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~ Writing a Biography ~
 
STALKING THE ELEPHANT
 
A Blog About Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

CREATING A WRITING ROUTINE THAT WORKS

We often hear that one of the most important things when writing a book is to establish a regular writing routine. That's true whether you teach, spend your days in an office, or work at home. But for most of us, it's one of the hardest things to learn how to do.

The main reason to have a regular routine when writing a book, of course, is that waiting until we feel "ready" to tackle the hard work of writing, or until "inspiration" hits, may mean waiting for a long time, not least because avoiding writing only tends to make the eventual prospect of it scarier—which means that the book may never get done. Whereas actually sitting down to work increases the chances of success exponentially.

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Finding the writing routine that works best for you is easier if you're willing to experiment in order to discover what best fits the professional situation you happen to be in—and also, if those circumstances allow, what suits your own temperament.

Since it never hurts to know what other people do, I highly recommend this post on the subject from intellectual historian Andrew Hartman and the discussion that follows. Since Hartman—he's the guy in the picture (just kidding)—and many of his commenters either teach or have full-time jobs, if that's your situation this discussion might be an especially good place to start.

I also enjoyed "The Daily Routines of Famous Writers". Many of the writers quoted are novelists, but don't let that stop you. The principle of finding a routine suited to your own needs is the same.

Finally, a user-friendly book by Sara Horowitz and Toni Sciarra Poynter, The Freelancer's Bible (Workman, 2012), can help you to get a handle on some specific aspects of "Productivity and Time Management" you might want to think about. On pp. 324-332, for instance, the authors ask questions about how you use your time and give you a model of a log to keep track of how exactly you tend spend your workday. Those are great tools for anyone looking to how to set up or improve a writing routine. (Disclosure: I'm a friend of one of the authors. But it's still a really good book.)

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As these resources suggest, the best "daily routine" is the one that fits the individual's own requirements. So I won't offer any advice of my own, except to say that I learned this the hard way.

For years, I assumed that having a "daily routine" meant that I had to write every day, and most of the time, I did that, mainly because I always had. Since I'm a morning person, I would start in the morning and sit at the computer until one of two things happened: if the work was going well, I'd keep on working because I was having too much fun to stop, staying in my chair until I was too exhausted to continue. If the writing wasn't going well, I'd keep on working because I was afraid to stop in case I never wrote another word. Sometimes I'd be at the desk for 8 hours straight. But that was okay, because I was "writing every day."

That's actually pretty dumb, and gradually I began to realize that my work went better if I didn't try to write every day of the week. Still, I never examined the assumption that a "daily" routine meant "doing the same thing every day" until I read this post by Charles J. Shields (on this very website, no less).

Charles Shields' "daily routine," I learned, consists of alternating the days when he writes with days on which he does only book-related chores, such as research, emailing, or filing. This simple, sensible formula has not only improved my own routine but has allowed me to stop feeling guilty about not writing every day.

The moral: Don't assume. Figure out what works for best for you. Then stick with it. As long a routine works (and only as long as that), it's the right routine for you.

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