Monday, January 28, 2013

Establishing a writing routine

Niles writes: I've heard writers talk about how important their routine can be since writing is sorta a form of hypnosis. I think Stephen King said that. Obviously he's a novelist not a TV writer, but it's all like the same thing. I'm curious, do you have a routine to help you get into the "zone"? Most fellow comedy writers I know seem to get intoxicated. I dunno about taking up that habit, but I am impressionable.

I think this is the Stephen King interview you're referring to:

Your comedy writer friends are probably just procrastinating, but I have been known to booze a bit at the laptop. :)

My friend Nate recently alerted me to a great essay by Kevin Hartnett called Letters in the Wind: A Writer's Evolution. The takeaway:
I learned that a real writer shouldn’t need a cup of tea at his side or a cabin with a view of the ocean or things just so in his own mind in order to get his work done.
It's nice to imagine yourself writing Oscar-worthy pages in your perfect ergonomic chair, breathing in the salty Pacific breeze, listening to some really rare import record that TOTALLY sounds different from the mp3. Maybe you even have a fancy iPad USB typewriter or a hot housekeeper bringing you tea like Colin Firth's Aurelia in LOVE ACTUALLY...but none of that actually has anything to do with writing. Generally all I use is my laptop...and when I'm working at a table, I also use a bean bag wrist rest (at some point I'll invest in a more ergonomic setup, but I'm not there yet).

You asked about routine, though, which I think is more about regimen than comfort. I don't have a strict time or number of hours I work; perhaps I should (F. Scott Frazier says he writes every single day, Monday through Sunday, 6-12 pages), but right now I still balance writing with blogging, tutoring and script coverage - things that occupy different stretches of time on different days. I personally find it difficult to A) wake up earlier than I really have to, and B) squeeze in a half hour of writing here or there. Instead, I generally write in very long chunks late at night or on the weekends (when there are fewer distractions). When I first quit my assistant job, I felt guilty about not always getting writing done during free time in the afternoons...but if you want to work out in the afternoon and write at midnight, who cares? You have to find what works for you - though I admit that's different from making excuses. If a year goes by and you haven't finished a script, maybe you're the kind of person who needs more strict of a schedule. You might also find it helpful to use fellowship/contest deadlines or writer's group deadlines as motivation (these definitely helped me in the beginning). 

Other options: 

30-minute writing sprints, a la Jane Espenson, who encourages her Twitter followers to spend 30 minutes doing nothing but writing - no Tweeting, no emailing, no getting up for a snack, etc. 


Greg M said...

This is good advice, Amanda. I'd also add that it's important not to beat yourself up if you do miss a day/get a lot less done that you had hoped; beating yourself up isn't gonna fix the problem, and it could lead to burnout (I speak from personal experience here). I've also been working on divorcing myself from future expectations for the scripts I'm writing. (Goals = good; THIS SCRIPT MUST GET ME A JOB = bad.)

Little Miss Nomad said...

I think having a daily ritual always intimidated me, but then it occurred to me that I could make myself have a weekly word count--for me it was 3,000 words since I also hold down a steady 40-hour-a-week job. It didn't matter if I broke it up over all seven days or did most of it in two or three days, but by Saturday I had to hit that word count I'd put in my Google calendar. And it totally worked. This is most useful for a novel, but I highly recommend it.