One of my aims for 2019 is to find a writing routine that works for me. I generally believe that each project will find its own way of being written, but I’d still like to form better habits around how I structure the days set aside as ‘writing days’. In particular, I’d like to feel better on those days – less worried, less stressed, less guilty – and I’d like to improve my focus. So this is what I’ve been trying during January.
I re-read Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites at the start of this year (which I’d heartily recommend if you’re looking for a good winter read), and in the author’s note at the end, Kent talks about finding herself with all the resources she needed to write, and not a clue how to go about it. So she decided to set a daily target of 1000 words. She’d sit down at her desk in the morning and, whatever happened or however long it took, she’d write 1000 words every day – with the logic that even if it was total nonsense, at least after 100 days, she’d have 100,000 words.
So for January, I decided to sit down every day and write 1000 words. I’ve been right at the start of a new idea so I’ve had all my research to do – which admittedly has made hitting the 1000 word target a lot easier than if I’d been writing 1000 words of script every day. But considering word counts for plays tend to be in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands, it feels fair to include the not-script work in my daily totals.
Because if there’s one thing I’m shit at giving myself credit for, it’s the work that goes into writing a play that isn’t, y’know, actually writing the play. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a playwright – then immediately undercut that by saying ‘so I spend a lot of time looking out of the window and talking to myself’. Which is true. But where else would plays come from?
I feel like my plays come from everything I do, think, worry about, read, and listen to during all of the time I’m awake, and the processing my brain does of all of that stuff when I’m asleep. 1000 words of writing about the weather (which I do basically every day because apparently I feel the need to small-talk my own notebooks) is still 1000 words of writing a play.
It’s easy to forget how much of writing a script is not writing the script, the same way it’s easy to baulk at the fee that organisations like the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain suggest you should budget if you want to commission someone to write a play. But the lovely people who employ me as an office manager get two days a week of my time. If you employ me as a playwright, you get all of my time, whether I like it or not.
So far, I’ve found that setting this daily target has helped me value my own process a lot more, because I can see on paper how much not-writing writing I actually do. It’s also offset a lot of writer’s guilt – that feeling that you should be writing – because once I get 1000 words down on paper, I’m done. I can stop sitting at my desk worrying and get on with doing the boring and brilliant things that mean I have something new to bring back to my desk the next day.
Another thing I’ve tried to stick to this month is sitting at my desk straight after breakfast – no shower, no getting dressed, no starting any chores, and absolutely no internet. If it’s a writing day, I stay in my dressing gown, and my phone stays on my bedside table. I think this is a similar principle to doing morning pages – it means I catch my brain when it’s fresh, and definitely before it’s had time to get into the 30-second attention span of scrolling through Twitter. I read my book, I eat my cereal, I have my coffee. Then I sit at my desk and make stuff up.
At the moment, I think I’m going to keep to this routine throughout February too, because so far I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made. But at the end of February, I’m finally coming off isotretinoin, which means the hip/knee/back/shoulder pain will hopefully go away, and I’ll be able to get back to running and swimming and generally walking more than a few thousand steps before I have to sit down. I know from experience that first thing in the morning is usually the best time for me to exercise – but it also feels like the best time to write. So any suggestions of routines which work for both would be gratefully received, and I’ll maybe give something new a try in March.
Let me know if you have any ideas, and happy writing!
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering – yes, writing this blog post counted towards my 1000 words today. All part of the process…)