An old friend recently emailed me a question. He'll remain nameless, as I wouldn't want to expose some poor bugger for asking me for writing advice:
"I was wondering whether you have a writing regimen or way of getting yourself to focus. I am trying to find a way to get the juices flowing, I have a few things that I want to write but find I have a hard time focusing and not getting distracted. I am trying to see what my author friends do or did originally to get themselves to avoid distractions."
What I told him breaks down like this. After much mulling of writing and my writing process, I can't say that I have much in the way of a regimen. I've tried doing that — setting up specific times, or rituals, or any of that — and it got zero traction with me.
So I junked it and worked more to my strengths, time and interests.
I've been writing a lot more ever since.
Here's what's been working for me…
"Write for 20 minutes or 2 pages or 500 words or 1 draft per day" I use Remember The Milk as a task manager, and that task repeats every day, 7 days a week. It gives me flexibility, and keeps the writing top of mind: even if it's crap, I can write for 20 minutes or 500 words or a couple of pages. No matter what, it's something.
Earlier is easier. I get in my writing during any break in the day, as early as possible. There's no rhyme or design or reason to that; the way my days are, earlier times just work out well. I do like writing earlier in the day rather than later, for 2 reasons.
- The earlier I write, the less likely it is that other things will get in the way of writing (also known as the great time-suck of "where did my time to write go?")
- I now understand how different I feel before and after writing, and how I feel on days when I do get the writing done, versus days I didn't. When I get my writing done, I feel much more energized for the day, much more creative. I feel exhilarated and free. Further to that…
I'm hooked on the feeling. I really am. Even if the day's output was crap, at least I wrote something. Besides, you can only edit, rewrite and revise the writing you've written, not the writing you have in your mind. No matter what the rest of the day brings, I can look back on the scribbling: what do I want to do with it from here? Where's it going? What's next? What happens before? Who are these people? Another plus? Any other writing I do that day, feels like gravy, a bonus after getting the minimum done. I love that feeling, and it keeps my chin up.
Outlines, or at least some firm ideas. Sometimes I do sit down and just free-flow brainstorm, but those aren't my better, more fulfilling writing days. Personally, I work better when I've done some advanced planning. From there, doing the writing becomes a journey I've got a map to. I can move away from the path, take a different route, be surprised by the territory of whatever the story turns out to be — but for me, having that map makes it much easier to have a reason I'm writing that day. This character needs to get from this plot point to that one — here's how we're going to do it today…
Sheer fecking stubborn-ass tenacity. Those 20 minutes of writing time are precious, easily disregarded, and crucial to the well-being of my day. There are a million reasons to do something else, but from what I've learned, I've just got to tell myself to do the writing, and then sit down and do the damn writing.
Not that this matters for your writing regimen. That's about as close to a writing regimen as I get. But what I do doesn't matter, just as what Stephen King or Terry Pratchett or Bill Bryson or Tom Robbins does doesn't matter. My writing regimen or their writing regimen isn't yours. Take what is useful, and go from there. What matters is what works for your writing.