Making Writing a Habit: So You Want to Write a Horse Book, Part 4

So now you’re blogging, right? You’ve read the first three parts of my series, and you’re following all of my advice, not in a crazy follow-the-guru kind of way, but in a she’s-been-down-this-road kind of way. You’re thinking about the way you want to write, if you’re going to write as true-to-life as you can, or if you’re going to create a new universe for your characters to inhabit. You’re ready to start making this thing happen.

(This is the 4th in my series on writing your horse book. Click for the first, second, and third in the series.)

Whether or not you plot your book is another blog post. For now, I want to talk about writing habits.

Horses like routines. It turns out, horse books do too.

Horses like routines. It turns out, horse books do too.

There are always people to tell you that award-winning best-selling author Junie Efficiency Jones gets up every morning at 5:30 AM to write a chapter before she goes off to feed her heirloom chickens and then heads to her Fortune 500 executive position. That’s great for her and I’m excited for her productivity level. But I’ve always fought against those arguing that habit is the only way to write a book.

For one thing, I would argue, my schedule is too up-and-down to have a daily time set aside. I might have to work at 8 AM one day and 2:30 PM the next day — was I really supposed to write at 6 AM regardless? Not possible. Since a lot of writers are supporting themselves in the service industry, this is a common problem.

By the same token, if you’re in the horse business, you might have an early show one day, a farrier appointment that takes three hours longer than you expected and pushes dinner back to nine o’clock the next night, and quite frankly not have the energy to even look at your computer on the third day.

So no problem, I’ve always said. Write when you can. Carve out time. Write when you feel creative.

This method works, and it’s the kindest on your body, for sure. But I want you all to stop and consider for a moment how long it takes me to write a book. (Those of you who read my books are nodding slowly.) And how long I have to fend off requests for sequels. (Those of you who asked for a sequel to Ambition for two years are nodding emphatically.)

Now I’m going to tell you that I’m finally a convert to the writing routine.

My last (fairly) routine job was with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Here I am on Monte in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. (My son came to visit.)

My last (fairly) routine job was with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Here I am on Monte in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. (My son came to visit.)

In mid-June I started working a Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:30 kind of job. It’s the first time I’ve had a job like this in several years (the last time was when I taking care of horses and riding with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, during which period I wrote Other People’s Horses and Ambition), and I was faced with the very real possibility that I was not going to come home from work and feel like staring at yet another computer for an hour in the evening.

(I also wanted to work out. Call me crazy, but when you take a lifetime of riding and caring for horses professionally and cram it into an office chair, bad things happen. The work-out was pretty imperative to my well-being.)

I decided to write a thousand words every morning, before work. The only thing I was really giving up was my morning Twitter time. And since I work in social media, I was already spending plenty of time on Twitter. I really didn’t need the extra.

It was a struggle at first, I admit. But I stuck with it because it was the only time I was going to write. There was no way I was going to get home from work at six o’clock, work out for half an hour, take a shower, and still find the time (and energy) to work.

Here’s the thing: after a couple of weeks, writing that thousand words became hard-wired into my brain. I woke up thinking about my story. I started writing fifteen hundred words. I started writing two thousand words. Useful, good words — not filler. In fact, I was moving so fast on the plot, I realized I’d have to add in atmosphere and environments in the editing phase — the opposite of my usual writing style.

In short, I’d never written so much, so quickly, wish such ease.

It’s so frustrating!

I held off on the “get up in the morning and write” doctrine for so long, convinced it wasn’t for me, and all this time, I could have been pouring on the creativity.

An added boost: stopping to go to work no matter where I am in my thoughts. Have you ever heard of closing your story mid-sentence, to boost your creativity when you return to the document? It’s the same thing. It works. There’s less wandering around, and more action.

I’m also more aware of where I am in the story, which leads to fewer loose threads to tie up in edits. If you’ve ever read through a draft only to discover you introduced a plot point in chapter three but completely forgot about it by chapter six, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a problem. 

By the time I finished the first draft of Courage last month, I was writing two thousand words in about forty-five minutes each morning. Standing at my kitchen counter, drinking my coffee, I’d written a novel at least twice as fast as I’d ever written anything of comparable length… 85,000 words, with plenty of room to grow in edits.

Now I’m editing in small bites each morning (still standing at my kitchen counter–it turns out that I think much better on my feet than in a chair, which should come as no surprise to any horseman) and I’m about halfway through. The book is growing in beautiful ways. I still wake up and open my laptop without even thinking about it… writing as soon as I get up is completely habit now.

So this is it… possibly my number one piece of advice to you. Get a habit. Force yourself into the habit. And the habit will reward you richly.

Just for giggles, I looked up “famous writer’s habits.” This was the first hit: The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers. Here are a few quotes:

E.B. White: A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Haruki Marakami: The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.

Barbara Kingsolver: My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it’s because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file.

