The Writers Circle: When Do You Write?

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Each of us has a routine when it comes to writing.  We’ve talked about where we like to write, but how about when?  Do you prefer a specific time of day to write?  What is it about that time that makes it preferable to you or more productive for you?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.


On Schedules and Routines

I’m sitting here this Wednesday morning feeling completely out of phase with the world.  It’s a feeling I get whenever I oversleep and today I overslept.  I have to assume I hit the snooze button a few times this morning, but it’s more fun to think that some aliens from a distant planet had a hand in this. Well, the aliens or my evil cats.  Either way, I awoke at 5:07am… a full 30 minutes later than normal.  At 5:07am I’m usually already at the gym, not just getting out of bed.  I hurried through my routine, got myself ready and walked the dog, then scurried off to the gym for a truncated workout.  Officially, I’m back “on schedule” now, having cut my workout short so that my shower and subsequent trip to Starbucks could occur “on time”.

Yet, I feel completely out of sorts.

It gets me to thinking about the importance of routines for me.  My life is ruled by schedules.  Get up at this time, do this at that time.  The kids’ schedules are also my schedule, so I have to be sure they get to their baseball games or dance classes or parties on time and that they get picked up from the same on time.  The dog’s and the cats’ schedules are also my schedule owing to their demands to be walked or fed or pet as needed.  Even the garden has a schedule which is my schedule owing to the need for watering, harvesting and weeding.  You’ll note I haven’t even mentioned the real dictator of my life’s schedule: The Day Job.  You’ll also note I haven’t mentioned writing.

Where I am going with this is simple: schedules and routines are important to me because they are what drives my day.  This has been the case for my entire life, really.  But writing was one thing I never wanted to schedule.  It is the only thing in my life where I don’t plan anything at all – no outlines, no idea where a story is heading before I write it, nothing.  I’ve attributed this to me wanting something in my life that was not schedule-oriented and not dictated by the clock or the calendar or some sterile design document telling me what the result needs to look like.

I’ve also sometimes thought my lack of a writing schedule could be due to the fact that in high school English class we had journals and every day we had to spend ten minutes writing.  I hated it.  Loathed it, really.  I spent ten minutes each day repeating “I don’t know what to write… I don’t know what to write…” over and over again for pages on end.  At the time it looked like an enormous waste of time to me.   Recently, though, I came across one of those old journals and I flipped through it.  Yes, as I recall, there were plenty of those pages of repeated negativity.  But mixed in with them were pages of real writing ideas – dialogue between characters, descriptions of distant, alien landscapes,  ideas for stories or poems.  I do not remember writing those passages, but they are there, in my own horrifically bad handwriting, buried and hidden within the obvious distaste for the forced writing exercises.

Many people have routines for writing.  There are as many ways to schedule yourself to have time to write as there are writers out there.  I’ve read about these ideas (morning pages, dedicated writing times, word sprints, etc.) but I’ve only utilized them in November during NaNoWriMo.  And now, if I’m being honest with myself, I can look back and see that back when I was working in an office my routine included getting to the office early and spending that hour writing.  I suppose that was “scheduled writing”, but it was never required and if I spent that extra hour working on my day job instead of writing I wasn’t feeling like I had done anything wrong.  And since I’m being honest with myself here, I can admit that I’m not really getting any good writing done now with my anti-schedule mentality.

So where does that leave me?  I’m going on vacation next week (which as we all know comes with its own overpowering need for a schedule).  I am considering trying a “forced writing” routine into it.  Just for a little while, just for the week. That’s how I’m selling it to myself, at least.  I haven’t decided if it’ll be on paper or on the laptop. I haven’t decided if it will be in the morning or evening (most likely morning, since no one else will be up early). I haven’t decided if I’ll just allow myself to write “I don’t know what to write” over and over again until something better shows up on the page, or if I’ll dedicate the time to writing a vacation blog post each day or if I’ll try to flesh out some of the story ideas for which I haven’t done anything yet.  My not-so-secret hope is that if I do this every day for a week it will be easier to incorporate it into my regular routine at home.  I have no idea if this will work for me but I need to try.

I’m curious about other people’s routines and methods for carving out time to write from a busy life. Do you have any habits you think help you to focus your writing energy into whatever time you have? Any tricks or routines that you think might seem weird to others but work really well for you? Share your ideas in the comments below… maybe I’ll incorporate them into my experiment next week.

