Behind the Writings 5/9
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
From the moment we get up in the morning till late at night, our day is organised through to dos and their corresponding time slots. Blank spaces in our agenda have become rare, and if we spot one, we feel the need to fill it in. An undetermined moment in time must all of a sudden be allocated to an activity. We surely don't want to lose control over our schedules, they mirror our purpose. Without purpose what are we? Does this sound exaggerated or rather familiar? Maybe somewhat in between.
Creative writing demands FOCUS. It's a mental thing, one that makes writers look for a quiet spot to be ALONE. We're by ourselves during a considerable part of the writing process. Having a routine can prevent the feeling of having the walls slide towards you slowly and unstoppably. It helps create a rhythm, a flow. No flow without sweat. More often than not you'll need to push, keep pushing to get the mental wheels turning. For sure it will be an uphill ride, no one ever said (creative) writing was easy.
I’ve read exclamations such as “just do it”, “write on a daily basis”. I agree to a certain level. The act of writing should help you move forward with your story. Deleting is part of that job, as is reworking what sucks. But if you get stuck in a loop, repeating yourself, drifting off and strolling from setting descriptions to dialogues and back without purpose, it’s time to do something else. Getting your head out of the creative clouds can be a relief. I tend to look at my text with a fresh mind after a break.
It’s easy to get lost in your mental labyrinth. If routine has lost its effect, the best way to get back on track is to do physical labour. In my case that’s sports.
How I found my routine? I was given the opportunity to enrol in a four-month writing course. An initiative by a Dutch publishing house aimed at aspiring writers with a story in the making. Before the start of the course, my writing activities were very occasional. I knew what I wanted to write, but I seriously underestimated the amount of time needed to get even the briefest text right.
The concept of the course was of great help. We would write and hand in our piece by a given date. During the next meetup we each would have read and commented on each other’s texts. We were a small group of five, eager to get our stories out there. Peer pressure and the knowledge of working under the watchful eye of an experienced multi-published author set the pace. By mid-January the course had ended. It was now up to us to keep our writing rhythm steady.
I spiced up my routine when our country went in lockdown mid-March. The word count I set for myself when working on my newest manuscript was 1.500 to 2.000 words per chapter for online publication every Wednesday during eleven consecutive weeks. Each chapter took one week’s work including responding to feedback by professional editors. Counting in the period of ideation and story structuring, I had my draft manuscript after fifteen weeks of work. The draft is in no shape to be published. I need a few more weeks to polish it before launching it as a proper story.
A routine gets you through the day more easily, especially when it helps you get into a flow. It also provides a feeling of certainty through structure. Something to hold on to. This may sound as if routine is a creativity killer, but that's far from the truth. It's liberating. If you're anything like me, and you value your freedom you get yourself a routine.
A magical consequence of fighting for a routine – face it, you’ll need to fight for it - is more time, white space in that agenda. Inherent to a more structured life is the usage of the word “NO”. However, spontaneity has its (creative) benefits. Being among people can have a good influence on your story even if it’s just a small bubble.
Routine isn't a principle, don't let it suffocate your creativity by holding on to it too strictly for too long.
I’m convinced a routine is the best remedy against procrastination and loose moments of fluctuating creativity, which don't get you anywhere in the long term. You can’t force inspiration into a routine, you can try to capture ideas for later. More about that in one of my previous post “The Muse”.
In the end it comes down to perseverance. Not letting yourself be seduced by the promise of an easy path, because guess what: there is none! It’s about what you deem necessary to get your story told regardless to length, genre, or anything else. And it's entirely free of charge if you don't count the hours, coffees and torn out pages that precede the final draft version.
author: Grietje Y. M. François
editor: Christopher Dunkley
There are nine episodes in the "Behind the Writing" series, the last one will be published on Thursday the 27th of August. The content of these posts is about my personal experiences as a writer, writing my first young adult novel "Naar de haaien." (Dutch).