Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Habit of Writing

Every successful writer I have talked to or read about has said basically the same thing, “You have to get into the habit of writing.”

In his wonderful book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about the need for aspiring writers to make a point of writing at the same time every day and that doing so reduces writer’s block.  He says that the “muse” is more likely to come if it knows where you are.

I completely agree with this.

I wasn’t able to finish an entire manuscript until I began making time to write each and every day.   I rarely have a lot of time available, but even fifteen minutes helps.  In fact, I wrote the entire first draft of my first book in fifteen minute increments.  It took forever—but I finished it!

But writing every day is only part of the writer’s habit.  There are so many other habits that are helpful and, for me, necessary.

For example, in the morning I work out.  I HAVE to work out.  HAVE TO!  My wife won’t let me go a day without exercising.  Apparently, Robbie isn’t pleasant to be around when he hasn’t burned off some frustration.

So I work out for an hour after I get up.  No big surprise there.  You probably do the same thing.

However, for whatever reason, I can’t listen to the radio after I work out.  I can listen to it while I’m driving TO the health club.  But I can’t listen to it while I’m driving from the health club to my office.  Why?  I haven’t a clue.  I’m a nut.

But I think it helps me write.  You see, as I’m leaving the health club, I’m relaxed and my mind is calm.  If I listen to the radio, my mind starts to get agitated again. I start to hear the music in my head, or the two sports guys arguing about last Sunday’s football game. 

I need to have a clear mind when I approach the computer.

Here’s another odd ritual I have with writing. I can’t just turn on my computer and begin working on the manuscript.  I have to do things a precise way.  I turn on my computer, open the file containing my manuscript, and then . . . I have to look at the internet.  I HAVE to look at a series of websites.  I have to check my e-mails, scan ESPN, MSN, CNN, check to see if there are any cool jobs available in my field… and then, THEN! I can turn to my manuscript. 

What is odd is that I have to do it in that order.  I can’t turn on my computer, surf the web, open my manuscript, and then start writing.  God only knows why, but I can’t.  It is as if my manuscript has to warm itself on the glow of my computer screen before it is ready to bend to my evil will.

Interesting, I can surf the websites in any order I like.  So I’m not a COMPLETE nut!

I also have to have hot tea when I write.  And the tea usually has to be either green tea or Tea of Inquiry.  I can’t seem to write when I’m drinking anything else.  Further, the tea HAS to be in a certain mug.   And the mug has to be in a certain spot on my desk.  (Last year, the custodian broke my favorite mug and I couldn’t write for several weeks until I got “used to” my new favorite mug.)

Maybe I AM a complete nut. . . .

Additionally, I have to have my office a certain way.  It has to be as dark as possible with a lone light (preferably a full spectrum bulb) shining on my keyboard.  I have to have my back to the wall.  And my desk has to be cluttered.  I CAN’T WORK AT A CLEAN DESK! I don’t know why.  That’s just how it is.  Cleanliness distracts me.  Clutter…good!

By the way, I just started using a desk that I stand at and it’s WONDERFUL!  I highly recommend them. You’d think standing for three or four hours would be literally a pain.  But it isn’t.  Further, I find that I can concentrate longer standing than when I’m sitting. Go figure!

I used to burn candles when I wrote.  The slightly flickering flame and subtle smell of melting wax really relaxed me.  But one little fire in my office put an end to that. Honestly, people over react to everything in academia!

Anyway, I have to have all of these things in place in order to have a good writing session.  And once I realized what I needed…it became much easier for me to write.

How about you dear reader?  Do you have any writing rituals or habits?  Or am I the only nut out there?


  1. I can only write in the evening and at my own home office computer. I've tried other ways but my mind rebels. I can't just write every day; I have to have allowed the coming chapter to percolate long enough in my head that I know essentially what must happen. I can't just start writing and hope it comes out right.

    1. I have that issue too...the percolation thing. I'm sitting in front of my computer now, obviously, and I'm trying to write this scene. The problem is, I don't know what's going to happen. I haven't a clue as to the significance of the scene. Sometimes that's good and I write something surprising. But right now, I just find it frustrating. So sitting back and letting the characters kind of talk to me helps.

      Good to see you Ted!! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I usually have snacks and drinks while I am writing. This means, I start my first drafts on paper. That way, I don't have to worry about getting gunk on my computer. I also have to be warm when I write. So, I wrap a blanket around my shoulders, have snacks and drinks at my side, take a pen into my sticky fingers, and settle back to write. It seems messy, but it gets the creative juices flowing.

    1. Hey Brenda!! Thanks for coming by!

      I eat too. But, like you said, I tend to gunk up the keyboard. My "L" key sticks because I dropped jelly on it.

      Anybody have a good way of cleaning keyboards??? I'd hate to buy a new one. They should sell something that you can spray on your keyboard to protect it, like a non-stick coating!

  3. Hah ha! I was going to write a Friday post about my sleeping habit but I'll save that for next week. But I have similar habits; tea, light, gotta be in the evening or night, I want music on but my desk has to be CLEAN! lol

    If there's a page I'd like to take out of your book, it's the working out for an hour. Dunno if it'll help me write but it'll sure help me trim the fat. Good either way.
    Another habit I want to get into is using a proper dictionary instead of the online one as well as the MS red squiggly line. Still, I won a game of scrabble the other day so perhaps my spelling isn't so bad...

    1. Yeah, I like having both a dictionary and thesaurus in book form in front of me. There's just something about print. That's why I'm a bit bummed that Riddle in Stone is "just" an e-book. Somehow, it seems less impressive as a printed book. Still, it saves trees and I'm all for that!

  4. Coffee. Must have coffee when I write. One cup every half hour, and I write for at least . . . oh, 2 1/2 hours every stinkin' day (weekends included), plus wake up and get the mind rolling for an hour and a half before that (wake at 4:30 a.m. every day! Yayness!), so . . . yes, more coffee. The initial three cups, that is. While I write, I must break to chat with friends on FB; it seems to "reset" my mind when I work on a heavy chapter and I get all confused with those confounded words I'm trying to string together, then the strings break and they make an awful, awful screeeeeeeching noise which always makes me cringe. Scattered habits, but they happen every day. The same way every time. You think I'd be used to the screeching noise by now. :p

    1. Hey Kimberly!!! Good to see you!

      Boy, 2 1/2 hours each day. Sounds wonderful. I stare at my computer about that long, but staring is about all I do:)

      And I can dig what you're saying about the strings breaking. When that happens to me, I find that going back a dozen or so pages and reading what I wrote helps me reset things. Some times those breaks give me a better perspective.

      Hey, thanks for stopping by!

      See you soon!

  5. I need coffee or tea, must be able to get up and pace...I also have to do a little web surfing before I begin, and I can not begin work until I've reread what I last wrote--even if it's one of those rare, beautiful days where I get to have two writing sessions on the same day.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only person who HAS to surf a bit before writing! I literally can't start writing until I have checked a few websites. I wonder why??