I’ve been struggling, so far in 2018, to properly settle to a writing routine. If you read some of my earlier blogs from last year, you’ll (correctly) get the sense that routine, schedules and templates are pretty important to both who I am as a person and how I like to work. This is not romantic. Jack Kerouac would have no time for this shit.
But what I realised several years ago now, when obsessively studying successful writers methods and habits to try and burn them into my own and thus achieve greatness, is that most of them don’t work. At least, not for me.
I do not do a whole bunch of things that writers are ‘supposed’ to do. I don’t get up at 6am to write for two hours before work. I don’t always carry a notebook. I don’t write something every day.
I have good(ish) reasons for all of these things. I don’t get up early to write because I cannot deal with mornings as they are, and anything I wrote in them would probably not be passable English, let alone competent storytelling. Also, I’m lazy. I don’t tend to write ideas down the instant they occur to me, because I like to let them rise for a while, like bread dough, developing and improving before they go in the oven – sometimes if I write an idea down too early I realise its flaws too fast and don’t give it a chance to become something tasty. Also, I’m lazy. I don’t write something every day because whenever I’ve tried to, the pressure of knowing that THIS IS THE ONLY FIVE MINUTE INTERVAL IN WHICH I CAN WRITE ANYTHING TODAY paralyses my ability to write anything at all. Also, I’m lazy.
But there are plenty of ‘common writing tips’ that I follow to the letter. I try to stick to a set routine. I read widely both in and outside of the genre I’m writing. I write stories I love, not ones I think will sell (as is now teeth-grittingly apparent). I hammer out a first draft without pausing to over-analyse what needs editing.
I discovered the various things that work for me through trial and error, and I’m still always learning new things that help and new things that absolutely do not. Here are a few of my personal discoveries:
- Routine = good. Trial and error led to the realisation that I hit my writing stride an hour or so after I’ve technically ‘started’ (but there’s an awful lot of checking Twitter, getting cups of tea and staring slack-jawed out of the window in that hour), and once I stop for a break I rarely get my mojo back. For me, this means the best hours for writing are between 10am (I know, I know, it’s disgusting) and 1pm, and afternoons are only successful once you’ve ploughed through two hours of feeling like a talentless piece of human crap.
- Being realistic = good. Whatever I do to try and help myself, there are days when I sit down, look at a flashing cursor and bleed slowly and painfully into a word doc, only to delete all 61 words two hours later when I realise it’s pointless exposition. Accepting that these days will happen, rather than feeling like a failure and stroppily refusing to start in the first place, is healthy (which is not to say that’s how I always react…).
- Reading = good. Specifically, reading a chapter of a good book before I start writing. I find the most inspirational and least plagiarise-y (important) stuff is books that have a loose genre in common with your writing (i.e. ‘adventure’), but not the specifics (Amazonian survival story vs. fantasy witch escapades). It’s the tone that helps; what I’m after is a nugget of that feeling you get when you – for instance – come out of the Wonder Woman screening and have a physical urge to punch your way through the cinema’s fourth-floor windows and jump with simultaneous grace and power into the street. (You get that…er, right?)
- Rejection = bad. Which brings us back to this blog. As it has transpired, spending a year being systematically told I am not quite good enough to be a writer has not done much for my ability to write. I am struggling at the minute. I seek out all the flaws in an idea before it’s even formed properly, I lose faith after 100 bad words, I look for everything that’s wrong with a chapter rather than what’s right, I tell myself I have to make it perfect rather than just seeing where my own enjoyment takes me. It’s pretty exhausting.
But if all of these trials and errors have taught me anything, it’s that there will be a balance. Rejection did not work for me, but perseverance does. And having all my personal working tools in place is making it so much easier to stagger on through this current boggy patch.
As hit-and-miss as writing advice is, the most quoted and most common is still, I believe, the best:
But do it in a way that works for you.