Writer’s Diary #6: Writing and Routine

Frankly, a challenge many of us face as writers is finding the time to do the work. Over the past ten days, with travel, students and the urgent tasks that have arisen, it has seemed impossible to find the time.

This morning, however, I am back at this Writer’s Diary. Part of the problem is that there are days when the routine changes drastically. Writing a book, I think, is an exercise in doing the work over and over again.

My father is building a house. He works on it almost every day, most of the day, except at weekends when he does other things. That’s his work. He doesn’t check emails during the day; he doesn’t use the phone; he doesn’t attend meetings; nor does he get pulled in a dozen different directions by emergencies that arise. Instead, he works on the house. The works has its own physicality, rhythm and routine.

As a professor with small children and a plethora of activities, the challenge is to find the time. My father’s method is inspiring. Do the thing. That’s it.

Writer’s Diary #5: Write every day, maybe not?

A lot of writing advice for academics emphasizes the importance of writing every day. I am thinking, for example, of Paul J. Silvia’s [How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing] (https://www.amazon.ca/How-Write-Lot-Practical-Productive/dp/1433829738). Sometimes, I’ve tried to follow such advice—keep a journal, write daily, keep track of how much I write, forget my excuses, make the time, etc. Such an approach has its place. But a new book I’m working on takes a very different approach. As much as there’s a choice to write a lot, there’s also a choice not to write.

If a lot of advice boils down to “don’t break the chain” and write every day, make it a habit, there are some days that this makes no sense.

I’m about to go on a trip to New York City with some students to share our work. We’ll be driving all day and, frankly, I don’t think I’ll find the time to write. The approach that seems to come out of a lot of self-help literature for academic writers is to find the time, come hell or high water. Get up earlier, stay up later, or squeeze it in somehow. But sometimes this is just not possible.

For next week, I plan the opposite: a conscious decision not to write. Sometimes doing nothing is the right decision, and with moving house, holidays, some weekends, the start of term and other urgent matters, doing nothing is a better approach.

Write every day, unless it’s not wise.

Writer’s Diary #3: Linking Habits

This morning, I wrote for 5 minutes while the coffee was brewing, and another 5 minutes while I drank it. I got an early start, and wrote at the typewriter. Inspired by James Clear’s Atomic Habits idea of linking a habit (coffee) with something you want to do (write this Writer’s Diary), I wrote this. The idea, which stuck in my mind when I read Clear’s book years ago, is of making things one wants to do stickier, and more likely to be done, by linking them to established habits.

The first thing I do every morning is drink a cup of coffee. Could coffee be used to create a habit of writing a journal, planning the day, posting an article, going for a run, and working on a book? It seemed ambitious, but this morning, it felt promising.

This approach to writing this diary raised a question: If I want to write more regularly, in this diary, is it better to work by hand, or to type, or to dictate? While there is no one way to write, I’ve found the methods are different. For me, writing by hand is slower, more fluid. Writing on a computer is faster, but I think and edit more as I go. Voice dictation, which I sometimes use while walking, is a good way to get an idea down, but it’s not so good to develop an idea. Each medium of writing is different, but whether I’m typing, handwriting, or dictating, I think linking to a coffee habit is promising.

This morning, I typed.

This evening, I revised.