I have read that writers need a routine. They need discipline. Writers need to wake in the wee hours of the morning and sip a favorite blend of tea at the same time every day, retreating to a quiet corner of the house to WRITE.
That sounds delightful—well, except for the wee hours of the morning business. That sounds exhausting. The rest of it sounds brilliant, though, and maybe someday I’ll be there, but for a beginning author, it’s crap. Worse yet, it’s crap reiterated on countless blogs and “things-a-writer–MUST” lists across the internet—which fledgeling novelists, like myself, gnaw on like a nervous student chews a pencil. The only part of it that really matters is the last word: write.
I wrote a book. Then I got really lucky and snagged an agent who helped sell the thing to Algonquin Young Readers. Now I get to call myself a professional author—which makes me feel super fancy. I couldn’t do that if I had waited until I was at a place in my life where I could commit to a routine. Instead, I just wrote.
I would love to say I penned my book by hand at a classic writing desk, the sun rising in the sky, a mug of hot bergamot steaming beside me. The truth is, I wrote the first chapter and many of my best scenes on a smart phone, in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep after waking up to care for a crying infant. Generally, the sun was still hours away from rising, and the only thing steaming beside me was the diaper I had just changed.
Between my first and final drafts, many things happened, but a routine was not one of them. I worked multiple jobs, witnessed amazing milestones in my son’s life and in my own, and moved across the world—twice. I wrote for a few minutes one day, an hour the next, and not at all for the following week. I wrote on a laptop, on a smart phone, on a typewriter. I wrote in a house, in a hotel room, in a library. I just wrote.
My wife has been tremendously helpful and supportive, giving me time whenever possible, but one week I might lose my writing time to grading papers, and the next it might be cut short by a preschool family night. I resent none of these distractions. They are my life, and I am incredibly lucky to enjoy them.
In the past, I told myself I would write when my hours got more reliable, or when I was less tired, or when I had cleared out a nice space in the office… and as a result I never wrote. If you want to write, just write. Regular hours are wonderful, but that five minutes in the middle of the night is good, too. For that matter, now is good. Write now.