The Process of Writing

I thought I would share with you my writing routine. Often writers get asked to describe their writing day and I always enjoy reading the answers. Not because I want to copy them but to see how differently people work. In talking about what works for me, I’m sharing something that has taken me a long while to figure out. And that, I think, is part of the process.

I’m at my most creative in the evenings. In some ways, that’s good because I work full time and during the week, evenings are the only time I have time to write. But it’s also frustrating in that just when I get into the story and the writing flows, it’s time to go to bed. A couple of years back, this meant squeezing in a little more writing but these days I have to be more careful about sleeping enough, so bedtime is bedtime.

The downside of being creative in the evening is that I would often go to bed with my mind abuzz with the story and then I wouldn’t be able to sleep. To combat that, I’ve taken to spending 15 minutes or so writing in bed. I do this by hand in a notebook dedicated to my current novel and when I get to a natural pause in the story, I set the notebook aside and switch off the light. My mind will still develop the story but I’m less concerned about forgetting where I’m going. The same applies in the morning; I wake up and the words I wrote in bed remind me where I’m going. When I’m ready to start writing after work, the first thing I do is type up the handwritten notes and that gets me neatly into the flow of the story.

It’s a sure sign of my writing routine working that I’ve written more than 30,000 words of my novel in the past month. And that brings me to the second part of this blog post.

‘Write every day.’

It’s an advice I’ve seen time after time and it’s an advice that has caused me endless amounts of guilt. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve thought that I should do some writing but I’ve been exhausted, or I’ve had an obedience competition with my dogs, or I have people coming round to play boardgames, or, worst of all, I simply don’t feel like writing. Has feeling guilty made me more inspired to write? Not so much.

That’s not to say I don’t write most days. In fact, I’ve managed about a month and a half when I’ve written every day, sometimes only a few paragraphs, other days several pages. It helps that the plot of the novel I’m writing has been mapped out and I know where I’m going with it. And with a crime novel like mine, writing every day, or most days, helps keep the little details fresh in my mind so I spend less time having to reread what I’ve already written.

But, and this is a big but, I’m tired. It takes a lot of stamina to write a novel and even more so do it to a deadline. As much as I’ve enjoyed the writing, I’m getting to the point where I need a break, both to rest and to put some distance between me and the story. What’s interesting is that independently of what I had planned to say in this blog post, my first reader told me this morning that I needed to take a break. Rather than the day off I was thinking, he went a lot further and said I needed one day a week away from writing, to give myself time with my dogs, to enjoy fresh air and to rest.

No doubt he’s right. He usually is. But. The drive to write is still there, the guilt about not writing likewise. Letting those things go remains a work in progress but at least I’m learning to recognise the warning signs rather than writing myself merrily into a burnout.

So, I would propose an amendment to that well-known writing advice: Write as much and as often as you can within the wider context of your life. If every writer was told that, perhaps we’d feel less guilty about taking the day off every once in a while.