Reveille + Regimen
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Starting out, I used to ask myself the wrong question: "What do I want to do today?" Answers included going to the movies, dining out with my wife, or staying home being generally unproductive. Inevitably I'd look back and think, why didn't I write?
So now I ask myself the modified question, "Come tomorrow, what will I have wanted to do today?" It's magic. Almost always the answer pops up in front of me, write a chapter!
The trick is, when to write? I have a full-time job as an HR professional for an international energy company. Believe me, that's a time-guzzling job. When on earth will I find time to write?
My schedule requires a 4 or 4:30 a.m. wake-up if I want to get any worthwhile writing done.
On weekday mornings when I'm able to overcome the voices crowding my mind (the negative ones that say, "Oh, why bother?" and the seductive ones that whisper, "Isn't this bed is so very comfy?"), swing my feet off the duvet and press my heels against the carpet, then I'm usually successful in dragging my body to the study.
If I start typing the moment my computer warms up - instead of re-reading yesterday's words and then tweaking them here and there, losing all momentum in the process - I'll typically get some good writing in.
And before I know it my characters have surprised me with unexpected words or dastardly deeds, and that really wakes me up.
By 6:30 when I have to abandon my chair and rush off to my day-job, I will have invariably produced more than I do on weekends when I get to sleep in but then rarely get in any good writing.
Once poised at my computer, awake enough to know who I am and what I'm doing there, I follow a loose regimen of oh-so-liberating reminders to get the juices flowing.
1. Strive for progress, not perfection
I give much kudos to my wife for the decorative signage in my study - it's the first thing that catches my eye when I walk in there, and it frees me from the ridiculous strain of trying to be flawless.
2. My initial draft will undoubtedly be unreadable
First attempts are rarely gorgeous; newborn words are often just plain ugly.
The key is to get everything out, get it in writing, without overtly heeding how they'll be shaped in the end.
My most valuable ally - the rewrite - is where I find out what the story is truly saying. That's where I amp up the relevant stuff and tone down (or outright retire) the less-than-worthy.
FYI: third drafts are for tidying up the spelling and punctuation, then it's off to my few trusted readers who tell me what they really think.
3. Knowing the end shows me how to start
I am not an advocate of extremes, such as i) knowing the entire story before writing it, which I've found supremely stifling, or ii) not knowing what it is or where it's going, just letting the writing tell me, which I've found dizzyingly droll.
Rather, I chase the William Goldman model of first figuring out what the story is - drawing pictures, jotting down bits of dialogue, discovering connections between characters and events - until I'm able to articulate the story in a single breath, with one-, two- or three-word summaries of the major sequences.
Once I have that, I can attack the first draft with confidence knowing where I'm ultimately heading, but still free to see how the writing wants to get there.
Next time my alarm goes off in the middle of the night, and those inner voices shout out that it's not worth the effort, I shut them up by asking myself, "Come tomorrow, what will I have wanted to do today?" and once those heels find the carpet, I'm off to the races.