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“The only way to succeed at the writing life is to be able to live according to a schedule that accommodates time to write.” Elizabeth George, best-seller of 20 novels!
It took me a year to start my first novel after quitting my day job. I hadn’t convinced myself that I was a writer, and so, I wasn’t working like a writer. When asked, I was finally able to say that yes I was a writer—without giggling self-consciously—when I dedicated a portion of each day, duh, to writing.
Elizabeth George works five days a week when she’s writing the rough draft and seven days a week for all subsequent drafts. She gets up at 6:00 AM, feeds the dog, takes her vitamins, and exercises for 30 minutes while reading a meditation, something inspirational, and a few pages of a novel. Then she lifts weights for 35 minutes while watching The Today Show. Afterward, she meditates for ten minutes and finally sits down to her desk to—what else?—read a piece of great literature for 15 minutes. Are you tired yet? She’s not! She writes a paragraph or two in her journal before writing a minimum of five pages, even when she is on vacation or touring with a new release.
This is a routine. This is how Elizabeth George accommodates her schedule to write.
Remember, she has twenty—count ‘em, 20!—best-selling novels to her name.
Like Elizabeth George, I’ve discovered the writing life requires sanctifying a time and place for writing. For most of us, such deliberate living doesn’t come naturally. Here are some things that had to happen for me to type “Like a Watered Garden” on the title page and to fill the 320 pages that followed:
Know Thyself I asked myself: When does my creativity peak? What has to happen before I feel free to “play” with a story? What distracts me? I happen to be a morning person who likes to have a devotional time, exercise, and make a dent in the housework before I can play. Everything else is negotiable and everything, absolutely everything, distracts me. (More on distractibility later.) How long can I be involved in a full-on cognitive workout? Old injuries and an even older body limit me to about four hours of sitting at the computer. What motivates me to get a difficult task completed? A party! The minute I finish my writing goal for the day, I’m on the phone or running out the door to see real live people. Sharing a laugh and a cup of tea is my reward for pressing through and staying on my sitting bones. Why do I want to be a writer? Because that’s how God made me. I breathe and I write, not necessarily in that order.
Spread the Word Your friends and family already think you’re crazy to write a novel. Don’t feed their lack of vision by not taking yourself seriously.
There are people in my life who were used to having unlimited access to me. They loved being able to call whenever the fancy struck to chit chat about anything and everything, something I couldn’t do when teaching school. Since I love chit-chatting, no problem, except I wasn’t getting much writing done. And so, I hired myself to work from 10 to 2, Monday through Friday. I called all my frequent gab partners to let them know when I would be working. You will have to remind your mother several times.
Disconnect It’s the rare person (whom I deeply envy) who can write with distractions flying at them. I am NOT one of them. I unplug my landline, close the door, power down my cell phone, and close my e-mail program. My family knows to contact my husband in case of an emergency. He’ll fly home (He’s Superman!) to fill me in. This has never happened in 10 years of writing. This will only work if you are very good at returning phone messages and remember to plug your phone back in at the end of your writing time. I keep a note by my office door: Plug the phone in, silly!
Choose an achievable goal Jane Hamilton, A Map of the World, writes every day, but she only writes two pages a day. She says a day without playing with her children, riding her horses, or tinkering in her garden would mean a rather empty life, not worth the price to be published. But even at this rate, she has a completed novel in less than a year. Another writer I know writes for 15 minutes a day, that’s about three sentences each day or 7.5 hours each month. That doesn’t sound like much, but she accomplishes this goal, and that’s something. FYI: A page a day produces a novel in less than a year, too.
Dabble in routines Lauraine Snelling, who has written about a million novels, says you must choose a routine that fits your level of self-control as well as your personality. This requires some research and experimentation. Authors are frequently asked about their writing routines, so it’s easy to find examples of routines that work for others. Use these as a template, a starting place. Add or subtract elements you know would annoy your muse into rebellion.
Tame the social media monster This is harder than it sounds. It’s incredibly fun to tell people what I’m eating for breakfast. Still, my calling is to write, and personally, that has meant establishing rigid rules for myself about social media (Twitter and Facebook). Because…I. Am. A. Social media-aholic. Usually, I do a quick run-through of my sites early in the morning and don’t return until after my writing goal is met. But lately, the minute I struggle over a word, my mind says: Hey, go see if anyone commented on your breakfast! And I do. I’m considering a limited social-media fast until I complete my rough draft, or is that like an alcoholic saying she can be a social drinker? My throat goes dry just thinking about this fast. FYI: Most mornings I eat vanilla yogurt with wild blueberries and granola
Celebrate the freedom What I love most about my routine is the freedom to leave my office once I’ve completed my goal totally guilt free. Also, I seldom get caught in the panic of a late manuscript. Panic kills my creativity.
Have you developed a writing routine? Share the routines of famous authors! Do routines choke your muse or nurture your muse? Any advice on taming the social media monster?