8 Days to NaNoWriMo: Habit Is the Mother of Spontaneity

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8 Days to NaNoWriMo: Habit Is the Mother of Spontaneity

T-minus 8 days until you catch lightning in a bottle.

“I write when the spirit moves me. And the spirit moves me every day.”

—William Faulkner

Mason Currey has assembled an invaluable little book1Literally little—it’s barely larger than a mass-market paperback. called Daily Rituals, and it is required reading for process obsessives. The whole organizing conceit behind it is the one heading this blog post: namely, that ritualized work processes free us up to do our best work. Indeed, this idea is also one of the primary motivations behind NaNoWriMo itself—helping writers develop a habit of creating.

Devising and sticking to a routine is how we demarcate in our brain a sacred space devoted to creating. Set aside a time you will work every day. If possible, set aside a space.2Virginia Woolf’s “Room of One’s Own” isn’t necessary; I carve out my own “spaces” using the Freedom app that disconnects my laptop from the internet, and by putting on headphones and playing the Noisli app on my phone. Follow such a routine for enough days and weeks, and you’ll discover that you’ve trained your brain to produce during that period.

Someone once asked W. Somerset Maugham if he wrote according to a schedule or only when inspiration struck. “I write only when inspiration strikes me,” Maugham answered. “Fortunately it strikes me every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

He isn’t joking about this: Again and again in Currey’s book, you encounter writers (and composers, and artists, and others who create) who swear by the benefits of routine. Haruki Murakami likens it to a kind of magic: “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” Toni Morrison rose each day at five, “watched the light come,” and, having been there before the light came, found herself enabled by the dawn. Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs! The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Examples of such routines abound in Currey’s book; I could probably cite as many as there are pages. Suffice to say that setting making a permanent appointment with your desk3Actual or virtual is one of the best things you can do to get the most out of NaNoWriMo. Find a time when you can devote an hour or two to drafting your novel, and then Do. Not. Miss. An. Appointment.

It can be difficult to find time. I know that. It will be a sacrifice, no matter how you sort it out. You have my sympathy up front.

You may have to write after everyone has gone to bed, or before they’ve woken up, or during your lunch hour. In the title essay of Fires, Raymond Carver discusses how he patched together stolen moments while raising kids, and that’s why he wrote short stories—he never had the long uninterrupted focus to allow himself to write novels. When I drafted my first novel,4Still unpublished, though it was sold and then bought back from a publisher—I decided it needs a top-to-bottom revision. I was working full-time, so would rise at four in the morning, drink a few cups of coffee, and then put in two to three hours before going to the office. Meant I couldn’t stay awake later than ten pm, but that was a small sacrifice. One writer I know composed sentences while driving his car to and from work (it was a long commute), and then, when he’d be happy with a sentence, spoke it into a recorder. In this way he piled up the pages of a first draft.

The ultimate point is this: You’re going to need an hour or two each day, and best to figure out how to find that time now, before November gets here. It will be difficult at first, but by the middle of the month—when you’re waking and finding the writing is flowing more easily—you’ll look forward to getting up at four in the morning (or whenever it is you steal the time for your book).

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