…How do you settle into writing? Do you listen to music or something?
Okay, before I even start I will say that these questions and the answers I will give are by their very nature subjective. What works for me will not work for everyone. Probably not even for most everyone, because writing is very individualized and personal.
It’s really important not to measure yourself against others in almost everything. Whether you’re trying to see if you’re better or worse at something than they are, it’s a specious comparison because you are not that person. You don’t have their experiences, challenges, tastes, and strengths that make one thing work over another for them. You are you, and they are themselves.
However, as an author that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to see how others write and not pick up things that you think are useful. You just need to pick out the bits that are useful to you and let others work with the bits that work for them. So with that caveat in mind, let’s see if I my writing ritual has anything that you can use.
First off, I’m currently in a position to write full time and most that read this probably aren’t. This is a new thing to me too, so I’m still learning the reins.
In budgeting my time, I try to treat my writing like a job that I like. I sit down and start my day at the computer around 8 am and focus on fun, social media, self promo, and/or publishing related stuff for the first few hours. Then I write fiction until noon-ish when I try to take an hour walk (weather permitting) and eat lunch. I get back to writing in the early afternoon and continue until dinner around 6 pm.
I may write later in the evening, but mostly those hours are reserved for personal time with my spouse. Another consideration for me is that my mental and visual acuity drop-off greatly after eight to ten hours at the computer. I get sharply diminishing returns on my writing if I push it past the ten hour mark… to the point that when I review my overtime work the next morning, it’s sometimes just garbage that I need to heavily revise. I’ve also found that I can write the same amount fresh-headed in an hour that I can in three hours of a tired haze. So it’s a matter of efficiency there as well.
I may or may-not write fiction on weekends, but usually not. It depends on my plans and the plans of those around me, but even if do write I try to keep it lighter than six hours.
I do have a wordcount goal that I try to reach and hopefully exceed each day. It’s a thousand words of fiction a day. It’s a realistic goal for me with an eight to ten hour slot to write in. In addition, it’s a simple way for me to plan projects and how much time I’ll roughly need to finish them.
I’m absolutely not the fastest writer in the world! There are a ton of writers that can punch out way more than me in a day. It’s said that Stephen King can write 10,000 words a day, and many authors I regularly speak with talk of days where they get three or four thousand words done. But as I said before, you can’t compare yourself to others… It’s all about reaching goals and to keep moving forward.
My analogy and anthem is The Tortoise and the Hare. Other writers might race ahead of me while I prod along, but many do so in fits and stops. Most can’t keep a their frantic pace up for long, and while they’re catching their breath… there I am, still lumbering forward. Some days I just feel like Godzilla, slowly stomping ahead no matter what is thrown at me.
I also reread, edit, and revise my writing as I go. That’s likely a good reason why I’m so slow, and it’s something most writers don’t do. In fact, many would say is a very bad idea. But that’s the way I do it. I would counter-argue that haste makes waste and many of the authors I know that punch out big, fast wordcounts often have nightmarish and long editing experiences with their work afterwards. Generally, I don’t… But only because I’ve done the majority of that bit beforehand.
I start and usually end my stories linearly. That is to say, I start on the first page and work my way toward the middle and end of a story without jumping around. A lot of writers write scenes out of sequence, usually in order of what they are most eager to write first descending to what they have to write but aren’t particularly interested in last… Then tie them all together when they’re finished.
There’s nothing particularly wrong in doing that, I just don’t. I do often come up with ideas in the later process of crafting a story and go back and change earlier scenes. And sometimes as I discover the rhythm of a story, I’ll find that an earlier or later bit works better somewhere else and I’ll shift it.
In the stricter sense of settling into writing, I have a few habits:
- I’ve established a set and stable place where I can write without frequent interruptions, and communicate to those around me how helpful it would be if intrusions were kept to the minimum. I am very fortunate in this regard because we have a room in the house that has become my Writer’s Study:
- To cut down on additional interruptions, I take steps to disable notifications from my smart-phone and computer while I write except for important business.
- I listen to music when I write. I play music that fits the mood of what I’m writing because music that doesn’t is actually disruptive. It also needs to have no, or be very light on lyrics. Or have lyrics in another language which is why I strongly gravitate to Epic Music of all sorts… as my regular readers will already be aware. ;-) Lyrics that I understand are bad for my writing because I’ll start paying attention to those words and not the ones I’m trying to put on the page!
- I also enjoy movie scores, but they can be trickier because they need to match the feel of the story I’m working on very closely, or they will throw me off. Music also helps drown out external noise that can interrupt my writing and cause distraction. When there is conversation or noise going on that I just can’t avoid, I’ll use headphones to blot it all out. I only do that when I have to, however. I don’t like being deaf to the world in the off chance someone really needs me… or the Terminator is coming to get me.
- Tea. Earl grey. Sweet.
- This might sound very superfluous, but I’ve made a habit of having Earl Grey tea when I write. A little caffeine boost is always helpful when things start to drag, and I don’t drink coffee or sodas. However, Earl Grey is a flavor of tea I almost exclusively drink while I’m writing. When I brew my first cup mid-morning, it feels like I’m preparing to write. When I can smell and taste it, it feels like writing time. And like my music, it has become a psychological bookmark that helps get me into the mood.
- I go easy on my eyes if I can. My vision is pretty bad, but it’s close to normal with my glasses. However, reading and re-reading for eight to ten hours will put stress on even “normal” eyes. My works in progress are written in a fourteen-point font displayed at 200% magnification: I can only see two or three paragraphs at a time on my screen.
- But doing this, along with working in a well lit room with the monitor brightness turned down, has tremendously cut-down on my eyestrain. And really, is it any more useful to see six or seven paragraphs at a time than it is to see the one you’re working on right now? Page layout only becomes important after the piece is written and edited. Your draft is all about laying the story down, word to word and sentence to sentence.
- I try to get-up and take breaks once an hour or so. Often I’ll combine this with other things, like a quick household chore, a trip to the bathroom, or making a cup of tea. I try to have lunch at a set time, along with my walk.
- Sometimes, the temptation to just sit and write for hours and hours is too strong and that’s what I’ll do. However when I do that I’ve found that I will actually burn-out faster than if I had paced myself with breaks and whatnot. And regardless, it’s not healthy to sit for such long stretches! Physical activity, as long as I’m not exhausting myself, almost always refreshes my mind and I return to more productive writing.
So, those are my stratagems and habits. What are yours?
Take care, and keep writing!