14 August 2012

Love Isn't Enough, I Need a Routine Too

My friends, I have missed you terribly. At the same time, I have been a wee bit unplugged from the interwebs in order to get more shit done. I find an open web browser to be a terrible distraction. Also, I am kicking some arse in the productivity department.

Let me tell you how it's done. (You probably already know how it's done: this is a brand new discovery on my part though, so I've got a certain naive enthusiasm about it.)

I've been getting up early to write.

See, for a while now I've been carrying this around:

Write First! (Ask Questions Later.)

That is an official NaNoWriMo ceramic travel mug. Great mug from a functional standpoint. And the message is terrific too, if you're inclined to follow advice printed on the sides of mugs.

I have never been great with actually writing first. I am a night owl by nature, so my tendency has always been to leave writing until last. I love that feeling you get when everyone has gone to bed and the house is quiet, when nothing will tear you away from the page, when your body is settled from whatever exertions you've been up to that day, and you can just let everything else slide. What are you going to do, vacuum? You can't. Might as well write.

Lately though, I've become enamoured of late evening as a reading time. I blame you, Game of Thrones! And I've been wondering what would happen if I started my day writing. In my imagination, it would be like coming out of the corner of the boxing ring with both fists swinging furiously. I figured starting the day with writing would be it. I imagined myself walking the dog or going about my day already having engaged with my characters or finished a short story draft. How sweet.

The clincher came while I was listening to Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens talk about NaNoWriMo. (Do you know about the StoryWonk Sunday podcast? If you're a writer, or even if you just really like thinking about how stories work, go get some now.) They were talking about how they'd finally managed to get up early to write, and how Lani clocked 2500 words in a morning session.

So that was it: I decided to drag my sorry self out of bed and write first. Well, actually what I do is feed the dog and cat while brewing an insanely large and strong pot of coffee with which to fill that mug, but then I write.

Generally speaking I get an hour and a half to two hours of writing time most days. (Tuesdays are the exception, when I teach an early morning class.) My sacred vow to myself is that this time is for first draft, raw word count only. I consider raw word count to be the fun part of writing. Knowing that I get to play with raw story helps pull me out of bed. (Eventually I'll figure out how to make revision fun too, but for now it's in the semi-fun, mostly hard zone.)

This has been a good experiment. In the last week and a half of July, I drafted two short stories in these morning sessions. Right now, as I'm trying to complete a long-form first draft in August, writing raw word count first thing in the morning sets me up beautifully to have my plot in the back of my mind all day long, and takes care of 50 or 60 percent of my daily word count goal.

I wonder if this works in part because I'm not a morning person. It takes me some hours to come into full consciousness after I get up. When I hit my desk, I'm still in a very dreamy mindset, and sometimes all I have to do is pick up my pen and story starts flowing. I think my inner critic wakes up a little bit later than my physical body, so there's some freedom to early morning writing that I don't feel as powerfully in the afternoon or evening. (I think my inner critic also goes to bed early, which could explain some of the great late night writing sessions I've had.)

Yet again I'm reminded that the key to getting shit done is establishing a routine that becomes automatic. I've been doing this with grocery shopping for years. My ritual is to get it in on Tuesday mornings. On my way home from class, I stop at the store and pick up what I need. I don't think about it: I just go into robot mode and do it. I've been doing this for so long that it feels weird to me not to do it. Hopefully morning writing will take on that same weird-not-to-do-it quality.

What about you guys? Do you write first? How do you make sure the writing happens?


Andrew Leon said...

I would have to get up at 4am to be able to write first, and I just can't do it. For one thing, there's no way I can actually get to bed before 10pm, so it would probably actually kill me, too. I wish I could, though. Having had time to get up, make a mocha, and sit and write before anyone else got up while we were off camping has made me want to do that always.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Yikes...4am. That would require (for me) an 8pm bedtime? Maybe 7:30?

Getting to bed on time is the big stumbling block for me. I am not accustomed to being wiped out by 10pm, but now I am.

Andrew Leon said...

I'm always wiped out by 10, and, lately, I haven't been able to get into bed before 11. It's been really hard. But school starts tomorrow, so we'll see how things go when the routine starts up again.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I hope you manage to squeak in much writing. Are you going to run your writing program again this year?

Andrew Leon said...

I am! Although I'm not sure of the schedule yet. I'm trying to get in more than an hour a week this year, but the administration at the school isn't very proactive or, um, active, at all, and, since that falls outside of the regular schedule, I'm not sure I'll be able to get them to move on it.
I will be doing a unit on historical fiction, though.

I'm doing okay writing-wise. I'm trying to get Shadow Spinner finished up. The first two chapters are available as individual Kindle downloads, right now. Part Two is free through the end of today.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Just dropped by your place and saw the news that you're doing the program again. Good stuff!

Excellent news about the free chapter...nudge nudge, everybody!

Andrew Leon said...

