If you read this blog regularly, you’re aware that I’m writing a book on the culture wars. (It’s why “Culture Wars” is the number one label of this blog. If you’re a new reader, and you want to jump down that rabbit hole, scroll down and to the right and click on the label. Or, if you would like a brief synopsis of my generic thinking on the topic, and would like to hear my untrained radio voice, check out this interview I did recently with my local NPR affiliate.)
But this post is not about the culture wars. It’s about writing habits. As you all know, writing is hard. Writing a book is really, really hard. Many of you have written books and know this all too well. Many more of you will soon know how difficult it is.
Now that I am more than halfway finished writing my second book, I can reflect on what makes me tick as a writer. The most important thing for me is establishing a daily routine. In this way, writing is a job. It’s a grind. Yes, it’s sometimes exhilarating. In the end it’s extremely rewarding. But this does not change the fact that the process of writing is a struggle. Struggle. So let’s share how we deal with this struggle.
This set of quotes by famous writers makes clear that productive writers establish daily routines. Now, unlike those of us in academia whose daily lives are overloaded with all kinds of other professional duties, including teaching and service, these writers seem to have no responsibilities other than writing. (How wonderful for them that they can enjoy hours-long lunches with friends every day!) Still, I think the main message—that writers need a daily routine—is a good one.
With that, I will briefly describe my daily writing routine, if only to induce you to do the same. Take note that I am on sabbatical right now, so I’m able to dedicate a good chunk of my professional time to writing—in ways that I’m unable to do during typical semesters. I’m not necessarily a fast writer, but I’m reasonably productive because of my routine.
My routine: I try to write 6-8 hours per day, 5 days per week. So I treat writing like a 30- or 40-hour workweek. I do my best writing in the mornings, from 8 until noon. Then I write for an additional 2 to 4 hours after lunch, depending on how it’s going. If I’m not writing during my designated writing times I feel guilty. This is what it means to treat writing like a job. For me, it’s as simple as that.
I have friends who write in spurts, who stay up late at night when they feel inspired. That sounds great, but I’m not like that. Yes, I have better writing days than others, days when I’m more inspired than others, but mostly I just sit at my desk for my allotted time and grind out the pages. Nothing glamorous.
Where do I write? I mix up my environment so I don’t get bored. Sometimes I write at home. Sometimes I write in my office on campus. Often I write at a coffee shop, because I like white noise.
How do I write? I do everything on my computer, including taking all of my notes. When I begin a chapter, I take about a week or two to review and arrange my notes. I also read a few books to shore up my foundation and re-familiarize myself with the specific chapter topic. Then I write that chapter until it’s done. I start that process over again when I finish a chapter.
What helps me write? Living life normally. For me, this means daily exercise, spending a lot of time with my family, and drinking good beer. If this all sounds banal, that’s because it is. That’s the point. From my experience, productive writers weave writing into their daily lives.
(Also, I turn off the internet—email, facebook, twitter, USIH Blog—while writing. Easier said than done, but crucial.)
Of course, I realize everyone has different habits. So let’s hear them. I’m genuinely curious.