Fiction writers need to be good at complicating conflict; we need to find the frailties in our characters and exploit them. We need to make huge messes, in heads or landscapes or due to disagreements. Conversely, we need to keep a good amount of peace in our own lives in order to find the time and space to feed creative chaos.
With routine comes the continuity necessary to raise hell on the page (raising hell being the goal here). But life doesn't always lend itself to routine. Case in point: my life right now. I am a program director at a literary nonprofit, a freelance writer, and a freelance writing teacher and coach. My work schedule is busy and less-than-predictable.
So how to force routine? This has been my project over the last few weeks. After waking up at 5:30AM, then 5AM, then 4:30AM to try to force it; I tried nights. I tried. I failed.
So instead, here's my Midwestern workaround: accepting the chaos and working despite it. If you're making a casserole, for instance, and you don't have a key ingredient it won't matter because you'll find another ingredient. That's what makes it a casserole. Accordingly, I decided to give up trying to find a set time or day to write.
Instead, I tilted my head at the situation and found another way. How about associating place with routine instead? I go to the same coffee shop, the same desk at home, regularly. I go through the same routine, despite time. I have also created my own micro-routines that have very little to do with time of day. So long as every day, I:
1. clear the cache - meaning write with no expectations and no direction for a few minutes in order to clear out all the distracting thoughts.
2. sit down with the same intention at anytime of day (or night).
3. shut down the Internet (close all windows).
4. get coffee or tea - position it close at hand.
5. stick a book on the desk in case I get stuck.
6. open the novel folder. Reread the opening, then pick up where I left off and write a minimum of ten minutes (timed) after which I can either continue on (usually do) or not
7. go do whatever I'm scheduled to do next.
Worst case scenario: I digress and write a short story instead. Okay, that's a lie. Absolute worst case scenario: I don't sit at the damn desk. And if this happens, I will make up for it the next day. On busy days, I remind myself with a To Do type of app that reminds me to check off my writing time for the day.
For a prompt, if you'd like one, I challenge you to spend an entire week (or two - let's face it, this blog is a bimonthly deal now) refining your own routine. In the midst of this anti-routine, I challenge you to rewrite an existing story from an alternate perspective (another character's). You can do this with your own story, or with a story you admire. Something entirely new should arrive on the page, either way, something only a hell-raising writer could create, something full of the good stuff of fiction, allowed by the good stuff of life.
Do what you do with intention. xo Jen
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