Writing habits

Writing is a profound and elemental aspect of life. A form of communication, a method by which man tries to feel less lonely. Even though it may appear to be a simple gesture, deeply rooted in our culture and tradition, writing is sometimes subject to odd habits and superstitions.

Some writers believe that inspiration cannot be forced or summoned at will and this creates a sense of fragility around the process itself. There are others who try to force it, and so they sit at their desk and try to write a certain number of words each day. Much like Graham Green, who supposedly used to write 500 words every day.

I don’ like having a word count — something I can’t really control. Sometimes words come out easily, sometimes it’s a struggle. I can’t control the outcome in terms of quantity, but I can write every day, or at least do a bit of editing.

Back when I was very young, I used to write in the moments of extreme inspiration, when my fingers were fueled by a frantic feeling of freedom and everything I wrote seemed to achieve a sort of elusive grandeur.

A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You’re there now doing the thing on paper. You’re not killing the goose, you’re just producing an egg. So I don’t worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It’s a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I’ve heard about it. I’ve felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I’d much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, “Well, now it’s writing time and now I’ll write.” There’s no difference on paper between the two.Frank Herbert

Some writers can write at least a few words every day, like Graham Green or Stephen King, while others can’t.

But most writers have their favorite time of day, when if feels that a number of factors are set up in such a way that they can easily indulge in their favorite habit. I write mostly at night. Some write during the day, or when it’s raining.

I like to write during the night because it’s more quiet outside, and it’s far easier to create a wall between me and the rest of the world. Because out of all art forms, writing requires solitude most of all. This isn’t a spectator art; you can’t sit at a desk and write with your back against a cheering crowd.

G.G. Marquez can’t write unless there’s a yellow rose in his room, and there has to be no other books in the room except for a few encyclopedias. Some writers can’t write unless the sunlight’s passing through the window at a certain angle, or unless they’re smoking their favorite blend of tobacco, or are seated at their favorite desk. Some writers require such a precise set of elements to work together that them writing becomes a sort of miracle.

And then there’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote in his head, replaying sentences over and over again and adding new ones every day until he had an entire novel safely locked inside the drawers of his brain. Fantastic, considering that he was doing all this while being a prisoner in a Soviet Gulag.

Some are fast writers, some are slow, some write during the day, and some write only at night. Some write when they feel inspired, when they can’t hold the words inside their heads, some try to write every day, regardless of their mood.

To be honest,  I kind of envy those writers who are able to write in cafes and such. I need to be alone when I write. Heck, I need to be alone when I read. There’s something about silence and solitude… the same way there was nothing before God created the Universe and all that.

What are your writing habits?

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30 comments on “Writing habits

  1. It’s all self expression.

  2. Great post and question Cristian! This is a nice essay to really make it clear that writers come in all different shapes and sizes just like people. And, as you emphasize, the most important thing is inspiration and creativity–whether you are writing all day, two minutes a day, fast or slow, alone or in cafes. I learned I will write often, but not necessarily every day, when I don’t have a specific goal in mind–like “This will be a book or a play or a story.” When I am unsure what I want to do with anything, I take it as it comes. Surprisingly, when I write about myself and my own life just privately it is effortless, quick, long and multiple pages. But, when I am in an imaginary realm, the best way for me to keep it alive and to keep going is to make it a habit to turn my computer on first thing in the morning near my bed and turn it off last thing at night near my bed–and simply do it all day in between the normal cooking and cleaning and opening mail and doing laundry stuff of life. Whether I just clean up what I have already done or produce many new pages or just finally get one scene or point that had been on my mind is what I can’t know or predict, but the habit of doing it every day all day as long as I can it what gets it done for me. Keep writing…! -Kalisha

  3. Sara Lewis says:

    There was one author (I forget his name) who couldn’t write unless it was raining, so on days when he was coming up against a deadline and there was no rain, he would turn on a garden hose and situate it on his roof! Thank goodness I’m not that particular.

    I too need complete solitude even to read something, let alone to write. I am also dreadfully envious of those authors who can just sit and write whenever they want.

