Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Top Ten Tips of a Writer's Routine

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I’ll be spending all day at the closing events of IFOA, but this morning I thought I’d address the one question I’m asked more than any other: “What is your writing routine?” I’ll admit that at first, I balked. I wanted to say everyone has to find their own routine, based on their physiology, their work, family, and commitment schedules. But I’ve also discovered that regardless of the time of day, there are some things I routinely do to build my writing mindset. Here are the Top Ten Tips to avoid the distractions of a busy daily life, to maintain a train of thought and make writing time more profitable.

10. Oprah says that sex on Wednesday night begins on Tuesday morning. Think about writing that way, as a date with yourself. Anticipate your writing time. Visualize it. Look forward to it. Do not let it loom in your mind as a weight or a chore. Think about how you can’t wait for it when you go to sleep. Let it energize you next morning. Count the hours.

9. On the day before, dedicate a specific time slot and figure out how to clear it. Know your own triggers. Get rid of any tasks that might interrupt or delay it, such as dishes, laundry, a phone call, bill paying, or whatever you might use to procrastinate. Ask those you love not to interrupt during it.

8. Whenever you do groceries, always buy what I call grab food: Granola bars, yogurt, cold pizza. If you're writing over a meal, make that salad or sandwich ahead of time, before you start writing. Keep the idea in your head that you're going to plan ahead to reduce any trip away from the computer to under one minute.

7. Figure out ahead of time what you need to maximize your in-the-seat longevity. Put whatever you might need at arm’s reach, music, notepad, paper, a thermos of ice water or tea and a kettle, gum, oranges, whatever. I have a table beside my desk to keep clutter, food and liquids away from the computer itself. Again, the goal is to arrange your life so you don’t have to get up.

6. Use a desk and sit upright. It encourages an alert and professional attitude. It makes you and your mind and your body feel like you're going to work. If you write in coffee shops, make sure it's worth losing the commuting time to work both ways and avoid the slouch chairs.

5. At home, make sure your writing chair is not the most comfortable chair in the house, but that it is sized to your comfort and posture. Consider buying a "writing only" chair and don’t use it for anything else. Don’t let anybody else sit in it. Give it symbolic value.

4. If possible, treat your entire writing space the same way. Give it pride of place in your house. If you were a doctor, the family wouldn't be playing in your consulting rooms, so insist on equal respect for your workplace. Make it so writing is the one and only thing you do in that desk, that chair, at that computer. Make it so that writing is the only thing you associate with being there in that space. Keep it free of clutter. No bills, or kid’s homework, or household stuff in sight. If resources/space restrictions make that impossible, at least remove all non-writing stuff the night before so that your work area has a sense of social space the instant you arrive.

3. If you have alerts on your writing computer for email or Facebook or whatever, turn them all off. Disable them. Make a decision that you will only look at those sites on your other devices.

2. Now turn off all your electronic devices, including your land line, cell phone, ipad, book readers, TV remote, and CrackBerry. Yes, I mean it, all of it, right off. Now take them and put them in another room. Put them in a drawer. Stand on a stool and put them high in your closet and put the stool in another room. Or even better, take them outside and lock them in your car. Yes, I’m serious. When you sit down at your computer, look at the time. Decide that at the end of your pre-chosen writing time, some two or three hours hence, then and only then will you go and get them. Write that time down, put it where you can see it and don't give in until then. Be strong.

1. At the end of the allotted time, make a quick "next date note" to yourself about the interesting things that you want to pick up on next time. Consider ending in the middle of a sentence so that next time you can sit back down and start right away by finishing it. At the end of your allotted time record it. A running record makes me feel both accomplished and proud of the time I've devoted.

When everything is said and done, writing really is the art of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Hope some of this helps! Enjoy the uninterrupted bliss of writing non-stop!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is the author of the novel, When Fenelon Falls (Coach House Books). She lives in Toronto.

Go to Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s Author Page