Writing Rituals, Order and Routine

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Over the last couple of months I witnessed first hand the power of order and ritual in my writing – or, more correctly, I witnessed what happens when order turns to disorder and the ritual of planning and creating disappears. All this because I agreed to step up and volunteer to be president of my sons’ elementary school parent teacher organization and in a giant ‘poof!’ of hot air all my creative order and energy disappeared with it. 

Taking stock after a couple of months I now realize just how important order, routine (and time!) is to my creativity – and how I have to reclaim them all, in order to re-establish the balance we all struggle to maintain between our writing life and our ‘other life’.

This fact was solidified when I read David Brooks’ op-ed in the New York Times entitled ‘The Good Order‘ – though this opinion piece veers into politics – it was the idea that creative people need to build and maintain their own order and routine that resonated with me – as well as the fact that doing so can be surprisingly hard (which the last few months have certainly demonstrated!). This op-ed piece also referenced a book entitled ‘Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” complied by Mason Currey (whose website on creative people’s daily routines I encourage you all to visit – if only to read first hand how many artists face their work with deliberation, ritual and routine). 

Many writers establish very strict routines in order to get their writing done. Anthony Trollope was at his writing desk by 5:30am and insisted on completing 250 words every fifteen minutes for the few hours he had before his day job started at the post office. Trollope produced a staggering 49 novels in 35 years writing this way. Stephen King gets up at the same time each day, has a glass of water and his vitamins, and sits at the same seat at his desk, where his papers are arranged in the same way each day, before he starts to write. King says this helps tell his mind this is time to start dreaming (a sentiment I love by the way!).  When John Grisham was first starting out, he would arrive at his legal office by 5:30am each weekday to write with a goal of completing a page a day. He says his rituals then were “silly and brutal but very important”.

Since volunteering my time and seeing it evaporate just as quickly, I now need to reestablish a new set of writing rituals and routines. I’ve never been one to have any real ritual beyond what I call the art of showing up with my bum in the seat and my fingers on the keyboard each day – but now I need to establish a new order and a renewed sense of discipline. I’m even contemplating setting my alarm clock so I won’t be able to let my volunteer time bleed into my creative time. 

So I’m turning to you my TKZers – how do you set your writing routine? Have you had to ‘reset’ that routine when circumstances changed and you suddenly found your writing time being eroded? If so, how have you gone about establishing a new routine or order?  

21 thoughts on “Writing Rituals, Order and Routine

  1. So I followed the link to the David Brooks piece, which had something else that caught my eye that then led me to the following link~http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/opinion/sunday/how-to-stop-time.html How to Stop Time (indeed) ~ the antithesis of your point, I s’pose, and perhaps an example of it as well… But I dawdle (incessantly, I’m told)~

  2. Trollope has always been one of my writing heroes, Clare, for that rock solid discipline.

    Anyway, one practice I’ve tried to stick to over the years is the “Nifty 350.” First thing in the morning (well, second thing, after getting the coffee going) is to write 350 words. It helps to leave off in the middle of a sentence or scene the day before.

    Getting 350 words down immediately takes advantage of the boys in the basement and the work they’ve been doing all night. And it jump starts me toward my quota. The writing day goes so much better that way.

    I don’t know if that helps, but I’ve always been an early morning person. I love starting write while it’s still dark outside.

    Can you get up before kids and husband and do 350?

  3. I didn’t have much of a routine for my first book…took me two years to get it done and sold. Now, though, if I want to keep my name current, I really feel the need for routine. So it is up at 6 am every day but Sunday. No way of getting around it. If I don’t, life interferes for the rest of the day.

    • Life tends to get in the way doesn’t it:) I feel like I had a pretty regular (albeit not all that disciplined) routine but now that’s flown out of the window so it’s time to rethink the schedule. I’m up pretty early (9 year old boys who wake at 6am everyday no matter what!) but I need to try and get my own creative start in before mum duty begins and PTO stuff takes over!

  4. My situation is similar to Clare’s. I volunteer/coach for the local middle school cross country team and run a blog covering the meets in the area. Since I also have a day job, that means the mornings, which are prime writing time, are now filled with inspecting houses instead.