  4. I usually write as and when it comes, though I’ve got more disciplined over the years and I used to be much more precious about it. I also love that idea of writing in cafes but I rarely manage it! Get too sidetracked eavesdropping on the conversations around me…

    Keeping a blog helps – though that tends to come in fits and starts too! I’m working on a novel at the moment, for which I’ve given myself a fairly strict deadline (3 months) and a monthly word count quota. I’m not used to working to word counts, but I’m finding it useful for keeping on track and keeping momentum going.

    I just wrote a post about hitting 20, 000 words actually – only 80,000 more to go!
    http://sharpscribbler.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/20000-and-counting/

  5. tajdor says:

    Writing, for me, is a process that makes order out of chaos. I carry around a beat up, reporter-style notebook in my back left pocket at all times and jot random thoughts throughout the day. When I feel like there are some links between the thoughts, I put them in my journal. There, I detail my feelings about the subjects and how I want to approach the next steps. From there, I further streamline into stories, poems, and posts. I write in the moment, which is often facilitated by warm beverages. I don’t write every day, but I feel like I do write often enough.
    Thanks for this post!

    • Tajdor, it’s as if you were reflecting on my own approach :) I would also add that writing after taking an evening walk, when those notes made earlier in the day/ week tingle fresh in my mind, is the moment to form them into essays, poems etc.

  6. I try to write every day anywhere between 1500 and 2000 words. Since I don’t write in my native language and I only have a year’s worth of experience at it, this may take quite a few hours. I usually start around 11 in the morning and finish no later than 6 in the afternoon. If the images in my head and the story is clear to me, I finish before that time. Then it’s reading time for a couple of hours. But I want quiet and a way to seal myself from everything around me. Sometimes the above daily routine doesn’t work at all, even though all the factors are there. When that happens I feel guilty that I failed to produce any work (or not as much as I would have liked). When those feelings emerge I need to force myself to take some time off, otherwise everything else I write becomes a pain instead of joy.

  7. My favorite ways to write are either at a cafe or outside smoking some good pipe tobacco. When I write in private, I try to make sure that my writing area is clear for the first draft save for a dictionary and thesaurus. The first draft must always be written with a fountain pen first. If the first draft is a work of fiction, I tend to place an icon of the Sacred Heart in front of me. When I write the final drafts on the computer, I prefer there to be classical music or J-Pop playing in the background. (How’s that combination? xD )

  8. Lewis Brooks says:

    Personally, I like to write very late at night and then edit it all into something coherent the following morning. I loved the Frank Herbert quote, by the way… Those words are definitely true. Lovely post, thanks.

  9. avwalters says:

    Sometimes I think that people instinctively re-create the atmomosphere of their childhood in which to work. I have a friend whose homelife was nothing short of chaos–and that’s the atmosphere in which she works best. I like the night–or early morning hours. Even as a kid, that was the time when my large family was asleep and I could get up, run, write or do homework.

  10. terryshen says:

    IMHO – Repetition is the mother of skill. Daily writing is therefore a necessity and not an option in becoming a good writer.

  11. I’ve always thought that writing 500 words a day like Stephen King recommends doesn’t always work for everyone. But I have gotten into more of a habit writing with this word count and will now write no matter my mood or opinion on my writing. Inspiration feels so elusive and rare. I usually write at night as well, sometimes with music or a snack. 😊

  12. antonymillen says:

    Another excellent blog post Cristian. I don’t take time to read many blogs that I follow, but I keep checking in on yours when I see something new posted.

    I have always written when moved, usually in journals and mostly short pieces that ended with the inspiration. In order to write my first novel, I participated in NaNoWriMo with an aim to write almost 2000 words each night. It worked for me so I did the same with my second novel. However, I am breaking free from this, perhaps due to confidence that I can actually produce if I sit down and hammer at some keys long enough. For my own blog entries, I share something when I feel I have something to say that goes beyond Tweet or Facebook status. Now, I’m adding short stories and newspaper articles to my list of projects.

    I love your quotation from Herbert, especially when he says he can’t tell the difference between the passages that came easily and those that were “forced”. I have always felt the same.

    Thanks again for the post and the invitation to respond. Now – back to formatting my novel for Smashwords.

