29th May 2013

A Writing Routine

DSCN2625A writing routine – three little words… it sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  And sometimes it is – for a while it can be.   But there’s the rub.  A writing routine is not always easy to stick at unless it is your day job and you have solitude and time in which to do it, and, even then, I wouldn’t describe it as ‘easy’.  There are always distractions, and for some reason, we writers do have a tendency to get distracted, don’t we? (Or is that just me?… SQUIRREL!)

Two years ago, I cut down my day job to create more time for my writing.  For a couple of years, it was wonderful.  I wrote a lot.  I wrote ‘Grub’s Pups’ and ‘Buttercup Magic’.  I was able to explore a whole host of ideas.  I wrote a 90,000 word novel, for goodness sake!  I felt like a ‘proper writer’.  But, as I’m sure is the case for many writers, it is not always possible to sustain this.  Needless to say, my day job has taken hold again. Not only that, but life has been a tad challenging of late, and one thing a writer has to have is space in that bonce of theirs.  Without that, there is no room to dream, to let the ideas twist and turn, no space to observe, to think, to philosophise, to ask questions, to develop character.  It all goes out the window.  The result of which is that those black swirly patterns in front of my eyes that bring me such joy, have, sadly, floated off into the ether.  Time has been dedicated to other things, and much as I am the first to say ‘you can only write by writing’, lately this just hasn’t been possible.

Well, as any writer in this position will know, it’s only a matter of time before you start pacing the carpet, climbing the walls, pulling your hair out, wringing your hands, because you AREN’T WRITING… even though, when you ARE WRITING, you spend much of your time pacing the carpet, climbing the walls, pulling your hair out… etc.  So, what’s the answer?

Well, thankfully, for me it has come in the form of a few words of flipping good common sense from Dorothea Brande.  I wrote about her book, ‘Becoming a Writer’, a couple of posts ago.  She has a way of saying things that hone in on the very heart of the problem.  The answer came in her chapter, ‘Harnessing the Unconscious’.  Brande explains how you must ‘teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing’.  To summarise, she maintains that, if you take yourself seriously as a writer, you must do two things:
– rise half an hour or an hour early in the morning to write, before you do anything else.
– look ahead at how your days are formed, and work out a time every day when you can write, even if it is only for 15 minutes a day, at the same time every day.

DSCN2623To be honest, when I first read this, I took one look at the first suggestion and thought, ‘You have no chance’.  I am the wearer of an Eeyore nightshirt that states: ‘Do I look like a morning person?’… there is a reason for this!  However, if I didn’t do it, then that would mean that I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer… Oh my god!  Well, that was not an option.  So I tackled the second idea first.  I examined my days, and when I did this I worked out that by about 8pm I had usually cooked teas, walked the hound, washed the pots and done most of my teaching paperwork.  So that was it then!  And, I realised, I could have a WHOLE HOUR until 9pm.  Then, if anything else needed seeing to, I still had a bit of time to do it after 9pm.

A year ago, a paltry hour’s writing a day would have seemed hardly worth the effort.  Suddenly, it seemed far from it.  Having struggled recently to find an hour a week, the thought of a whole hour a day doing what I love seemed fabulous!  Having received this sudden boost, I figured that maybe I could tackle the bigger obstacle…. mornings!  But I am still an Eeyore at heart, so I am going at it gently.   I now set my alarm ten minutes earlier than normal.  I have a notebook and pen by my bed, and I write for ten minutes in the morning, just as Brande says: ‘… begin to write.  Write anything that comes into your head…’

I confess, I have struggled with this and have missed some days.  The first day I wrote about how crazy the whole thing was and how I had no idea what to say and would much prefer to be asleep – but I spent ten minutes saying it and didn’t stop until my time was up.  The same evening, I sat down at 8pm.  I wrote for double my planned time – two whole hours!  I’ve now started to re-work a couple of picture book ideas and have begun two new adult novels, one which will be in note form for the time being – ideas, character outlines, and a title, of course!  The other is in the process of being written, and today I passed the 5,000 word mark.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to get my teeth into it again.