    I figured out my optimal schedule on the first book. Up at a reasonable hour, rested. Let the dog fetch the paper, give him a carrot, snag a cuppa on the way past the kitchen, and into the chair. On with the music, off with the internet, and aim for a thousand words.

    Looking forward to the schedule resetting here in about three weeks. Love the kids, but my characters are getting impatient.

  5. Thanks for this post, Clare.

    These are questions that I am continuously asking. I’m eager to read the answers you get.

    Having a day job with paper work to bring home at night means that I am always struggling to find time. I have set aside two days that are “sacred.” And I have found that I need to write in the morning, when I am more alert, and before the “cares of this world” invade my time and creativity. If I try to take care of business first, I don’t shift back into the creative mode very well.

    I also must admit that I often take on too many responsibilities, time traps. I’ve come to realize that I need to keep asking, “Is this something I really want to do. Is this something I really need to do?” Many times I just need to clear my schedule to make time for writing. I can’t do it all. I have to set priorities. A book that has helped me learn to say “no” to requests for my time is BOUNDARIES, by Cloud and Townsend.

    Thanks for your post. Good luck with finding answers that work for you.

  6. Clare–
    I suspect that when you took on your volunteer job, you had to learn lots of things. This may be what derailed you: it wasn’t business as usual, or routine. If the daily demands are predictable, it’s usually easier to bracket time for writing.
    BTW, once Trollope became a success, he continued with his morning drill. Except, once he finished his word quota, he went fox hunting.

    • Barry – you’re totally right and I took over a pretty much non-functioning PTO which meant learning, reinventing and starting afresh all at the same time!

  7. Up at 4:30 or 5. write for 2-3 hrs. then off to paying gig.

    One change I’ve recently made is to open document in the evening and spend 30-45 minutes editing what I wrote that morning. Helps a lot. Never could resist editing prior days work before starting anew. When I did that in the morning, that 30-45 minutes took too much time away.

    Routine wise, many writer’s suggest listening to music as you write. The only instrumental music I have is, ‘Bagpipes Classics.” Never listened to it before, but now hearing that first note helps me to focus on the story.

  8. I envy those who can get up two hours early and write before work, or before kids rise, etc. Well, actually I don’t envy them…getting up early sucks. I am a night person. I can get by on 4 or 5 hours sleep but prefer to stay up and write until the wee hours of the morning, then rise to my alarm just in time for the day job commute.

    With a full time day job, and a full time audiobook narration job, my writing ritual starts after I turn the mic off about 9 pm. I write until 11 or Midnight, whichever comes first. And on weekends I put in a lot more than that. This past weekend I got to enjoy my favourite summer time ritual of lighting a fire in the fire pit, sitting on the back deck and knocking out page after page from about 3 pm until well after dark. Actually got over 6000 words written from Friday night to Sunday night in that manner. It was awesome.

    • Like you – I end up working more at night but I’m going to try the morning gig and see how it goes. I’m pretty bleary even while getting kids ready for school so who knows what brain capacity I’ll have before 6am but I guess I’ll never know until I try!

  9. Wow, talk about timely. I was recently volunteered to be assistant den leader (yes, approached and told if not you then we’ll have to shut it down), after I had already volunteered to help out with my other son’s robotics team. Talk about finding my time gone. Not just writing, but sitting and thinking time because now when I am out if anyone sees me from these organizations there is always things to discuss and there are the endless emails and decisions to be made.

    One thing I recently did is make the habit of getting up earlier. I didn’t link this habit with anything other than getting some of my own head space back before everyone rushes at me, but I may later use it for my writing time. It was hard just making it it’s own habit as I am not a morning person without attaching another habit to it, but once I feel it’s solid I know I can expand on this habit and add writing time or something else.

    Anyway, thanks for the links.

  10. Timely thoughts. My routine went south after the WWC conference in Calgary mid August. Vacation and family filled the next few weeks. That is all well and good but my writing routine became non-existent. My current blog – finished only hours before I read this, is about setting writing goals. Now that I’ve done that, I can get past the Wishcraft to the Seatcraft and write. 30 min exercise, coffee and my 45 minute writer’s commute (ie social media up-dating) and then writing. No kids at home, a busy-in-his-workshop husband and silence certainly help. I never maintained a routine when I was working & had family at home. Now, written goals keep me on track. If I write it down, I have to do it. That’s the power of writing!

Comments are closed.