time and you know it. There’s no time to hold back. Just let it all out! Time constraints squeeze the marrow out of your words and you find meaning where you never expected it to lurk. You surprise yourself! The Pomodoro technique, akin to “writing sprints” can bring this stuff out of us. Sometimes it brings garbage. Who cares? Words on the page, words you can edit. You have to know what you don’t want, sometimes. If you miss the mark, you’re closer to finding out where the mark is.
It’s not always “butt in chair” writing, in the middle of the day. I’m in the habit of opening an email to myself on my phone and just talking to it.
Writing at night
It’s quiet. There’s a certain satisfaction to getting through the day and for me, even if I was nearly passing out on the couch before it was time to put the kids to bed, I’ve got a second wind and a nervous energy. I can easily squander that scrolling through social media—I’ve done that, and I don’t necessarily guilt myself for it. These days, it might be the only human contact I have in a day, outside of my family. And there’s nothing to poo-poo about this. Relationships I’ve made through Facebook have led to artistic partnerships. More than half of the people involved on Café Macabre were women I’d met on social media. In other words, I don’t scoff at it. At the same time, I’m ever so aware of the time vacuum. You look up and it’s been an hour. Be careful.
Or I could open a document—sometimes I just open an email, it’s somehow friendlier in that it’s more casual—and type out some thoughts. A loose outline maybe. If I use the energy I’d otherwise devote to the Wheel-of-fortune scroll through timelines and likes and tweets, I can easily throw down a few paragraphs.
The nice thing about night writing is that I’m tired. I’m loose. My guard is down and so thoughts wander unrestrained to places perhaps I wouldn’t normally go; I slip into an old familiar stride. This can work for me or against me, but it’s honest, and there’s words on the page.
A fine balance
I find that if I start my week writing first thing, I want to finish my week writing first thing. If I find time in the middle of my day, I keep that spot open for the week. If I know the end of the night is when I’ll be get words on the page, I stick to that.
I try to keep a streak, as it helps the energy of the work gain momentum—there’s something to that. No, you don’t have to write every day, but you do need to be aware of building momentum and grasp hold of it. And if you have to piecemeal it through making lunch or putting kids to bed or calling your mom, that’s all fine. A routine helps me, and I think it could help you, but I’d be lying if I said I did it the same way every day.
The trick is to keep writing, however cliché that might sound. Get a paragraph down, whether it’s first thing, next thing, or last thing. Tomorrow it could be two paragraphs, who knows? Or maybe the paragraph you write today could turn into your next big thing.
No one starts out thinking they can do X amount of push-ups until they’ve worked at it.
Lastly, if you’re not writing, I ain’t mad. But you need to be reading. Books in your genre, books outside of your genre. Try changing from fiction to non-fiction, or vice versa. Check out a documentary. Keep yourself on your toes, even within your routine. Feed yourself.