Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A regime that goes with the flow

By RJ Harlick

Do you sometimes change your work habits, or is it better to keep things consistent?

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m into a writing routine. I know myself too well. If I didn’t follow a schedule, if I wrote when the writing muse struck, I would start all sorts of ‘the best ever’ projects, but would never finishing anything.

When I started out on this writing adventure a good twenty years ago, I was a management consultant who worked at home. I followed a daily schedule, heading to my office after breakfast and pretty well staying there until late afternoon, apart from the occasional foray to the kitchen for coffee and lunch and to walk the dog. 

Writing I treated no differently. Instead of doing work for a client I worked for myself and spent the time I wasn’t consulting writing my first novel, Death’s Golden Whisper. When it was published, I stopped consulting to concentrate on what I enjoyed far more, writing the Meg Harris mystery series. And I continued the same regime. To my office after breakfast and working until the dinner time. I wrote five days a week and took the weekends off.

But over time, the regime has changed along with my writing location.

At some point I realized I didn’t need to sit at a desk. I could write anywhere.  I decided I wanted a far more comfy spot than an ergonomically, but inflexible desk chair and I wanted a view, something pleasing on which to rest my eyes for those times when I was trying to figure out what in the world Meg should do next. So I settled on the chesterfield on the second floor of our city townhouse that had a magnificent view of the river. With a larger seating area I found I could spread out and change position easily instead of being locked into the rigid posture a desk chair forces on you.

I also varied my writing location between our city townhouse and our wilderness log cabin. Overtime I gradually increased my writing time in the country. I found my creative juices ran more freely in the wilds of Quebec than in the concrete and asphalt of Ottawa. So for the last three or four books, I would spend at least three days a week alone at the cabin writing the first draft. These were long intense days with only short breaks for nutritional needs and dog walking. For the last two days of the work week I would head to town to join my husband.  Depending on my mood, I would continue writing, but often I would take a break to go for a bike ride, attend yoga classes and spend time with friends. I find when I am creating it is more difficult to spend an hour here, an hour there on my writing. I need stretches of time to get into and stay in Meg’s world. Hence the long dedicated days.

Come the weekend, I would head back in the country for endless tramps through the woods with my husband and dogs, canoe paddles on the lake or in the winter skiing our numerous trails. But come Monday I would be back furthering Meg’s adventures.

For the most part I follow this routine when I am in creation mode, i.e. writing the first draft. Once it’s finished and I’m in revision mode, I can do this equally well in the city or at the cabin, so I cut my working time at the cabin to one or two days, but increase the number of days writing to four or five. These, however are much shorter days and because I can more easily go in and out of the editing phase I can intersperse my days with other activities.

You’ve likely noticed by now that I never mention going beyond five days in a week. From the start, I decided I would not write on weekends. I wanted to devote this time to doing things with my husband. I also found I need the break from writing. I need time away to recharge my batteries, before continuing my adventures with Meg. It allows me to sit back and see the story for the words and make appropriate adjustments. I find writing fiction a very intense occupation. It completely absorbs my mind. Even when I am not writing, I am thinking about Meg and her latest adventure. I only let go once I’ve hit the send icon and my final version of the manuscript is zipping along the wires to my publisher.

Another adjustment I noticed along my writing journey was the timing of my most productive work. When I started out, it was the morning. Now I find my best writing is in the afternoon. Go figure.

As I continue along this writing adventure I doubtless will make other subtle changes in my work habits as I adjust to other forces in my life. But one thing I am fairly certain of is that I will continue to stick to a regime.

You can find me
at my website rjharlick.ca
on twitter @RJHarlick


Susan C Shea said...

Okay, I'm impressed. You really are disciplined and I'm feeling like a slacker reading this afrter spending an hour reading newspapers online and checking on FB friends!

RJ Harlick said...

Yeah, but did I say I was actually writing the entire time. I'm afraid like you, Susan, I slide into it by checking the news, facebook and the like. Mentally I'm getting ready to write, so I call it my writing time as can you. So hey, you're better than you think.