9 Writers on Routine, Habits, and Tricks of The Trade

January 25, 2017

Outside of putting your seat in the chair (or writing horizontally as Truman Capote so famously claimed) writers develop routines, tricks, and cultivate their creative spaces to help productivity. With January coming to a quick close, we’ve compiled a list of writing habits, quirks, and routines from nine of our favorite writers to help you stay motivated toward your own writerly goals.

Toni Morrison | On Creative Space

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

Haruki Murakami | On Routine

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Joan Didion | On Alone Time

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I’m really working I don’t like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don’t have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I’m in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

George Saunders | On Editing

I write on the computer and then print out at the end of the day, so I can have something on paper to edit in the morning. That’s about the only fixed thing. I have to take the time when I can get it because this year I’m doing a lot of traveling and I commute back and forth to Syracuse to teach. The one thing I’m pretty sure about is that it’s best to edit on paper, rather than on the screen — I think the brain processes text better that way.

Amy Tan | On Process

I think about the novel every single night, before I go to bed, and try to work some aspect out. Usually the beginning and the voice. I sketch out a very very basic outline, a couple of paragraphs. Then I add little funny details—well, not funny, but some specifics that I know I want to include as part of the character. It could be a small attribute or an event. When I finally sit down and write, it is done entirely on computer.

Stephen King | On Privacy

Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule — in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk — exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go.

John Steinbeck | On Finding Your Own Way

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.

Neil Gaiman | On Different Colors of Ink

I try to change my superstitions with each project. Working in fountain pen is good because it slows me down just enough to keep my handwriting legible. Often I use two pens with different coloured ink, so I can tell visually how much I did each day. A good day is defined by anything more than 1,500 words of comfortable, easy writing that I figure I’m probably going to use most of in the end. Occasionally, you have those magical days when you look up and you’ve done 4,000 words, but they’re more than balanced out by those evil days where you manage 150 words you know you’ll be throwing away.

Elizabeth Gilbert | On Snacks

I chew gum ferociously. It’s obnoxious, and another reason why I have to be alone. I chew Trident Tropical Twist Sugarless. Everyone is repulsed by it, but I love it! When I’m writing I’m on, like, a pack a day. The non-smoker’s equivalent of smoking. It activates my brain. I read a study not long ago that chewing actually does activate your brain. It produces some sort of cosmic, seismic activity.

What are your writerly routines? Tell us in the comments!


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