One of the first questions I get from people when they find out I’m a writer is about my routine—how I write. I could answer that in a few simple sentences, but I find the journey to create a schedule and learn discipline worth sharing, especially if there are any new writers out there by chance reading this.
I wrote the first 25,000 words of The Soul Mender when I was still in college, and honestly I only have one recollection of ever sitting down and actually writing. I was not drunk or on drugs (I know that might have popped into your head because of the whole author + college thing.). I just don’t recall the process I used at twenty-two to pump out 25,000 words.
Graduation was followed by a four-year slump where I maybe wrote two or three times. I was working at Dinosaur Valley State Park in my first job and absolutely having a blast. The book was always in the back of my mind, but by this point it had become something that might happen someday. I did not have the discipline needed to have a full time career, and write a book (I still don’t, actually). I’d want to write, but at the end of the day the last thing I wanted to do was fire up my brain and keep going.
Long story short, I met my husband (fiancé at the time) and we decided to go on an adventure of our own—he joined the National Park Service, and I was finally going to write my book. I felt excited and anxious—like in a few months I’d be on the New York Times Bestseller List with a movie deal coming down the pike (still waiting BTW). I’d just read Stephen King’s book On Writing and was inspired and ready to find my muse and get to work.
At the time we were living on the tip of an island across from Pensacola, FL in a house that was built in 1907 as military officer’s quarters. Out one window lay the Pensacola Bay. Out the other was the historic Fort Pickens built in 1834, and beyond stretched the cerulean waters of the Gulf of Mexico. No doubt I was spoiled. People pay big money to write in places like that!
My husband would leave for work and I knew I had eight hours to write. Sometimes I would begin right away, and sometimes I would wait until I only had two hours to go. I’d spend my free time reading on the beach, or fishing, or swimming in the water. My husband’s hours were all over the place. Sometimes 9am-6pm, sometimes 6pm-2am. I adjusted my schedule to his, and wrote accordingly. But I struggled. Since it was my first book I set my daily word counts to 1,000 words per day, but many days I only eked out 500. It took me five months to complete the rough draft in this fashion, but by the end I had learned an important lesson. Some people may be able to write successfully at whatever time of the day they sit down. I am not one of those people.
Fast forward through a few years of rejections, struggles, defeat, hope, more rejection, tons of editing, and a now published book.
When I sat down to write book two, The Peace Keeper, I was no longer a novice writer. I had a book published, I’d been through that entire process. I had a critique group and a writers group. No expert by any means, but I was moving up the ladder. This time I wrote in a house that was built as an artist’s studio, with a view of Big Bend Ranch State Park and Fresno Peak out of one window, and the Rio Grand and cliffs of Mexico out the other. Again, how lucky am I?
And since I’d learned my lesson the first time around, I decided to stick to a routine. So here’s where I’m going to answer the question of how I write. For The Peace Keeper, I would wake up, grab my coffee and breakfast, and head immediately to the computer. I set my goal at 2,000 words per day and would not let myself leave the chair until my task was complete. Sometimes I’d be finished by 11am. Sometimes not until sunset. With this routine I cut two months off of my writing time, finishing The Peace Keeper in three instead of five.
To this day, that is the only routine that really works for me. I can be a bit flexible, but knowing myself, I know that my brain works best in the morning, and my discipline is strongest before noon. Beyond that and I’m liable to be out hiking or biking or reading a book by the river. What can I say?
So now as I write the final book of the trilogy, I’m following that same method. I’ve had a ton of visitors and a few special events that have set me back quite a bit on finishing at the same time I did for The Peace Keeper (Don’t worry, this won’t delay the publication date, I just can’t loaf around as much this summer!). The neat thing for me is that by following this schedule, and forcing myself to be disciplined, I’ve not only been writing 2,000 words a day, but upwards of 2,800. Maybe it’s getting easier because this is the third time around and everything comes a bit more naturally. Stephen King was right in On Writing when he inspired me so many years back:
“But you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well. The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon or seven ‘til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll state showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”
I’m just glad I finally listened!
What I’m reading: History of the World in Bite-Sized Chunks by Emma Marriott and Four Gifts From God by Diana Lee.
2017 Books I’ve Finished (5/30):
1) The Stand, Stephen King
2) UR, Stephen King
3) Behind the Mask, Janice Brooks
4) The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
5) Prey, Michael Creighton