How Writers Find Rhythm: Effective Habits of 7 Authors
Writers develop routines, which they trust for momentum and production.
Posted March 29, 2014
Because I have published quite a lot over the past two decades, people often ask me how I do it. Mostly, I’ve exploited my body rhythms. It’s important to learn what your best writing time is.
Mine is morning and evening. First, I get coffee. I take it with me to check email. Then I write in a focused way for about three hours. When it feels right, I take a walk. This helps me to return fresh, with new ideas.
In the afternoon, I do other things, like errands, cleaning, or reading something unrelated, because I already know I won’t concentrate well. Then, as I feel my focus crystallizing during the late afternoon, I return to writing. I might even eat dinner at the computer.
I don’t set a specific number or words or pages to accomplish, but I do set broad goals for each day. I write them across the week, as an organizing guideline, especially when I have deadlines.
Now, what have other writers done?
In On Writing, Stephen King said that he writes (or did write) 10 pages a day without fail, even on holidays. “There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”
When he first started writing, John Grisham developed a set of rituals: "The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week." His goal was to write a page every day before he transferred his attention to his job as a lawyer.
Truman Capote supposedly wrote while lying supine, with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another. “I am a completely horizontal author,” he said “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.” His third draft, done on a typewriter, would be done in bed — with the typewriter balanced on his knees.
Ernest Hemingway aimed for 500 words a day. He woke early, so he could write in peace and quiet. Despite his reputation, he claimed he did not get drunk while writing.
Vladimir Nabokov reportedly stood up to write. He liked to put scenes on index cards so he could write them in no particular order. Some novels required over two thousand cards, which he would then arrange as he pleased.
Joyce Carol Oates writes in the morning, before breakfast. She’s also a creative writing professor, and on the days she teaches, she writes for an hour before leaving for her first class. On other days, when the writing is going well, she can work for many hours without a break, sometimes not eating until deep into the afternoon.
Simone de Beauvior would first have tea and wait until mid-morning before she started to write. She would quit during the early afternoon to see friends. Around five o'clock, she returned to work and continue until nine.
So, what do you do to keep your creativity flowing?