  13. Rasma R says:

    I need something to inspire me when I write. For poetry music inspires me. For article or story writing thoughts just get into my head and my fingers fly across the keyboard as if automatically. Once I have finished writing I read back what I have written and sometimes it even amazed me at what I can come up with. Enjoyed your thought provoking post.

  14. I used to write in the silence of the night, now I don’t have that luxury anymore, around 10-11 o’clock in the morning on the library is what I treat myself with at this point. I buy a cup of hot chocolate, spread my notebooks and favorite pen out on my favorite table and start writing. I love the comforting silence of the library; you still see other human beings but they’re all quiet occupied by reading, school assignments or like me, writing :) I can easily sit there for 2-3 hours and write nonstop :)

  15. Philip Ogley says:

    Interesting piece. I write in the morning between 8 and 12. I try and write most days, but it isn’t always possible I admit. I have a space in my house to write but can quite easily write in a cafe or in the countryside in a notebook. JG Ballard wrote 1000 words a day everyday of his life. Great writer as well.

  16. Julia Molloy says:

    Interesting article – it’s true that when I was younger I used to just write when I felt “inspired”, but since studying Creative Writing at university I’ve got into the habit of (trying) to write regularly. I think I’m alone in that I don’t have any particular writing habits – I feel as comfortable writing at night as I do early in the morning. The only thing I always stick to is to handwrite. Somehow a blank page in my notebook is far more easy to fill than a blank screen on my laptop.

  17. oh my goodness – you nailed it with this sentence: “A form of communication, a method by which man tries to feel less lonely.” amen. I thought that was adrien brody for a minute in that image!

  18. R T Allwin says:

    My writing habits are really fickle – I do not sit around and wait for inspiration (because if I do, I rarely write anything at all), but I am not able to keep a strict schedule either. Usually, I am the most productive when I am more or less forced to write: as a deadline approaches, when I am cut off from the internet, when I my surroundings limit my options. At times I can write daily without a problem, and at times I get bored and just sit there and stare at the page or the screen. The where and when doesn’t matter at all – I am just as comfortable writing long hand on the bus as I am on a computer at home or in a coffee shop. I tend to be most prolific early in the morning or late at night, though. When things are going well, I can average upward of 1,000 words an hour (on the computer – about a third of that in long hand), while at other times I struggle to produce 500 words in a week.

  19. sheketechad says:

    Phrases. Strings of words. A thought, or sometimes even a dream. I never know where it is going to come from. I’ve scribbled poems on napkins during international conference calls; stumbled in the dark to get to my laptop to capture a train of thought I awakened with, taken a sentence fragment from a personal conversation. Some words appear in my mind as if on a running marquee, until I work with them. I have an undisciplined muse, and I’m not yet certain if trying to send her to obedience school would improve, or shatter, her beloved, conjoined partnership.

    The only commonality I think, with writers, is that we must do it.

    Excellent piece.

  20. Thought-Provoking post & amusing also. Ty 4 sharing this.

  21. Thank you for this! It reminds me that we all are unique in our process and that’s ok. It’s hard to remember that sometimes. I struggle constantly with writer’s block and it’s tough, but remembering that it’s ok to have my own unique process helps. So thanks!

  22. I have to write early in the morning before my children wake up.

  23. Dear Writers: Here’s my hurrah to you.! There are many of us who follow this path. No one asked us to write. We do it because we must. I am in the golden age of time and now look back on what I’ve written with some amazement. I’ve learned, like Lincoln, that you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time. I also know that I am the happiest when writing. Happy moments whoever you are.

  24. Russell Dennis says:

    Daily writing is essential. I keep morning pages as suggested in the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The program is designed to help artists of any type overcome blocks. I am working through it to help develop better habits and become more consistent in my writing.

  25. Quiet. A coffee or glass of wine. A calm day with no schedule and a calm mind. If I am emotional, stressed, distracted or tired my thoughts wander.

  26. I love this post! I can definitely relate to writing and the indulgence in solitude. Very well written!

  27. Unfortunately, my writing is erratic. I have Thursday and Friday scheduled as my writing days. Most often, I fail to spend more than an hour or two at the task.

  28. Oloo FC says:

    It’s all about self expression, what I feel

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