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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Writing Routines: 1, 2, 3, 4, Paradiddle, Paradiddle



I'm a creature of hobbit...er, I mean habit (though I also occasionally like to eat six large meals a day too). I'm the type of person who parks in the same spot, sits in a classroom in the same back row, and busts out with a Jets and Sharks style dance-fight rumble if someone steals my seat in the breakroom at the Day Job.

Obviously, I'm a person who's a big fan of routine.

But I'm also...really friggin' lazy. As in: strap me to an old recliner while I hang out in my Forever Lazy eating Cheetos as I watch endless re-runs of Star Trek: TNG. Or at least all the ones about Data.

Which is why routine is a good thing for us lazy types.

Routine is something that honestly was beaten into my skull when I started playing music as a wee one. One to two hours of my day, every day was devoted to practicing. I started with the basics, which were sometimes frustrating in their outward simplicity. Single stroke rolls. Double stroke rolls. Paradiddles. Basic 4/4 rock beat. Scales. Chords. Tuning. Do it so often that your mind can be focused on other sounds and your body and soul still knows what it's doing by feel and intuition alone. But no matter what put aside one to two hours for all this. Even if I wound up throwing down the metronome, putting on my headphones, and wildly playing to "Manic Depression." Even if I sucked at it. Especially 'cause I sucked at it. The drum line is crazy awesome.

You need a routine in order to practice. You practice in order to get better. Unless you're some genius wunderkind who just sucks up knowledge via osmosis.

Funny that it took me years, nay decades to stick the idea of a practice routine to writing. When I first started this writing dealio, I did it whenever I felt like it. Usually that meant when that bitchy, finicky Muse decided to show up and slap me o'er the back of the head. Most of the time She was just on vacay, getting plotzed on the beach while I was at home scratching my head in front of a blank page.

Then I started to take this shiz seriously. Like for real.

I started to stick to a regimented writing routine in the midst of the chaos of college. I wrote around finals, wrote in the middle of reading textbooks, around deconstructing the literary cannon of Old Dead White Dudes, and writing a bazillion essays per week. It started pretty simply as: write 500 words per day, five days a week. In the beginning, those 500 words became my basics, my scales, my double-stroke rolls. Those 500 words were also frustrating in their seeming simplicity. Yet, it was damned hard.

Eventually, I upped the ante on the word count goals. I tried NaNo for the first time and didn't make it anywhere close to the 50K mark. But above all else, I stuck to the write five days a week thing. When I got a real job in the real world, I became fanatical about my writing regiment. Every break I would write, or edit, or outline. Every lunch period I would do the same. It became less about word counts, and more about treating it like unpaid Job #2.

But I eventually only put time and effort into "serious" projects like an endless, obsessive Black Swan-esque rehearsal. Paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle...(oh, look there's a shard of glass where?) I monogamously stuck to novel projects, even when my brain seemed willing to explore other writerly avenues, I told it to back off and FOCUS on one thing at a time. Knowing how easily distracted I am, and how likely I am to drop things in the middle, I insisted on focusing on one thing, and only one thing. FOCUS DAMNIT, I told myself. And I crafted a routine around that.

Eventually I got to the point where I threw up my hands at my regiment, threw the pages down, and did the writer's equivalent of wildly playing to Jimi Hendrix. I realized that my regiment was too strict. Not just in where and when I wrote, but how I was writing. Strict enough goals and routines that I felt like a complete failure if I didn't meet them. Strict enough that I was losing opportunities to expand my craft and knowledge of short stories, blogging, and different genres. I took a break from "serious" overly focused novel projects, and decided to fart around with the ones just for shits and giggles.

Eventually, I expanded my routine to work on multiple things at one time, even if it meant a lack of focus. To bust out the Hendrix and just jam on it.

So far, it hasn't meant a complete collapse of my writer's life. It hasn't meant that I'm wasting time on not-so serious projects (no writing time is wasted!). It hasn't meant quitting in the middle of everything I write, though there were a few half-finished half-assed short stories that didn't quite make it.

Anyone else have regiments that were too rigid?

This topic was brought to you by the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Hang out with other writers and see their take on the topic of the month. Chill with some cool cats, from noobs to published authors. Up next is the always invincible: Gilroy Cullen at Swords vs. Pens.  

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