Like exercize, regular writing can shape your (literary) thighs

 In Ned's Column

Bike typewriter 2 Last week, in our continuing saga on the hazards rewards advantages realities of being a writer, we spoke about some of the tools you need to develop your writing “Voice.” This week, we’re going to talk about making regular use of those tools by establishing a writing “Routine.”

In a way, establishing this routine is a lot like going to the gym. Except that you don’t get sweaty, never leave a seated position and, unless you write romance or erotica, you probably won’t increase your heart rate much.

But aside from that, it’s just like going to the gym.

When I first started writing in an actual newsroom, my routine consisted of sitting at my desk, staring blankly at the screen and banging on my keys as quickly as possible until it was time to go home, where I would do my actual writing.

Why did I do this?

I was intimidated. On either side of me, journalists were typing feverishly — seemingly non-stop — while I sat waiting for inspiration. My brain was still hardwired for waiting until the kids were asleep before slinking off into the study/laundry room to do my writing, as long as nothing else needed to be done. I was a single parent of two children under age 10 at the time, so there was always something else that needed to be done.

I realized two things one night sitting in my luxurious study/laundry room:

1) I needed to push myself to establish a new writing routine that fit my lifestyle and commitments; and
2) By putting my daughter’s favorite sweater through the drier, it was now the perfect size for our neighbor’s Chihuahua.

I’ll admit, re-programming myself took time and persistence. And I had to get over the fact that, as my fellow journalists were typing away, there were long periods of silence — some as long as 10 to 12 seconds — echoing from my cubicle. The truth is, my brain actually adapted quickly to having a real writing schedule, much in the same way your body adapts to a workout routine. And I say “your body” because mine still hates going to the gym no matter what time it is.

I realize not everyone has the luxury of writing full time. However, the same rule applies to anyone who is serious about writing. Married or not, with or without children, full- or part-time job, stay-at-home working or away-at-work parent. In addition to priming your brain to be ready for action at a set time on a regular basis, setting a strict writing routine says something very important to yourself and others:

I’m a writer and you’re not, so neener neener!

Ok, not really.

…Well, actually, yes — but that’s not my point.

My point is that it says your writing, just like making time for each of your other responsibilities, is just as important. Whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours, every day or certain days of the week, that time is a commitment you’ve made to yourself, as a writer, to write — without exception, excuse or apology. No one objects to you making dinner, doing laundry or ironing on a regular basis. Why should your writing be any different? Unless you iron your manuscripts; that’s just weird.

The other important element of having a set writing routine is the knowledge that, for whatever length of time you’ve set, you won’t be interrupted. Anyone who has written Pulitzer Prize-winning material will tell you it takes an incredible amount of concentration and skill to produce work of such significance.

I know.

As a recipient of the Putziler Prize for “Most Consistent Use of Spelling Errors” in 2003, I was, quite literally, only a few scrambled letters away from a Pulitzer myself. In keeping with that standard, I should’ve been able to finish this column yesterday in spite of being the unwitting target of a psychopathic fly.

Things actually started out like any other annoying Man-vs-Fly situation.

Fly lands on hand.

Hand shoos fly away.

Then, and without warning:

Fly attacks eyeball.

Yes, I probably should’ve stood my ground. But things immediately moved into the realm of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, complete with — I must admit — screaming that would’ve frightened Janet Leigh. In all fairness, I now had only ONE good eye, which limited my peripheral vision and put me at a distinct disadvantage to the fly which, as we all know, has enough eyes to see in all directions at once, including behind, which is the direction I happened to be running from.

I know what you’re asking yourself:

What does ANY of this have to do with the importance of establishing a writing routine?!?

Well, a lot actually.

Thanks to my established writing routine, and my new hermetically sealed cubicle with emergency fly swatter, I was able to pick up where I left off this morning and meet my deadline for Sara.

Granted, I won’t be submitting this to the Pulitzer Prize committee. But I still have a chance at another Putziler.

Depending on how I spelled Chihuahua.

Next week: Step one to being a writer: Write!

(You can write to Ned Hickson at [email protected], or visit his blog at

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