So, thank you Dorothea Brande for making me see that you have to make time to write, even when it appears you have none, and thank you to whoever invented half-term holidays, to allow me to create a little space in my head!

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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18 Responses to 29th May 2013

  1. Martin Day says:

    Thanks Abi – as ever, words of practical wisdom.

    I find the idea of morning notes fascinating, because that is one of the tasks I set as homework when I am ‘life coaching’ – with the idea that it gets the person engaged and connected with themselves before all the other stuff of the day has kicked in. It tends to dig out what’s really going on inside. The instruction is to ‘start writing as soon as you wake and don’t stop until you have at least 3 sides of A4.’ – And yes, it usually starts with the tirade of ‘Why am I doing this?’ and ‘I’m so tired’ but then, gradually, other deeper stuff can pour out. If fact with some people, they even find God speaking to them through it … although I’m sure that’s stretching the envelope a bit far for you. ;o)

  2. Ha ha ha! That made me laugh, Martin. I agree though that it is quite enlightening. I find writing late in the eve, when really tired, has a similar effect. I have to say, of the two, I enjoy the late night when tired writing as this is when my unconscious mind seems to spiral. Glad to see I’m not the only one daft enough to try this morning malarkey though ;o) If God pops in for a visit, you’ll be the first to know!

  3. Jenny Alexander says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Abi. Creative time is elastic, I reckon. Trying to produce a regular output per day is fine for factory production but I find my most efficient method is to ponder and jot, sometimes for several months, after which I’ll suddenly produce an easy 40,000 words of MS in an exhilarating couple of weeks of writing. Ripeness is all. As for regular free writing to keep things flowing, early morning or late evening – I find it’s all good, and I’d personally choose whichever time feels most dreamy.

  4. Yes, you’re right, Jenny. It’s strange how your post today seemed to chime with mine. Pondering and jotting is just as constructive, isn’t it – in fact, in a way it’s where most of the work is done. I have to remember that, so thanks for reminding me.

  5. Jenny Alexander says:

    We’ve spotted this before, Abi – how our posts often do chime. It’s lovely!

  6. Don’t make me write first thing in the morning…please! Lol…
    I’m a post noon writer! I just get sidetracked early in the day, actually I’d write all night if I could (but hubby has to up early for work – and it seems a bit rude to stay away all night), but that’s when the creative juices flow, when everyday distractions die down and it’s just me and the laptop/notebook. I like evening when everyone else is out at various ‘things’ and I have the evening to myself, just to write.
    Enjoy your new writing ideas Abi!

  7. This really rang true to me… I am a very early riser by nature, and as long as I immediately start writing (instead of checking email, doing housework, cruising the internet, etc.) I’m golden. But break my routine and I’m lost. That’s when I’m mid project. Starting a new project is always hard going for me and I almost always end up needing to redesign my schedule to get going again. You’ve given me some really good tools for the next new thing I start! Thank you!

  8. Glad to hear you’ve found something that’s working for you 🙂 – though it’s a shame you don’t get as much time to write as you’d like 😦

  9. Emma Pass says:

    Lovely post, Abi. It’s so true that you have to make time for writing… and it’s so easy for everything else to get in the way! This is something I’ve struggled with too, and it’s very frustrating. Like you say, if you can even just claim back half an hour a day, it makes all the difference.

    • It does, Em. And the thing is, once you have claimed back that time it grows – the half hour becomes an hour, and the hour becomes two hours… and thus *normality* is restored! Hope you are managing to get plenty of writing time in again now.

  10. Interesting to hear that you too start to go bonkers if you don’t write. I’ve had an enforced period of waiting and thumb twiddling lately, where I just couldn’t write. I nearly lost my marbles. Still not fully back in the swing…but I’ll get there.

  11. Waiting and thumb twiddling is pants isn’t it? Hope you get back into the swing of it too, Marnie.

  12. Nadine says:

    Hi Abi! Just sending you a lil note to let you know that I nominated your blog for an award. You’ll find more details in my latest post.

  13. Oh fab! Thank you, Nadine. That’s lovely of you 🙂 x

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