Tuesday 15 November 2011

Writing Routines

Back when I was an undergraduate, and especially as a fresher, I convinced myself that academic creativity came best under intense pressure. What this meant in practice was staying up all hours the night before an essay was due, in a frenetic caffeine haze, pacing wildly, and occasionally plunging myself into a cold shower. When I eventually finished at about 5am, I would nip over to the all-night Spar, wide-eyed and staring at the other night-folk, as we acknowledged that there wasn't something quite right about what we were doing. Ashamedly, I'd buy a four-pack of strong ale - perhaps Old Speckled Hen or Marston's Old Empire - and let it nuzzle me to sleep as I desperate tried to forget essay words.

Furthermore....however...yet....although....paradoxically....hypothetically....pathetically....miserably...in conclusion...

Finally, about twenty minutes before submission, I would leg it across Victoria park, half-delirious, to drop it into the essay box, before collapsing in a crumpled pile. Though definitely damaging to mind and body this process was, it was a writing routine. I did it almost religiously - though arguably more like a naive follower who didn't know any better. Gradually the routine took place later and later, to the extent that the trip to Spar had to take place after, rather than before, submission. Eventually I came to think of it as stupid, and so I would start essays in advance, plan them properly, and finish at a reasonable hour - something I still try to maintain now.

Back in the present day, and I am struggling with writers block. The only real routine I have at the moment... is not having a routine. Sometimes I don't work in the mornings, instead watching BBC iPlayer, and then work into the night. I'll work on trains, and then play on the computer when I get to the office. Bit by bit, the work is getting done anyway. I was beginning to wonder then whether it was beneficial to have a writing routine at all. Then I stumbled across this website http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/ detailing some writing exploits which made my old routine look childish and wimpish.

"Perhaps the finest writer ever to use speed systematically, however, was W. H. Auden. He swallowed Benzedrine every morning for twenty years, from 1938 onward, balancing its effect with the barbiturate Seconal when he wanted to sleep. (He also kept a glass of vodka by the bed, to swig if he woke up during the night.) He took a pragmatic attitude toward amphetamines, regarding them as a "labor-saving device" in the "mental kitchen," with the important proviso that "these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the cook, and constantly breaking down."

John Lanchester, "High Style," The New Yorker, January 6, 2003"

Fantastic! Other writers had/have more mundane, though just as productive, routines. John Grisham used to rise at 5am every day, and wrote the first word at 530am. President Obama exercises in the morning, and doesn't begin working until 9am. Many highlight the importance of rituals: coffee, cigars, showering, dinner, walking. While I can only dream of being as successful as these people, one thing is clear - there is no such thing as the one routine that works for everyone.

Does anybody have any particularly interesting routines they follow?