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Entries in writing routines (5)


Early to bed and early to rise makes a man stealthy, Delphi, and... something

There was a great streak last year where I was up and at my desk by 6 or 6:30am. I wrote for at least an hour every morning, even if the output was not outputting. I sat. I pondered. I wrote.

I also drank a lot of coffee.

Now, most mornings, I can't seem to get out of bed before 8am. It's partially that I stay up too late. Maybe I'm getting complacent now that I'm seeing modest success as a fledgling playwright.

Maybe a lot of things.

Maybe my peak writing hours are not, in fact, right after I jump out of bed, but rather a few hours laternow? Maybe what I should try to do is get to work early, take a long writerly lunch, and stay late to make up the time?

I know that when I'm feeling stuck a change of venue and a limited amount of time in which to write will usually get me unstuckI'm never more productive than at a small table with a legal pad, a pen, and a large iced coffee (black, like a boss). I wrote most of my weekly challenges that way, and maybe I need to get back to it.

When are your peak writing hours?


Chuck Wendig on finding your characters

Yet another great post from author Chuck Wendig, this time about how he gets started on a new book:

...I suss out the characters wants, needs, and fears. What does the character need to keep going? What does the character want — whether consciously or unconsciously? What will drive him as a goal throughout this story? And finally, what does he fear? Obstacles in a character’s path are critical, and some of those obstacles must be bound up with the character’s fears.
Finally, I do a little three-beat character arc for the character. Three words or sentences that are meant to indicate the state of the character across the story — beginning, middle, and end.

Poor cat down on his luck wants to see a change in this country –> elected president, way over his kitty head –> once again a poor cat but now knows the intimate details of the democratic process and oh did I mention he nuked the middle of our own country into oblivion.

The three beats could be fairly succinct — consider the simple mythic arc of Maiden –> Mother — > Crone. Or, as per the vampire in Double Dead, Predator –> Protector –> Penitent. When conceiving of Miriam Black’s arc in Mockingbird my only three notes were: Selfish Vulture –> Pecking Crow –> Reluctant Raptor.

Read the whole thing here!

There's some really useful/inspiring stuff in this post; I'm planning to give it another read soon and adjust my own process (questionable, at best) to include some of his methods. I'm particularly intrigued by his four-act structure and making a list of "tentpole" and "holy shit!" moments that absolutely must happen in your story.


How to be a professional writer

Awesome post from Chuck Wendig about how to make a living being a writer:

And so, I figure, it’s time for some general tips on not just being a writer but, rather, being a professional writer. Further, being a professional writer who can do more than just buy an annual steak dinner with your earnings.

Here we go.

Speed: Learn to write with some zip in your fingers. A thousand words per hour is a good base level and not at all difficult to achieve.


Time: Learning to write well and with some speed means this takes time. Do not expect to be one of those “overnight successes,” a creature as rare as a Bigfoot riding a unicorn on a saddle made of leprechaun leather. A writer’s so-called “overnight success” is just the tip of the iceberg exposed, while the rest of the writer’s time and effort and narrative R&D exist in a massive glacial mountain beneath the darkened waters. Just because the writer appeared on the world’s radar doesn’t mean that poor fucker hasn’t been working his fingers bloody for quite some time.

No, Really, I Mean It: This can be a slow process. It was about a ten year journey to go from “freshly-minted, ruddy-cheeked penmonkey” to “battle-hardened full-timer with stories wound into his bloody beard-tangle.” Be ready to invest the time and effort.

Read the rest here!

Much of this advice is reassuringly similar to Dean Wesley Smith's, right down to the writing speed of 1,000 words per hour. (Though the advice later in the post about self-publishing is wildly different.)

No one in any of my dozens of writing workshops has ever suggested that I try writing quickly, but man oh man has it solved a lot of my problems re: being a procrastinating perfectionist. 


"Talent = Work + Desire + The ability to smell shit in your own work."

From The Rumpus, some great advice for younger writers... or any writers, really. But for some reason this at the end spoke most to me:

Like any other writer I fantasize about sitting in my well-lit office eight hours a day, contentedly transcribing this on-going dialogue I have with myself as fat checks are pushed through the mail slot, which my lovely creative professional husband will take to the bank to deposit on his way home from picking up our darling, well-behaved children from soccer practice, after which we will sit in some patch of freshly cut grass and express our gratitude that we are so lucky to be a family supported entirely by income from the arts. But children, we know, are not always darling and well-behaved and lovely creative professional husbands often forget to go to the bank and it’s rare that anyone can write for eight hours a day and fat checks are mostly found elsewhere.


There is no endgame. You must be alive at your desk and know that it will not always be pleasant (though sometimes it will be) but pleasantness is not the point. If you love to be challenged, then your desk is your oasis of challenge. And remember you are a writer for the process of writing first and foremost.

(Read the rest here!)

My fantasy is, incidentally, very similar to this one, except that my wife will be picking up my darling, well-behaved children from their Dungeons & Dragons game, not soccer practice.


The daily routines of famous writers

From Brain Pickings, a treasure trove of daily writing routines from famous writerlies:

[Susan Sontag:]

I write with a felt-tip pen, or sometimes a pencil, on yellow or white legal pads, that fetish of American writers. I like the slowness of writing by hand. Then I type it up and scrawl all over that. And keep on retyping it, each time making corrections both by hand and directly on the typewriter, until I don’t see how to make it any better. Up to five years ago, that was it. Since then there is a computer in my life. After the second or third draft it goes into the computer, so I don’t retype the whole manuscript anymore, but continue to revise by hand on a succession of hard-copy drafts from the computer.


I write in spurts. I write when I have to because the pressure builds up and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really under way, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little. It’s a very undisciplined way of working and makes me not very prolific. But I’m too interested in many other things.

I've been getting back to this recently—writing by hand, typing it up, editing that, typing that up, etc... I thought this approach to be a unique solution to my many writerly idiosyncrasies, but basically I have just been copying Susan Sontag's routine.

And I have never been Ernest Hemingway's greatest fan, but I love this:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Read 'em all here!