I really love that last one, because this is the state you can work yourself into through a habit of morning writing! This is the place I’m at when I’m writing a draft now, and it’s just so delightful.

Even with the lack of sleep.

What’s your writing routine? Have you tried and failed one, or do you have a routine that’s working for you? If not, what’s getting in your way? Maybe we can find a solution together.

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10 thoughts on “Making Writing a Habit: So You Want to Write a Horse Book, Part 4

  1. I’ve done it multiple ways, and right now my lifestyle is such that grabbing moments and being somewhat bitchy about grabbing those moments is crucial. Everyone around me now knows what the “writing growl” sounds like.

    What I’ve discovered is that if you do have to grab time in bits and pieces where you can to write, then (at least for me) devising a scene matrix/character matrix/idon’tknowwhattocallitreally is crucial. I sit down and block out what each character is doing in each scene. It gets somewhat sketchy as I get toward the end of the book, but I can either revise the outline or simply start outlining chapters here and there. It’s worked for me on two books where I’ve been in one place one day, one place the next (for values of 350 miles between places). This last book I finished, I managed to knock off 85,000 words in six weeks, without hitting Nanowrimo crazy daily numbers. The average daily count was around 2000 words, with a high of around 4000 and a low of 300.

    (That said, both of these books were fast-action multiple-viewpoint cyberpunk family drama with aliens. We will see how this works when I get to work on the fantasy).

    And when I was working full-time days? Up at 4:30 to write until 5:30, then off to work at 6. Got three books and various short stories out of that regime.

    I think the key is to time your writing to your circumstances, and no matter what, try to write at least five days a week.

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    • I totally agree with your sum-up. If you can write at a regular time in your life (not necessarily a regular time in the day, but a part of your routine) that’s a significant step towards switching your brain into an automatic writing mode.

      A lot of new writers REALLY don’t want to outline for whatever reason (I didn’t either, but slowly learned my lesson) so I think it’s doubly important for that first book. You’re a veteran so you’re a little more capable of leaping between scenes, whereas for someone on their first full-length attempt, that can become a quagmire quickly. (For many – everyone thinks differently.)

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  2. Oh my God you are insane. I am NOT a morning person (though I am, conversely, a night owl. I do most of my best writing at night, usually after 10pm, when I really should be sleeping. Go figure.) Getting up early to write has never even been a consideration for me. Although perhaps if I did less writing at night and more writing in the morning, that would change. Definitely food for thought…

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  3. My big problem is that I have a desk job and that definitely eats into my writing time given that there are only so many hours a day a human being can physically spend sitting in front of a computer typing. I often find when I’m doing lots of work-related computer work, that makes it difficult for me step back and to listen to the characters of my novel and hear them clearly. Still, I do write daily, and I write the first thing in the morning, every morning because it is when I am least likely to censor myself. For my first book, I set a goal of 500 words a day which I could exceed but not go under. Now I’m more inclined to give myself ‘credit for the day’ for rewriting and editing what I’ve already generated. Sometimes it’s necessary to go back a bit to move forward.

    This was a very interesting post! And I loved the article about the different routines of famous writers as well. I think what emerges from most of the excerpts, particularly from the writers I most admire, is the need to make writing a habit and to exercise regularly–both as a writer and also physically, to get out of your own head.

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    • It’s so true – you have to take care of yourself mentally and physically, even though that can sound MORE tiring. I work out 3 days a week and make sure I walk a ton over the weekends. The couple days off give me a balance to just veg out after work twice a week.

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  4. I am loving this series of blog posts! Personally, I am a complete and total morning person. I’ve tried to set up a routine for myself. Wake up, brew coffee or tea, grab a bagel, and sit down and type. I like to think that being half-awake allows my creative juices to really flow unhindered! I used to struggle to find time to write; I’d squeeze in a little late night writing after barn and gym time, or at the very least I’d jot down some notes at lunch on a notepad. Then I realized that when I woke up in the morning, I was wasting a good 45 minutes to an hour lying in bed checking Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other social media held my fancy. That’s a whole hour I could be using to finish up my next short story or book! Since I’ve made my writing a morning routine (and more importantly, a morning priority), I’ve found myself producing work much more consistently than before!

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    • Yes! I do think the half-awake part is an essential reason why early morning writing works so well. My husband likes to work out in the morning; he says it’s because he’s not awake enough to think better of what he’s doing. Isn’t it the same for writing? Our brains acquiesce, instead of saying, “oh but we could be looking at Facebook, and when’s the last time you checked Aunt Clara’s Snapchat, and shouldn’t you do a quick read of the climate survey for the past month?”

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  5. Love this blog series. I needed to read this, as getting back to writing my second novel has been painful. I’ve lost traction and when I do sit down to write it doesn’t flow nor come easy at all. Thanks for this and your other blogs!

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