We have patterns for most of what we do. We eat, sleep, work, worship, have fun, and some of us write. What is your writing pattern? Writing patterns, or disciplines make us more efficient and productive. Well-developed patterns also add quality to our work. Many of the disciplines are discussed in Dorthea Brande’s classic, Becoming a Writer.
One writer’s template:
1) Fuel-up @ 6AM. Crawl out of bed, eat, drink, and if possible do so in silence. Without words or distractions, without people in the background, ruminate alone with your thoughts.
2) Unload, 6:30-11:00. As your mind begins to rummage through ideas migrate to the keyboard. As you work, throw down your latest thoughts as quickly as you can. This is the time for rough drafts, without correcting grammar or spelling–just get it out. Working within an outline is fine in general. It’s good to know where you’re heading but the words and nuances, and even a few of the twists, are still floating around and some will arrive the instant before you punch them out on the keyboard. Pure and simple, this is right brain stuff. Try to hold-down your logical-practical side and let the creative side go. This can run on from two to four hours, but don’t shut it down prematurely. Let the river flow until it loses its power.
3) Take a hike, 11:00-1:00. Break away, spend a half hour checking emails, etc., have a bite and take a hike. Stimulate your body-without taxing it. The goal is to get a little exercise primarily to start the flow. As you walk, ride your bike–whatever, think about what you just wrote: strengths-weaknesses, is it good, what do I like–don’t like so much, and is there a better way to reconstruct a component of the draft?
4) Revisit, 1:00-2:30. Pull out old material: something cold, something you’ve not looked at for three or four weeks. Reread and edit. This is the second edit and invaluable because you’re getting a fresh look. All successive edits from this point on should contain a bigger time lapse since you last read them. Why? Because that’s the way others will read them, because your mind has finally forgotten how impressed you were initially with your work. A time-lapse allows you to approach the text with no preconceptions.
5) Mid-day Edit, 2:30-4:30. Afternoon or early evening, get back to the keyboard. Read and edit what you put down that morning. Engage the logical, practical-left side and reign in the wild meanderings that flew out of you earlier in the day. Proceed with care, reconstruct sentences, paragraphs, but don’t over polish. Van Gogh’s paintings have a distinct character because they were grainy and rough. Maybe you want silky-smooth and maybe you don’t, but don’t let your practical self rub away all the distinction that came from the artsy half. Remember it’s okay to be unconventional, after all, you are trying to create something different.
6) Refuel and nourish. Food, family, inspirations, devotions, networking, reading-we all have a life right! Some or all of this can be moved to the space between the rough draft and the edit. Two things are essential: you must seek inspiration and stimulation by whatever form that works for you, and you must learn and grow as a writer. Read good writing and not too much by one author. In order to not confuse my voice I read at least two authors at one setting. This prevents an author’s particular speech pattern from crowding out my own.
7) Cultivate, 9:00-10:00. After dinner, when social obligations are met settle down before you’re exhausted and take a mental inventory of what you wrote that day: all, any part of it, the editing, rough draft, there are no rules. Use this time for unfettered thinking. As you refocus back on your project imagine what you’ll work on in the morning. What’s next in your outline? Is this the logical starting point or has the plot’s direction shifted? Allow yourself to fall asleep with those thoughts swirling around in your head. Some of the issues will work themselves out because, while your body rests your brain remains in motion.
Last… Carve out time between projects to take chances. Embrace new experiences. Throw yourself into vulnerable, uncomfortable situations. Sound like fun! Hemingway stretched himself when he traveled to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and if you want to sustain your readers over the course of a career your writing has to become more seasoned and mature with time. This requires that you continue to grow personally as well as professionally.