I’m sure that most writers have, at one time or another, experienced that knowing smile when responding to the question, “So what do you do?” at parties. As soon as you mention that you’re a writer, people give you the smile that says, “Ah, so you sit around all day reading the paper then do half an hour’s work before dinner”. That smile implies that it’s easy (and somewhat overpaid), and that the biggest conundrum facing most writers in this day and age is deciding what cafe to hang around in for the day.
Of course, it really isn’t this easy–for most of us, at least. In fact, many writers struggle to even get into their creative place; that little vacuum of space and time where nothing seems to exist apart from your head and your keyboard and the words just flow out of you like vomit from a particularly sick cat. Spending 8 hours faffing around making endless cups of coffee and excuses only to get less than an hour of good working time is a situation that I’ve found myself in more than once, and it comes along with a hefty dose of guilt for wasting time too. It’s really not as fun as your party friend thinks.
And yet there are some writers who have harnessed their creative spirit and keep it bridled for use as they see fit. Haruki Murakami, the opiate of the magical realism masses, famously rises at 4 in the morning and works for 6 hours straight, before running 10k and then relaxing. He completes this cycle by getting into bed at 9pm–and it must be working for him, as his last, best-selling novel 1Q84 was over 900 pages long and ran into three volumes. Stephen King, too, writes from 8am to 1pm every single day while he’s working on a book, and using this method he’s produced 50 novels and is still going strong.
For many of us, however, this just isn’t feasible, or even possible. Some of us thrive on chaos more than on routine. But how does the chaotic writer ensure that s/he doesn’t fritter away days or weeks meandering around the houses trying to force themselves to be creative?
The key to any productivity is self-awareness. You might be able to sit down for 10 hours a day and write; you might only manage 2 hours every 2 days. This isn’t important. What is important is to realise when and in what circumstances you work best, and to go with this information rather than fight against it.
For instance, I know that I write better at night, and sometimes in the afternoon. I can sit at my computer all morning, for sure–but all I’ll get is a stiff neck and a high score on Winnie the Pooh baseball (don’t ask). By the time my creative muscles are ready to be stretched, I’ve got square eyes and sore wrists, and sitting at my laptop is the last thing I want to do. In short, I don’t gain anything.
However, if I go with my inner schedule, and stay away from my computer in the morning times, things work out a lot better. Let’s say I do the grocery shopping, go for a swim, read, see a friend for lunch, and then settle down to write around 2 or 3pm with a good coffee. Then I feel loose; limber; ready to tackle a few thousand words and thrown down some new ideas. I don’t feel tired before I’m even started; my creativity is out in full force, and I can write for hours.
The truth is that some people can work with the Dostoyevsky method, and others just can’t; whichever category you fall into, it’s okay. But don’t waste time and energy forcing yourself into a schedule that just doesn’t work for you. Create an environment that nurtures your creativity rather than stifling it, and don’t feel guilty because you’re not Stephen King. Even he must need a day off.