How Your Writing Routine Shapes Your Writing. Or Not.
It was said Tennessee Williams wrote every day of his life, usually in the morning. Literature is crammed with the works of other authors I was too lazy to google who had/have rigid writing routines. However, others either avoided routine consciously, or failed to establish a routine despite earnest efforts. But does a lack of routine mean a lack of discipline in one’s work? I, for reasons that will become transparently self-serving/deluding, argue no.
Many writers are vocal advocates of writing every morning, preferably journal writing. I believe the much vaunted book, The Artist’s Way, preaches the virtues of this practice. more than that: it claims it as essential. More than a few colleagues I know and respect believe this exercise has made them better writers.
I’m in no position to doubt it. However, like most endeavors in my life, like trying to learn a second language, eat more healthily, or stay married, I’ve been unable to maintain the habit. But unlike the above examples, I’m not sure that, for me, sticking to a set writing routine would benefit me in any way.
Don’t Knock It Before You Try It.
Of course, I could be wrong, and, to be clear, the list of things I’m not willing to try to help me be a better writer is pretty short. I believe, but cannot recall with absolute clarity, that there was a period (likely too brief for anything to take hold) where I did try to journal every morning. It didn’t take hold. The task felt like homework to me (“How would you know?” I can hear my high school teachers asking, “You never did yours”).
I found myself easily discouraged and unable to write in the stream-of-consciousness style that was prescribed. Few things feel more self-conscious to me than trying to write in a stream-of-concsiousness style. Not that I haven’t done so before – but the minute I realize that’s what I’m doing, the spigot (FYI: for no discernible reason, among my favorite words) turns itself off. Ah, the inside of my head: a rat’s nest of random facts, meticulously curated perceived slights, and scores of cunningly engineered self-sabotaging traps. But that’s for another post.
I Come Not To Bury Routine, But To Contextualize It
Part of my problem with “routine” (whom am I quoting, exactly?), I think, is that when I have something to write about, I become more or less consumed by it. Not that I haven’t spent many of those days staring at a blank screen for hours. But the play/screenplay/whatever/thingy is never far from my conscious thoughts, and always simmering in the back of my mind. When it flows, I can easily write for six hours at a time and not feel the least bit winded (those days are admittedly rare). When I’m trying to write a new play, I see almost every action or interaction in my life through that prism. Routine, I think, restricts me. Of course, that could simply be laziness. If I’ve any self-knowledge at all, it’s this: never rule out laziness as the prime motivation for anything I may do.
Habits, Tricks Of The Trade, Shortcuts, Call Them What You Will
It’s not that I don’t ever journal (Ugh, are we collectively OK using that as a verb now? I guess, what with the worldwide pandemic and rising tide of fascism, I’ll have to quit tilting at that windmill for now). I used to write routinely in my journal about my life in general. I took a break last summer because…well…I don’t know. Just did. I’m slowly starting up again.
Regardless, what I do find useful is, if I get stuck at certain point in my script-writing, I will (after I’ve stepped away for a day or two, always my first course of action), write down in a journal what I think I’m having a problem with and why. Nine times of ten, I either solve the problem, or put myself on the tentative path to solving it. Is that discipline or even a habit? Not really, I suppose. More a trick I find tends to work for me.
I admire writers who have a set routine for the same reason I admire people who can keep their homes spotless all or most of the time. Because I find I can’t do it. I suppose my point is that, like so much in life, you need to be open to trying different approaches until you find what works for you. In my half-assed (be honest, quarter-assed) way, I have taken some stabs at routine. But it’s not a natural fit for me.
Ah, HERE’S My Point. I knew It was Somewhere Around Here.
However, I think it’s vital to make a clear distinction between discipline and routine. People often assume they’re synonymous, but I would (in fact, I appear to be doing so at this very moment) argue that they are not one in the same. I do not have set routines. But when I am in the midst of a writing thingy (not to bog you down in jargon), I am quite tireless in trying to get it right, and as ruthless with myself as I know how to be in honing my writing to its sharpest possible form. Some efforts are sharper than others, inevitably, but it’s not for lack of effort. So, yes, I would consider my self a very disciplined writer, albeit one utterly without routine.
I’d love to hear from other writers their thoughts about routine and discipline in their work.
And now, I’m off to clean my apartment (that’s usually code for binging some British panel quiz show on YouTube).
2 thoughts on “Are You Into Discipline?”
“More bondage! Less Discipline!” is what I think of after reading this. But that’s off-topic. I’ve thought a lot about the discipline thing over the years. My late wife, Frances, used to tell me I was the most disciplined person she knew, and I thought she was out of her mind. I don’t have discipline; I have a great hunger that is never satisfied! And compulsion. I am compelled to write. Discipline is a positive trait, suggesting inner strength and fortitude. I’m just a needy SOB who can’t seem to stop thinking people should actually care about the stuff I can’t seem to stop writing. I’ve tried to stop writing, several times. Never lasts long. I can go a year or two, but I always find myself back at the keyboard, churning out yet another embarrassing revelation of my heart. I stopped smoking cigarettes in 1980, you’d think I could stop writing. When Covid hit and we all had to isolate, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be at it again, like masturbation in Catholic School. Instead of stream of consciousness or “automatic writing,” I favor the W. Somerset Maughm technique: One just writes one’s name over and over and over until you hit oil and the real writing starts gushing. I wrote every day when I wrote for money, because that’s how I got paid. Writing is so hard there are only two reasons to do it: 1. Money; or 2. Compulsion. Now that I’m retired from speech writing, I just write when there’s something I can’t not write. Helpful? Probably not. Love your Blog.
Thanks so much – likewise. And I completely agree. It is a compulsion. I’d write even if I didn’t want to. Hell, I have. Thanks so much for your comment!