I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying Shorts. I'm really looking forward to this year's edition. I think it will be a lot better since I know more about what I'm doing going into the class rather than just pulling it all together at the end last year.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

You make me want to get up in the early mornings before work and try to write.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I highly recommend it, Michael. I know you already get a lot done, but I find it puts a nice, positive spin on the day to get writing done first. My schedule accommodates a long morning of writing without getting up too insanely early, but I can imagine that even thirty or forty minutes of writing would feel pretty great.

Anonymous said...

Ah, getting up early! I've been trying to do this forever, but I swear I haven't succeeded yet. Every time the alarm goes off, I crawl back into bed and tell myself I'll write later. I'm really going to have to try it, though! :)

Mark K said...

I love it when you talk dirty!

David T List said...

Not only am I writing to say congrats on finding your productivity and here's wishing that you maintain it, but also I just happen to be reading two books you're reading. (Game of Thrones and Dracula)
I am thoroughly enjoying both and honestly, I can't tell which one more than the other. Both authors have created such believable characters... (Favorites from each: Tyrion Lannister / Van Helsing)

Mina Lobo said...

Wow, good for you, Elizabeth! There's definitely something to be said for training your mind and body to a task; it falls more and more easily into that task the more you do it. But, as a night owl myself, I dunno if I could survive getting up early to write...I have such a hard time getting to sleep, as it is!
Some Dark Romantic

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Hmm, since I usually write in the morning I wonder if I should try writing late into the night as well or instead, shake things up a bit? Might be an interesting experiment... :)

Well done on finding a routine that fits you.

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Madeline Jane: It has taken me years to crack the code on this trick. The thing is, you have got to get into bed early enough that you don't feel like you're killing yourself when you get up. As a side note, apparently it is really, really good for your health to go to be the same time each night, so I'm that much closer to my goal of making it to 126 years of age.

@Mark: You know I do it just for you. Good to see you round these parts again.

@David: That is a weird coincidence. It's my first time through Game of Thrones, probably my sixth or seventh time through Dracula. Agreed, Tyrion Lannister is the bomb. It's pretty clear to me that Martin is modeling him from Shakespeare, specifically Richard III. What an amazing character.

Yeah, Van Helsing! He is such a treasure in the book. You need a Van Helsing to balance Dracula, who is such a great villain. I love the fact that he's got so many English books in his drafty castle. There's a good scholarly article about the novel called "The Occidental Tourist" that talks about Dracula's book collection and his intellectual approach to terrorizing the Brits.

@Mina: sometimes I still have trouble falling asleep, but mostly it's okay. The crazy part is how tired I get at night, when I'm accustomed to perking up.

@Madeline: Do what suits you. There is something lovely about writing deep into the night if you've never tried it. When I did some extreme marathon writing last November, I wrote late into the night and compensated with afternoon naps. It worked well, though it might have been slightly ruinous to my health.

Traci Kenworth said...

I'm best at morning writing and occasionally, afternoon. I try not to stress over when I write though or how much, there's days when making the effort is enough. My Muse works it out though. Some days its slouchy, others, full steam ahead.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Totally, Traci, I find myself racing at times, and grinding to a halt at others.

I do find that if I don't set aside a specific time to write, I often end up putting it off instead of doing it.

Deborah Walker said...

I've got to find more time in the day. I've been tracking my writing time, lately. Wow, what an eye-opener.

you've inspired me, Elizabeth.

Unknown said...

I read that the most successful people wake up early. lol. I wake up at 5:00am to workout, work from 8-5, do homework from 5-8 (sometimes 9) and write from 8 (or 9)-10.

I have to plan my day out or I can't fit everything I need to in the day. Then I split the weekend up by doing homework all day Saturday, Sunday is writing and blogging.

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Ashley: wow. Your days are just packed. I am impressed.

@Debs: I'd be curious to know if your time tracking results have changed since you posted about it in early July. I just checked your blog - I see you moved house, which is an incredible time drain in my experience. Good luck getting back on the horse.

I am not a morning person, but I am able to write in the morning. It's weird.

Deborah Walker said...

Hi, Elizabeth. I took a two week break, but now I'm back to my new routine. I'm aiming for 3-5 hours writing a day. But it's amazing how much time I can spend not writing. Checking duotrope, looking at an interesting anthology call, making a quick cup of coffee, all adds up to 20 minutes.

My strict tracking is really helping me.

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Debs: Good show on getting back on the horse. 3-5 hours is a great goal. Are you counting editing in that time as well? I couldn't tell from your goal tracking post.

Deborah Walker said...

I count producing the first skeletal draft, with great chunks of internet research cut and pasted, then the subsequent 'grooming' edits (five or more passes) to produce a finished story.

The type of editing where I take a finished story and polish it, I don't count. But I don't do much of that anyway.
What I'm not counting is general research, subbing, admin, market research and reading stories.
Actually my sub count has fallen a little, as I try to squeeze it in the margins. You have to be careful when you set these systems up. Somehow I want to get my 5 hours in a day. Crazy really, as I'm only competing against myself.

Ah, the power of writing things down.