Monday 3 February 2014

On daily writing routines: or, What to switch on and what to switch off

I've learned a lot about writing by observing people who write in cafes.

There is a place I used to go in California that always seemed to be full of writers – students, professors, novelists, writers of screenplays and children's books and humanitarian reports. It was a popular spot and the coffee was good. Over a few months I myself drafted two whole books at that cafe (it must have been the quality of the coffee); though I discarded both books after I'd finished them (it must have been the quantity of the coffee.)

In that particular establishment, I took great interest in studying the routines of the writers who came through the door. Ninety percent of them followed exactly the same pattern, which I will now describe for you as carefully as I can:
  1. Writer orders coffee.
  2. Writer finds a suitable table in the cafe. Some deliberations regarding lighting, position of chair (facing towards or away from window), distance from other tables, power socket requirements, etc.
  3. Writer opens laptop or Moleskine notebook. 
  4. Writer checks phone.
  5. Sends message or email or performs facebook thingy on phone.
  6. Repeats steps 4 and 5 for the next 90 minutes.
  7. Sheepishly places phone in pocket: closes laptop or Moleskine notebook: shuffles out the door: very dejected: will probably drink alone tonight.
After making a careful study of this pattern, I discovered that there is a certain mysterious correlation between internet access and a writer's happiness. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. The less you have of one, the more you have of the other.

I don't use cafes much anymore. But I'm working on a writing project at the moment, using the following daily routine. Feel free to borrow any of these steps if you find them helpful:
  1. Get up at the same time every day a couple of hours before dawn. (In my case the timing is critical because of The Children.)
  2. Switch on lights in kitchen. 
  3. Switch on coffee machine.
  4. Switch off wireless router. 
  5. Switch off phone.
  6. Sit down at kitchen table. Drink coffee. Write 770 words. (Or whatever your daily limit is: I find I can manage 770 words without too much fear or exhaustion. 800 would be impossible.)
  7. Once I've reached my word length I reward myself with a small tick in my diary. If I miss a day, a condemnatory cross is placed in the diary. (The ticks make you Happy. A whole row of ticks at the end of the week makes you Very Happy.) 
  8. When you are finished, reverse steps 2 through 5, switching off what you had switched on and switching on what you had switched off. And do it all to the glory of God.

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