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Sam van Zweden

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routine

Holiday-itis

Today my partner has returned to work, and this marks my putting my foot down and getting back into a normal routine.

ImageHolidays made me a lazy person. I ignored emails, thinking “I’ll get back to those another day”, and then I didn’t get back to any of them. I grew altogether too fond of Dr Oz and his life-improving advice. I whittled down to two meals a day – my late rising eliminated the third meal, and I survived only on brunch and dinner. I stopped exercising, only walking to the supermarket for cider and cheeses. I got groceries one meal at a time, because we ate out or take-away so often and so spontaneously that it just wasn’t worth the forward-planning. 

Oh sure, I’m relaxed. But my body and productivity are a mess! Not to mention the dust bunnies leaping around my lounge-room.

This is holiday-itis, and I am bidding it goodbye. And so we return to normal programming.

Reading As A Priority

In his essay, Why Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa talks about how it’s a bit disgusting that reading is regarded as an indulgent pass-time. Literature is important, says Llosa, not just as a means of escape or relaxation (though these are still some of the many great functions of reading), but as a tool which promotes an engaged and lively society. And for writers, reading is especially important – how can we expect to be great writers if we aren’t also great readers?

As at the start of every year, there’s been a lot of goal-setting happening over the last few days. My online writing group has seen everyone’s goals updated, and one person’s goals in particular really interested me. It involved adding more structure to their writing day – something I’m always trying to do. I was inspired by the fact that a full writing day for them involved three hours of reading and four hours of writing on any given day. This struck me as similar to the “Writer’s Diet” (which I saw attributed to John Birmingham, but now can’t find anywhere) – this involved four hours’ reading and four hours’ writing daily. Ambitious, yes, but a totally worthy goal. I’m not saying that to be a good writer you need to read for x hours, and write for x hours, or you’re falling short. I’m just saying that for me, and for a lot of people I know, these kind of goals usually result in tangible improvements in our work.

So part of my writing goal this year is to make reading a priority again. Toward the end of 2012 it became something I did in spare time, on public transport or lunch breaks, or to unwind before bed. While all these things are still optional and will probably still be good reading time for me, I’m making reading an important part of my writing day.

Having read about 60 pages this morning in two hours (slow reader, yes), 100+ Books seems more achievable than ever, my “to be read” pile is cowering in terror, and I will be the most informed writer I can possibly be. Without understanding writing from both perspectives (reader and writer), I can hardly expect to get any better.

A Perfect Day

Yeah, the sky’s blessedly blue outside for the first time in forever, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s the end of the holidays for me – I’ve found them to be long, but productive. It’s only taken me about 7 weeks, but I’ve finally figured out how I would (try to) spend each and every working day if I were a full-time professional writer, in order to get shit done. For the last week or so, on days when I haven’t worked, this is what I’ve done.

I’d wake up early. Well, early for me: 8am, maybe 8.30. This still gives me two hours of quiet writing time before my boyfriend even thinks about consciousness. I check my email and Facebook, but only out of the neurological need – I don’t spend a long time on there. If there’s stuff to reply to, I do that later in the day. I update my GoodReads account with what I’d read the night before.

I read a short story. This week I’ve been chewing through the contents of Tiny Epics, which has been sitting on my shelf for over a year now. I regret not reading it earlier. Likewise with Bel Woods’ Get Smart which I read last week in page seventeen #8. That girl can write! What do your days look like to produce such brilliance, Bel?

After my short story, as per my writing goals, I read an essay. It’s not always pertinent to what I’m writing, but I’ve been learning an awful lot. Did you know that stabbing a lobster in the head doesn’t actually kill it? And that lobster deaths are a big point of concern for the RSPCA? And I never knew anything about Peter Porter, but now I do, thanks to Clive James – weird to read a dying great write about a dying great.

I write morning pages. These are at least three pages (so, for those of you who can’t convert longhand ideas into tech-speak, that’s about 750w) of whatever. They’re the pages where I supposedly get my brain warmed up to write my way into brilliance. Usually it’s just me pondering story ideas, brainstorming or bitching about how I can’t be arsed doing the dishes.

I do a writing exercise. Also, as per my writing goals, I’ve done one every day so far. It’s been fun. Out of six days, I’ve only had one day turn into something I feel I could follow up. But that’s still a higher hit-rate than when I wasn’t doing an exercise every day.

I work on a WIP.

I work on something that potentially can make me some money. I know that writing for money isn’t the point; I’m not trying to turn all my writing into a money-making scheme – that’s dumb, and would take the enjoyment out of it. I’m trying to find places that I can make money for doing something I enjoy more than my current job. I’ve been writing some copy for Weekendnotes, a guide to things you can do on weekends in Melbourne. It’s fun – it’s not exactly lucrative, but I’m enjoying the experience, and it’s really good exercise for banging things out on demand.

I do any business stuff I need to do. These last few weeks that’s involved getting an ABN, making an invoice template, posting submissions. Looking for comps and new publications I’d like to submit to happens during this time too.

Lastly, I catch up on my Google Reader feed (which is looking comparatively clean at the moment), and I blog, if I’ve got something worth saying or sharing.

Usually this whole routine takes up most of a day. Some days I don’t get around to all of it. As you can imagine, I sometimes get stuck in one piece or another – if it’s a good exercise, or a long story or essay, or if I find myself venting something worthwhile in Morning Pages…

But I feel like finally, after faffing about for six weeks, I’ve figured out how to execute a truly productive day. Now I go back to uni and that’ll jumble everything up a bit, but I’ll be trying to keep at least a few days a week like this.

What do your writing days look like?

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