The early stages of a writing career are about learning the craft. After that, it’s about crafting a routine. Good writers are ones who master the craft. Productive writers are those who master a routine.
When I signed with my first agent she asked me, “How long does it take you to write a novel?” I hemmed and hawed. Translation: I’m pretty slow. When I signed with my second agent, she asked me, “So how long does it take you to write a novel?” Why are these folks so interested in how fast I can write? Answer: Because productivity matters in publishing. And productivity is about mastering a routine.
For the record, I am not opposed to routine. In fact, I quite love it! Waking up with “no agenda” is, for me, like waking up to a polka-dotted sunrise — weird. I require rituals like a blind man does a cane. Nevertheless, I have had a difficult time crafting a writing routine.
Recently, I have begun re-reading Stephen Koch’s Modern Library: Writer’s Workshop. In his chapter on The Writing Life, Koch says this:
For all its inner excitement, the writer’s life is ascetic and solitary. You are going to be spending almost all your working life alone in a bare little cell. True, the day job that you will almost certainly need may relieve the solitude. But it will increase the pressure. You will have to carve writing time from the corners of exhaustion and self-denial, and defend it from competing claims that will flow unendingly from family and friends, from your own enthusiasm and — not least — from your own impulse to escape. (emphasis mine)
“Carv[ing] writing time from the corners of exhaustion… and defend[ing] it from competing claims” is hardly a writing routine, but it pretty much describes mine. Yes, one of those “competing claims” is this blog. But there’s plenty to choose from.
And it doesn’t help that one of my favorite writers tends toward tedium. In an interview with BookReporter.com, Dean Koontz was asked to describe his typical writing day:
I don’t write a quick draft and then revise; instead, I work slowly page by page, revising and polishing, trimming page 1 repeatedly until I feel I can’t do better with pace or language, and only then moving on to page 2. This means anywhere from twenty to fifty passes at each page before proceeding to the next. At the end of each chapter, I print out and pencil the hard copy four or five times, because I see things on the page that I didn’t see on the screen. Some days I’m lucky to squeeze out a page of copy that pleases me, but I get as many as 6 or 7 pages on a very good day; the average is probably 3 pages.
“I work slowly,” says Koontz. “This means anywhere from twenty to fifty passes at each page before proceeding to the next.” (D’ya hear that all you slave-driving agents?) Of course, “working slowly” doesn’t negate routine. Or productivity. In fact, Koontz has mastered a routine that both complements his writing style and fuels production.
But as much as I resonate with Dean Koontz’s plodding page-by-page editorial pace, it’s just not practical.
So here I am, under contract for two books, growing in the craft and crafting a routine. As much as I would like a routine that involves “twenty to fifty passes at each page before proceeding to the next,” it’s more realistic for me to “carve writing time from the corners of exhaustion.” Now if I can just manage to make that “carving” a habit…
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Question: Do you have a writing routine? Was it difficult for you to develop a writing routine? Or is your routine more about “carving writing time from the corners of exhaustion”?