Writing fragment, Sun 28th Feb 15, 11.30am-ish

So, I'm in the town's branch of Greggs and because I have forgotten my password to The Cloud yet again, I'm offline with my coffee. As I went out without a book, fool of a Took that I am, I'm messing with the Office app on the phone. Is it any good for doing any impromptu writing? That's the first question. I'm not sure. Though the spellchecky autocorrect helps as I'm going, my thumbs are too substantial to make fast headway; I'm not sure that I can keep up with myself. Hmm. However, it's plenty good enough for making notes though.

The phone syncs to my cloud storage, or it would if I was online, so there's the potential for a bit of light editing once the stars align.

Mind you, it's pleasant enough here with my Americano and my bag of local department store purchases (a tin opener, a craft knife, and a slightly-too-elaborate-for-my-needs set of precision screwdrivers). The place is pretty full, it being late morning on a sunny Spring Sunday and folk are stopping off mid-mooch, not there's much open to mooch to and from. 

Then again, a new shop frontage is being installed across the road in the old sweet shop on the corner, so there's someone else's work to watch. Looks like another estate agency is about to open. Cleethorpes, Immingham, Louth, according to the fresh awning being put up by Paul from Ashley Blinds and his oppo. All the places. The agency's going far.

Folk are eating all around me. Late breakfast rolls, icing-covered pastries. A Belgian bun like a Rubenesque fantasy.

A pair of smart senior couples; on the way back from church by the looks of them. They're chatting about pub and football later in the day. League Cup Final and their tea out; there are worse ways to round off your weekend.

A family group; highchair and wet wipes. A tray of drinks and a procession of trips to the loo. Some necessary, some purely exploratory, following the archetypal young person's seemingly insatiable curiosity about the location and furnishings of the toileting facilities in any public environment. They love 'em, it seems.

I can't quite make it out if the background radio is an in-house channel or the local BBC station. Hits of the Eighties are being scrolled through. An old guy on his own (has kept his hat on indoors; hands in pockets) grunts his way to himself through the chorus to The Whole of the Moon.

He's waiting for someone. They're not here yet; he hasn't bought anything.

A left-behind newspaper. Correction; the guts of one. Discarded sections include the sports and the business section. Might be provided by the cafe, might not.

Folk turn over. Average sitting time seems to be around fifteen minutes. A bakery cove - hairnet and a deliberate manner - cleans away the couple of tables whose previous occupants haven't observed the ritual of self-stacking your crockery in the appropriate shelved hatch. A whiff of squirted antibacterial cleaner as the tables get a swift wipe down.

Some more folks drift in. Doorway hovering; they've got buggies in tow, and there's not that many park-up spots.

One sec.

I'm outside now, having done the decent thing and made way. A quick silent ballet of eye contact, gesture, murmured apologies on both sides in the English manner, and I'm off. On the way out, the carbon-and-cream smell of a fresh cheese on toast.

On establishing writing routines

There's an awful lot to be said about knowing yourself. One of the reasons that we don't get as much done as we might like is that we either haven't got our heads around what works best for us, or that we fight against that reality because it doesn't fit in with what we might prefer. 

So these are guidelines rather than rules. A quick scout around the internet will give you no end of lists of routines of the famous. Here and here, for example. But this is what seems to work for me.

  1. Start the day writing. The earlier, the better. For me, that's 5 a.m. I can get more done between 5 and 7 in the morning than in any other two hour period of the day. This goes back to when I was a child. In a book of Andrew Lang's  retellings of Greek myths, he relates the story of Theseus. At the start of the story, Theseus' father has left home, but has said that there's something buried under a rock at the bottom of the garden for the young man. Theseus tries but can't lift the stone. Then one day, he gets up early, goes straight out to the rock, and is able to shift it. Under the rock there's the weapons he'll need for his adventures. For some reason, that's stuck with me for dozens of years. And for me, it works. So; early starts.
  2. Don't write all day. Three or four hours a day is more than enough. Less is perhaps better. A couple of hours a day before the house gets up / work / college / whatever. I've got an upcoming post about what goes on in that writing time, but a few hours is enough, and maybe an hour a day, even half an hour - as long as it's productive - is OK.
  3. Targets. I've got a daily first draft target of 2,000 words. It doesn't matter what your target is, as long as you do what you have to do to get there. Your target needs to be realistic, achievable, but not too easy. And it's personal to you; bigger isn't necessarily better.     
  4. Use the right tools for the job. I don't have an office. At home, I'm best with a laptop on the kitchen table. By all means have a den, an office, a writing shed. Make sure that the right music is on, that Mr Snuggles the cat is nearby, that the moon is in Uranus. Put on your Magic Story Ideas Hat. But don't make a fetish out of these comforts.
  5. Have a dedicated machine. A little bit of an extravagance this, perhaps. But it might be worth considering, and it works for me. A laptop for writing, and one for everything else. Specifically for me, I first-draft on a different machine (a cheap Chromebook) and then do all the other work (rewrites, admin, research, correspondence, wasting time on the internet in general) on another one. 
  6. Coffee. Simple black filter coffee for me, thanks.  
  7. Be open to working in public. The Starbucks novelist may be a cliche, but if it works for you, don't fight it. For me, it's the library. My local library has a small local studies and reference room that's perfect for getting on with some work. After that initial burst of wordage first thing, I'll be more productive if I go somewhere to work rather than try to keep doing so at home. And the library is the best placefor me to do just that. 
  8. Trains. Writing on trains is the best. 
  9. Stick to the routine. Every day works for some. Monday to Friday for others. weekends only for yet more. 2,000 words a day every first draft day is my routine. I've just knocked up a planner for the next two months; first draft word counts, blog posts, monthly newsletter, other bits of writing. Find your method for keeping yourself on track. Make that method simple. Make it public if that helps - tell your significant other, whisper it to Mr Snuggles, Blu-Tak a chart over your desk - hold yourself to your own promises.
  10. I don't have a reward system, but if you need that to motivate, then go for it. Make these small and useful; another hot drink, a cigarette if you're a smoker, Bonios if you're really into dog treats.
  11. Don't cheat yourself. Don't borrow from one day's output to pay off another's shortfall. The clock always resets back to zero. You might find that a weekly rather than a daily target works better. Fine. Do that instead. Just do it!
  12. Don't let it be work. Adjust the time, the words to be written. Write something different. 
  13. If the routine needs to change, go with it. 

So, over to you. What's your routine?


My novel The Prospect of This City is out now and is available from me (signed if you'd prefer!) and also in ebook and paperback formats via Amazon.