I was stumped for a moment during a presentation I was making when someone asked me that question about writing discipline/methodology/schedule. “How do you write?” the question begins. “Do you have a daily schedule or goal? Do you outline first?” etc. I didn’t have a ready answer because my writing discipline includes many approaches. “I don’t know,” I groaned. “I just know that somehow, eventually, the book gets written.”Upon further reflection, however, I can be more specific than that. Here are some thoughts on schedule:
The best writing days begin around 8:30am. I write through lunch, and end between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. When I’m really humming along, I will leave the chair frequently and engage in a mindless task to stimulate thought. For example, yesterday I was composing and decided that a character would have a dream. Great idea. Felt right. But what would she dream? Ups-a-daisy, outside to a flower bed to pluck weeds. Five minutes and eight mosquito bites later, the dream piece took shape in my mind. During these moments, I talk things through, put words in the character’s mouth, and might even laugh or cry at the ideas that surface. My brain is somehow set free to spark in a way that wasn’t happening just a-sittin’ and a- thinkin’.
The worst writing days are filled with ennui—irrational weariness, dissatisfaction, disinterest. My innate sense of inadequacy comes to the fore, manifesting in thoughts like, “Nobody cares whether I ever finish the book anyway,” and “Who would even want to read this junk?” I fret and putter, and my motto becomes “Keep moving,” a takeaway from a writing workshop brainstorm about what to do at such times. Can’t find the right beginning for the chapter? Skip to another section and write that paragraph/incident. No traction at all on composition? Dig into research. Computer coming down with a virus and moving too s-l-o-w-l-y for research? Flesh out sketches of characters getting ready to enter the story. If I keep moving and don’t give myself over to the funky mood, I can usually accomplish something of value, albeit without enthusiasm.
I admit, also, that I sometimes go to bed and pull the covers over my head, maybe just for a few minutes, maybe for an hour or two. Cocooning myself seems to restore creative energy. And on rare occasions, I have defeated the ennui by giving into it, abandoning the writing task altogether and spending time with kids and grandkids or immersing myself in household tasks. Such radical action is, for me, a statement of faith. Once I wade through a metaphorical pool of guilt up to my neck, giving in is most liberating. Serenity comes, based in a deep trust that this momentary lull will not scuttle the project. All is well.