A writer’s routine means sweet f*ck-all

I know writers who get up two hours early every day to get shit done before the world interferes.

I know writers who shut off their phones and Facebook for their scheduled midday “writing time.”

I know writers who have daily schedules, minutely defining when and how long they work on chapter XYZ, polish a troublesome paragraph, eat, and go for a walk.

You ask me all the time what a “real” writer’s day looks like. I always answer the same way (albeit not publicly, until now): Who is this “real” writer you speak of? And why do you give a shit how he spends his time?

YOU don’t need to follow someone else’s routine or rules in order to be a “writer.”

YOU don’t need to arrange your desk the way Stephen King does in order to have a bestseller.

Ferris-BuellerYOU don’t need to use trendy new software to jam out the novel of your dreams.

YOU only need to write – in the way only YOU can.

Understandably, some people need structure or discipline so they can get in the habit of writing regularly.

What we don’t need is someone else’s structure. How J.K. Rowling parts her curtains in the morning is irrelevant. That’s another stall tactic. Another way to say, ‘Oh, my desk, office, [insert bullshit excuse] isn’t ready yet. I can’t write today.’

Enough screwing around.

But don’t take my word for it. Below are thoughts from five famous authors on their own daily routines:

Ray Bradbury oftensaid he could work anywhere. “I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.”

Kurt Vonnegut‘s famous routine included Scotch and swimming: “In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.”

Joan Didion said “the drink” helped. She also had an interesting way to complete a book. “Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it.”

Jack Kerouac answered a question about his daily routine this way: “I’m beginning to suspect the full moon. Also I’m hung up on the number nine though I’m told a Piscean like myself should stick to number seven; but I try to do nine touchdowns a day, that is, I stand on my head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with my toe tips, while balanced. This is incidentally more than yoga, it’s an athletic feat, I mean imagine calling me ‘unbalanced’ after that.”

Perhaps the late, great E.B. White said it best: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

When someone asks about my writing routine, I quote Ferris Bueller. “You realize if we played by the rules, right now we’d be in gym?”

By now, my advice for nearly all things writing may have become an aggressively mediocre cliché, but I hope you’ll still use it regularly: Fuck the rules. Just write.

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15 replies
  1. Frank
    Frank says:

    I’m glad you wrote this. I recently read an article that implied if you not using a pc/laptop or any high-tech device to write, your not much of a writer and wasting your time… I’m still a pencil or pen, pad of paper kind of guy. Especially to get things going … at some point in the process I will switch over. And that point varies with every project.

  2. Sessha Batto
    Sessha Batto says:

    I write every where and anywhere – at my desk, in bed in the car – if I don’t the ideas flee and I’m left staring at a blank piece of paper during my ‘scheduled’ writing time 😉 every person is different, every story is (hopefully) different, why shouldn’t our writing habits be different, too? Good reminder . . . now I need to go write!

  3. Jackie Jones
    Jackie Jones says:

    Agree with Sessha and of course this post. During general elections here in Barbados a week or so ago, my laptop was down, but I needed to write. Solution – pen, paper and my car, as the politicians campaigned. Can’t say I enjoyed going back to basics (by hand hurts in the tech age lol), but it got the job done. In summary, I write whenever and where ever I can. Doesn’t make sense putting the words aside for later, they just might decide to fly away.

  4. Jane Endacott
    Jane Endacott says:

    Great advice and so true. I’ve wasted so much precious time just waiting to be in the right mood or thinking it wasn’t the right time. At some point you do have to say f*ck all and do whatever it takes to get something done, even if it’s just a page or fifteen minutes.

  5. Clare Davidson
    Clare Davidson says:

    Very good advice. There are too many people saying you MUST have a schedule and you MUST write every single day and you MUST do this and that. In reality, the only way to write is the way that works for you. Thanks for putting this in a straightforward and inspiring way.

  6. Becca Trelfa
    Becca Trelfa says:

    If you have to go through all that BS then you really don’t want to write. You haven’t got it in you. You’re not inspired. I have the craziest writing schedule. No day is the same but I get the words down when they come to me–sometimes a few and sometimes a boatload. For me, the key is staying inspired and being ready with a pen and notebook, a smartphone–a keyboard … whatever is closest to me–when the words decide the want out of my head. Some days I have to work at it harder than others but I enjoy my work so much, I make the effort. When I’m tired and frustrated with life, writing is the comfort zone I fall back into. You have to want to write.


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