Will Walk for Words

My writing routine begins with a walk outdoors. Not a long walk or a fast one. Two miles up the street and back, early in the morning in summer before our California sun blisters the city, or before rain turns a winter walk into a slog. Most mornings it’s a walk on the shady side of the street, a familiar trek that doesn’t require me to think about where to turn or when to start ambling back home.

I’m lucky if I can get going without returning for one last thing, like replacing the house phone for my cell, realizing I’m not wearing my contacts, trading stiff shoes for a more comfortable pair, one more trip to bathroom, another smear of sunblock. Once I’m finally on my way, it’s a slight uphill hike and a reverse easy jaunt down.

A walk is a great opportunity to get a bit of exercise, because I will never wear those dorky rubber band outfits I’d have to don to go to a gym. I work out problems, even if I don’t work up much of a sweat, like the chronic situations that give me nightmares if I sleep in too late. I worry about personal problems, because as much as I’m fortunate to have loving family and friends, there is always someone to worry about.  I worry about the injustices of my employment, politically inspired office intrigue affecting even my paltry claim to the working world. The walk uphill gives me a chance to excise those devils, though they’ll return like persistent hiccups. I walk more and more determinedly, relinquishing the pain in my calves for concentration on those cerebral irritants. Most days I realize there is little I can do except let go my worry, anger, and frustration, so I do, which is a resolution of sorts.

At the top of the rise my palm swings around the light post that signals my walk homeward, and I begin to write. I work in my head because I can’t walk with a laptop though I’ve considered it. Some of my effort will get lost on the way home, but I’ll retain the essence of my work.

I hunt when I walk. I am a bird of prey. I seek words and pluck them before they scurry to safety. I stash interesting words that say things other than boring things like thing, (could you be more specific?) or stuff, (could you please be more specific?) or something (oh come on now.) Words rally, inspired by the crack of a brittle tree limb, a flash of sunlight tackling a flag on a house balcony, the blap of a horn as a car zips by. Sensory imprints cast words like paladin (I want one of them for my very own, with sword or without), bleat (the sound of losers whining or of animals trapped in tales about Cyclopic pigs with batwings), contrafactum (just hum along here). I cache words for late night writing snacks.

Then I’m on to phrases, collections of words strung in movable pieces like fridge magnets, passages whizzing around pesky as gnats. Found this one after passing an odorous clump left by someone who owns a dog but “forgot” the blue plastic baggie: “a dapple of sunlight teasing shadows on the ground, the only beauty in this muck.” Technically the dog left it, but you know what I mean. This next phrase is a bit of a cheat as I discovered it after falling into the cul de sac trying to remove a stubbornly rooted weed, minutes after completing my walk: “I see myself as a force of nature but a submissive one.” Maybe this one is usable: “Why is it that when something drops, it always slides under a cabinet so massive and low-grounded that you can’t reach it without a backhoe?” Cheating again, a complete sentence but not a profound one. The idea came after the pretty stone I wanted to keep dropped and rolled under a tangle of weeds, lost forever. How many unidentifiable clumps did I want to turn over?

Finally it’s the serious stuff I’m gathering. Like the sight of the lady who used to push a baby stroller done up in hot pink tiger stripes with sequined bows on the sun awning. A close look revealed it wasn’t her child she was pushing. Well, not her human child, anyway. It was a shih-tzu-oodle-hua, one of those toy pooches bred not for walking or running like other wild critters, but a little fluff of squeaks to salve a lonely soul who doesn’t have a hope of having grandchildren. And then my pity rolls out, because as awful as I find the tawdry contraption in which the yapper rides, I also respond to the woman’s isolation, so removed from the world that she can best communicate with a mini dog that can’t talk. Or walk.

The sensations, images, and words I’ve collected on my walk will show up in my writing. I’ll bring them to the front when I need to feel an activity in my gut, when I want to describe something with authentic detail. I’ll twist, tweak, and change elements to suit, but they’ll end up in some story. The best walks deliver the opening to writing gridlock that’s kept me scribbling drivel for the last day or two. Engaged with story, I’ll delete crap, write passages, correct problems, or know how to get my main character rolling off the sofa to make a decisive move in my WIP.

Back home in an hour, I’ve worked off 27 calories – 32 if I’ve walked fast – a paltry effort at improving my health. But I’ve started to write and can hardly wait to get on the computer. That’s my routine, odd as it is. For me it works. Let me know what works for you. Be well, friend.