It’s easy to get caught up and forget to guard the time when we actually put words onto the page. So, what have other writers done to tackle this time conundrum? Here are some habits writers have tried and tested throughout the ages… they might just help you, too.
Keep regular hours
Carve out time for writing, and keep that time free as you might do for a hard-to-get specialist appointment. A useful way to help mark the start and end your work hours might be a morning and evening routine. Within that time, don’t forget to make a clear distinction between important work and those administrative tasks that make you feel like you’re filling up your time with work but in fact aren’t taking you substantially closer to your goal. Email, anyone? This is not a new phenomenon. Many writers of the past divided their days into ‘real work’, like writing and admin or ‘busywork’, which ‘back in the day’ meant checking the mail and answering letters.
William Faulkner reportedly detached the doorknob on his study door and brought it into the room with him. Graham Greene rented a secret office – only his wife knew the address or telephone number.
Whether you go that far is up to you. But the need for a block of undisturbed time in which to write, or to do any other kind of concentrated work is real. Think about how easy it already is to distract yourself from the work that really needs to be done. Be ruthless – cut out anything that’s not essential to sitting down and writing.
Switch off the internet… and maybe your phone too
The distraction of technology is so powerful that it deserves its own heading. Jonathan Franzen has commented widely on the need to switch off the internet during writing hours. In his words: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”
And that includes your phone. And although she’s not a writer, we’re rather inspired by musician Sonia Rao’s approach. She checks her phone in the morning, responding to anything urgent, then switches it off until evening (she does turn it on when she needs to call someone, but then turns it off again). If you have the possibility of doing this too, do it. If going the whole hog seems a bit much, try disabling cellular data to prevent the temptation to surf, do online errands or check social media.
A daily walk
Many great writers have written about their love of walking – Thoreau, Nabokov, Wordsworth. Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon.
In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit observes:
“Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
Good writing, after all, is really a lot about good thinking. Like all of these habits, giving yourself time to walk is a lot about giving yourself some space to think and some time out from the rush and bluster of being ‘busy’.
Do what works for you
Perhaps you like napping, writing a journal in the morning, taking a break to juggle… a writerly habit is really anything that helps you think and work on your craft better. The most important writerly habit is after all the decision to build habits that work well for you – and to foster them every day.