Posted by Oliver Diaz, Former Contributor and Fiction Reader for Issue 4.1
The truth is writers (besides Stephen King) cannot survive on writing alone due to their limited ability to pump out a plethora of valuable literary works, and ultimately, the meager financial compensation. When a writer has another job, another commitment, another pot on the stove, writing takes the back burner. As a student, I rearrange reading, writing papers, and going to class on my stovetop, and writing remains relegated to the back of the stove. Why? Well, my schedule tells me when to show up for class, and when to leave. I have to do my work before class, so although the time frame is not exact, it is narrowed. If writers don’t decide (and yes, the responsibility is on us) on a timeframe to sit down and write, how can we expect ourselves to show up?
The writer’s most feared question is, “Have you been writing lately?” Often the response is, “I will once I find the time,” or “I’m going to find time this weekend.” Well, one day I found myself on the receiving end of this question and took the predicted way out. The inquiring artist looked at me with a knowing stare, and said, “We don’t find time, we make time.” Of course, I thought to myself, time is not hiding around corners, behind bushes, or at the bottom of the laundry basket, I am making time, as in “Sure, I can make time for that.”
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And by his logic, writers must repeatedly write. And if we can craft our sleep schedules, why not craft our writing schedules with circadian precision? Stephen King, one of the apparent kings of writing schedules, drew a similar conclusion in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft when he said, “In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.” When you turn the lights off and retire to bed, you are telling your body it is time for sleep. Imagine this. You wake up on a weekday, you take a shower, you get dressed, you eat breakfast, you’re ready to leave for class, and then you get into bed. Whether it sounds appealing or not, your body would find no comfort. It may ask, “What are we doing in bed?” In the same way, at the end of the day, it cannot seem to help but ask, “What are we doing out of bed?” This may sound obvious when applied to a sleeping schedule, but may not come to mind immediately when considering a writing schedule. We must prepare our bodies for writing much like sleep.
In many ways, writing is like sleeping, sleeping like writing. King claims, “Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream.” The comparison could not ring truer. Imagine this. You get home, you had a long day, you eat dinner, prepare for bed, and then you lie down on the dining room table. Sounds absurd, right? Well then you understand how important time and location are to any daily activity.
If when you sleep you dream, and when you write you dream, the transitive property would suggest that when you sleep you write. And although this does not mean you’re writing novels with your eyes closed (yet), it does prove that when you manage your schedule you can move writing just like you move sleep.
Spread the word: Routine is not boring. The word ‘routine’ may be part of the problem. So feel free to use other words like ‘daily practice,’ or ‘schedule,’ or ‘focus,’ or ‘plan,’ whichever sounds best at social gatherings. Don’t take sleep lightly. Sleep is the foundation for routine, and thus the foundation for your writing. My routine has highlighted the phases of my writing routine. Phase one: I write as much as I can and I read as much as I can. Phase two: I keep reading whatever is helping me (poetry, prose, newspapers, anything). Phase three: I keep reading (never stop reading), and I edit. Rinse (sleep) and repeat.