Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Writing Rituals

Some writers say they must have coffee. Some say they must write only when the muse hits them. Others... write at any spare moment -- jotting notes while in traffic, keeping a notebook on the subway train, while on breaks at work. Some need an air-conditioned room. Some need natural light and an open window.

It's interesting hearing when people say they write best. Only in the afternoon. Only at night after everyone is sleep. First thing in the morning. In a noisy mall setting on Saturday at 12:37. Hmmm...

We all do it differently. One question someone asked me this weekend was this: how do I find the time to write... and especially with a full-time day job?

Here's my secret. Once I really got serious about my goal to be a published novelist, everything just kinda came together. That was in September 2001. I enrolled in fiction classes first. After that, I networked with classmates and the guests my teachters invited to class. I also joined writing groups, where we get together and give/receive feedback on each other's work-in-progress. I didn't know ANYONE who'd ever written or published a book before that point. I learned everything -- how to format a manuscript, how to write query letters, how to get the first five pages so compelling that someone would want to read on -- on my own, but also with the help of teachers and the writing mentors I eventually made and listened to.

For the longest time when it came to goals, I would tell people, "I wanna do this," or "I wanna do that." And then never did any of it. In 2001, I made a choice to not be one of those "I'm gonna" people, and just do the work on whatever goal I set. In the matter of writing, I didn't tell anyone I was taking classes, joining groups, or writing a novel. I just did it, learned and made mistakes along the way, and then let the results speak for themselves.

Kinda like losing weight. I always grew up a skinny kid and college student. After grad school, and when more money flowed in, I had more options of places and types of food to eat. I didn't exercise, or I should say increase my exercise, when I noticed my metabolism was slowing. Finally, last year -- August 1 -- I decided on my own that I was tired of carrying around 30+ pounds of post-college weight. And joined a national weight-loss program online and kicked up my workouts. Eight months later, and no longer on the program, I'm 35+ pounds lighter, but still doing the work to maintain. I did this on my own. Didn't want to be an "I'm gonna lose weight" person and then not follow up on my word.

I digress... but for me it helped to just do what I wanted to do, what I set my mind on. Despite the busy schedule. Despite long days. Despite knowing I didn't always know what I wanted to write or if I would ever get published. Despite knowing I was kinda doing this on my own and taking a risk.

But... for the record, my writing ritual is this: I set my alarm for 4:30 am. I spend 5 - 7 am writing. Monday through Friday. If not writing, I'm reading articles related to writing and publishing. But generally, I like to write first thing in the morning, before work, before my day gets busy, before my mind gets cluttered with all the billions and one things that come my way. Plus, it's quiet. I don't turn the TV on. No one's gonna call me at 5 am. Sometimes I'll have talk radio on, but most times I write with soft music on -- jazz, slow jams, country or blues ballads. Volume is low.

While at my day job, I jot notes down about little things I see or hear that would enhance my stories. Sometimes I think about where I want the scene I'm working on to go... always figuring out how I'm going to start off the 5 am ritual so that it's not a waste of time. On lunch breaks, I'll write out small charts of what needs to happen before I get to a certain scene of a story. In the evenings, while on the treadmill or stairmaster, I'm thinking about story details for the next morning's writing date.

I generally don't write on weekends. I like to do stuff. But if I do write on weekends, it's not at 5 am. Weekends, I prefer to be in a coffeehouse setting in the late mornings and early afternoons. Just 2 or 3 hours at a time. Can't be in front of a computer longer than that. Child of the 80s. Attention just won't stay that long.

Anyway, that's my writing ritual. I made it sound kinda simple, but it's really not. It's work and I'm sometimes tired at night.

But, if you're a writer, what's your writing rituals?


Trent Jackson said...

I am a nightowl. So being up at night brings out my creative juice. I am in a crazy writing cycle as we speak so I am up writing until about 5 then I sleep till about noon run errands and do it all over again.

The crazy thing is I don't eat a lot...I eat a lot of junk food primarily jelly belly sours and cookies n cream ice crem mixed with rainbow sherbert (the best mix ever...)

And I am extremely moody. This lasts for about a month. Then the rest of the year I have insane writers block

Rod said...

I've learned that write with distractions such as music and television, but that comes from having worked in newsrooms for years.

In the home office, their is a schedule. Mine is late at night, the goal is three hours.

You have much more discipline. It's great to hear how you transitioned from coulda-shoulda-woulda.