One No-Fail Writer's Routine


photo by Dave Fayram

I love reading about the routines of famous writers. Franz Kafka, for instance, rarely started his writing day before 11 p.m., and then only wrote for an hour or two. He was urged by others not to be such a "waster of time" and to reorganize his day. But his routine suited him fine, and so it stuck. It got me thinking about my own routine.

First thing in the morning, I sit at my computer and edit yesterday's work. This makes me happy. I love to edit. I liken it to decorating. The house is built, the walls are up, the place is painted, and now it's time to hang some art and move some furniture around. Sometimes the furniture is clunky, and it doesn't really fit where you want it to, so you take a deep breath, bend your knees, lift from the thighs, and take out the ugly side table in the corner to make some room, and by golly, it all works out.

After editing, I break for a cup of whole leaf organic ginseng tea, since there's evidence it naturally stimulates brain cells. Also, it's widely known that Native American Shaman would steep whole leaf ginseng before sending their spirits out to seek greater knowledge and understanding. (This isn't actually true. I made that up. But it sounds like something a Native American Shaman would do, given the opportunity, doesn't it?)

I bring my tea with me to develop my story. This is when I typically jump write in, oops, right in, because I have a great idea. Or, in the absence of a great idea, I wait for one to come. I'm usually quite patient. If a decent amount of time passes and no idea has emerged, I sit on the floor, lotus style, in a circle of my 10 favorite (best-selling) books and chant with my eyes closed: I before E except after C, I before E except after C... well, that was before spell check. Nowadays that chant is useless. Instead I chant, I am a writer, That's what I do, ommm, It's not always easy, In fact it rarely is, ommm, In fact it never is, ommm, Then why do I do it?, ommm, To avoid doing the laundry, ommm, That's not true, ommm, Then what is it?, ommm, Leave me alone!

I get off the floor and sit back at my desk. If no ideas are immediately forthcoming, I go upstairs to use my neti pot to unblock my sinus passages so oxygen can move freely to my brain; I blow my nose and return to my desk. If nothing happens after a minute or two max, I check the weather online. I know I can just look out the window, but I like to know what's coming--a forecast. Then, I go back to this fresh stuff I'm writing. If nothing happens right away, I check the weather again. Honestly, it's possible for me to check the weather eight or nine times a day. But, let me be clear; I'm not like a friend of mine who's a storm-tracker. Not only does he track current storms, he watches the great storms of the '70s. No, I'm not kidding. I know it's crazy. And a complete waste of time.

Now, you may have noticed I haven't checked emails or Facebook this entire time. Even in this writing block phase of my day. That's because I'm lying. Of course I've checked my emails. I even wrote myself one. And sent it. And then read it.

Today, while I was checking the weather for the fifth time, the forecast for the weekend had changed. They were now predicting a huge storm. Out of nowhere. Through my window, I could already see the stormy skies rolling in. It would be mostly ice. Horrendous ice. The skies were gonna dump huge quantities. Stay in the house! Don't drive! Every local news report was warning people not to get in a car, by any means. This got me thinking about my protagonist. He was not the brightest fire cracker on the Christmas tree, and I could actually see him getting into his car in the middle of an ice storm, against every warning not to. (If not smart, he is valiant and charming; trust me, you'd love him!) What if he was driving on the George Washington Bridge in an ice storm, and some poor guy a few cars ahead swerved out of control causing a 17 car pile-up, of which my protagonist's car was one. And then because miles upon miles of the New Jersey Turnpike became a parking lot of pile-ups, no one could move off the GWB until those cars were hauled away. So there he'd be, trapped on a swaying bridge (okay, not swaying, per se) over the Hudson River in the biggest freaking nor'easter ice storm in history. And, what if my protagonist -- after being stranded in his car for hours -- had to pee, and he got out of his car to relieve himself somewhere. Where? I don't know where! Why wouldn't he just stay in his car, where at least he had some privacy? He had nothing to pee into, that's why!

I think I'll work on that part privately before I tell you any more of the story.

The point is, thank God for my no fail routine. Had I not checked the weather for the fifth time, I wouldn't have discovered the new forecast: stormy, with a chance of writing.


Eva Lesko Natiello is the author of The Memory Box, a psychological thriller about a woman who Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn't remember.