Routine, Routine, Routine
By deliberately failing to follow-up on the promise made in my last lesson to write on this topic, I have illustrated the importance of the subject. (This declaration both encapsulates the proposition and its demonstration. How mathematically neat is that?)
A routine should not be confused with a rut.
Ruts are things you get stuck in that take you away from what you want to do. (I vaguely remember reading/hearing an account that on certain cross-country routes in South Africa - or was it East Anglia? I forget - the ruts in the road were so deep, drivers had to be cautious of the ones they selected or they would end up in Dar-es-Salaam when aiming for Johannesburg.) And it simply does not do to set out to write the Great Romantic Novel and end up writing endless lists of Things To Be Done none of which ever Get Done. For Getting Things Done is the objective of a helpful, healthy, low-fat routine.
Trollope, the elder, of the Borechester novels fame, who died exactly 64 years and 360 days before I was born, wrote religiously for two hours every morning before going to work. If he finished one novel with five minutes to go, he would set out a fresh sheet and begin the next. (He worked for the General Post Office, as did Henry Miller, though I am not sure if the Post Office in New York is of the same rank or lower, before he moved to Western Union during which time he wrote his first novel - Moloch or, This Gentile World. Miller had his own routine. He would adjourn to his local library to learn a new word each day that he would then employ in his current writing, opus, scribblings, composition.)
I discovered the awful truth about writing and routine when I interviewed Brighton author, Sebastian Beaumont, for a local rag. He insisted the only way to write was *gasp* to write *double gasp* regularly. I instantly dismissed this outrageous sentiment as I had seen a programme on Lord Archer of "Never Knowingly Told the Truth" infamy in which he advocated the same and, having read one of his books, the first, I assumed his inability to string two words together without creating a cliché was due to his unfortunate habit of writing at a set time each day with the same regularity that he sat on the pot. (Indeed, judging by the results, it would not surprise me to learn he completed both tasks simultaneously.)
Now, as implied earlier, a routine can appear as unappetising as a diet; a lot of chewing for little reward. And the truth is, to begin with, the unaccustomed exercise can cause severe cramp. But give it time. Even if you sit in front of your pad or screen itching to write Polish the Front Step, Beat the Carpets, Buy Flowers, Make a Window in Diary for Mother-in-Law, Make Father-in-Law a Widower, Book Cortège … and do nothing for the first few days you will be on the way to establishing a Routine.
Of course, it is helpful if you write something; however, if completely stuck as to whether the hero should be tall, dark and handsome, or short, fat and blonde, follow the advice of Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, and scribble anything that comes into your head with the promise that you will never read it again. Ideally, scribble 500 words each day.
It is surprisingly cathartic for a number of reasons. First, lots of stuff you have carefully stored in the trunk in the attic marked Never To Be Opened will spill out. It will spill out because you know there is no audience for what you write – it is never to be read, not even by you – so it is safe. There is no need to concern yourself about style, grammar, spelling or any other mistress who peers over your shoulder when you engage in Proper Grown-up Writing. You are writing and gradually writing will not be so foreign an activity. Of greater importance, you will have established a routine. And for once a routine is like a rut, once set it is hard to crack.
(If you persist with Cameron’s exercise, you will read what you have written but some months later, not to critique the content but recognise your voice.)
The next lesson, An Economy of Words, will lift the lid on the short story to determine which engine most efficiently converts the fuel of the imagination into motivating prose without producing redundant and over-engineered metaphors and so save the planet.
[You will note I have discovered the Joy of Capitalising Initial Letters for no apparent reason. Call me mad, but I'm just crazy that way.]