Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Best Laid Plans - by Brenda Chapman


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

An interviewer once asked Somerset Maughen if he kept a strict writing schedule or if he waited for the Muse to strike him before he sat down to compose, to which Maughen replied, “Oh, I wait for the Muse to strike. Fortunately, she strikes every morning at precisely nine o’clock.”



The prolific Stephen King also professes to a regimented writing schedule and has claimed to write 2000 words a day. He said, “The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” He recommends taking no days off from the keyboard … not even Christmas.

I wish that I could tell you that I’m as disciplined as these famous two writers, but that would be a complete fabrication

I wrote my first seventeen novels and novellas while working fulltime for the federal government. Many days I came home too tired to work on a manuscript so I’d store up my ideas until the weekend or holidays. Sometimes, I’d have enough left in me at the end of a work day to compose after supper and would write until bedtime. Bottom line: I had no schedule.

Two and a half years ago, I retired from the government and began writing fulltime. However, falling into a daily writing routine has not come easily.

I had the best of intentions: Get up bright and early every morning and start writing with a cup of coffee at hand. Put in four, five hours at the computer  without a break in concentration. The reality was that I’d get up with that cup of coffee, watch the news, work out, ride my bike to the store to pick up supper, check out the garden — pretty much anything but write. I’d get in some time at the computer in the afternoons but even that was hit and miss.

Yet after the first year of freedom from the nine to five job, I managed to corral my weekdays into a flexible routine that works for me. I still do all the morning chores and trip to the store when needed, but I now settle in at my desk around ten o’clock and put in an hour or so before lunch. After I eat, I complete the Toronto Star crossword puzzle online and catch the first ten minutes of the news, and then … back to my office to write for a couple of hours. Sometimes, I’m still writing at four o’clock. Sometimes, I write for a few hours after supper. I aim for a minimum of five hundred words but often am closer to a thousand. Sadly short of King’s daily output but I seem to have achieved a workable balance.

I usually write on the weekends, fitting it in here and there. If I get invited somewhere or a friend calls out of the blue, I set aside my writing and plan to write at a different time or I take the day off. If we’re travelling, I usually leave the writing at home and come back refreshed and ready to put in some extra time.

While I see the value in consistency, and I’m aiming to get there, I will never be completely regimented. Much like my messy desk, I seem to work best surrounded by a bit of chaos and distraction. Still, the idea of writing a book in three months holds a certain allure ...

 An unretouched photo of my desk this morning. I imagine the inside of my brain looks similar.






3 comments:

muthu said...
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Susan C Shea said...

You and I have similar best intentions, but you've written 17 books! Somewhere in there is your eye on the goal.

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Susan - Sometimes now, I wonder how I did that!