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  • Writer's pictureSophia Kouidou-Giles

Carving Out Time to Write

By Sophia Kouidou-Giles

For a writer, staying home is not much of a change to the daily routine during the coronavirus pandemic. On most days when I abide by old everyday habits, writing fits in during the morning hours, right after the first cup of coffee. This regular practice is vital, equally important for writing as is natural talent, inspiration, a laptop or a pen and an eraser.

In comfortable clothes, liberated from appearance requirements, the laptop calls. The challenge is sticking to this routine because life has a way of intruding with demands that can divert my attention away. But think about it, what better time than today to call on the spirits inhabiting a writer’s world than during the lockdown pandemic. In their company, I sit at my desk to listen to that life, voices and ghosts that may have resided inert, awaiting my attention.

What helps me stay faithful to the morning routine are certain habits. Prime among them is having a regular schedule and steady hours.

Create space of where you will write each day. Creating space to write is about turning off the cell phone, shutting the door and having a dedicated area for the morning ritual. Settling at a table or desk signals to the self that the time is special and committed. Protect this space, keep everyone away from it when you work, including people important to you. That is when the muse will respond to your invitation to come and whisper.

Momentum is cumulative. Writing is a building process, done brick by brick. Rarely does it all show up in a stream of words in one sitting, uninterrupted. The Master Mason gathers his/her tools and thoughts, the bricks, the mortar, and with a trowel eventually builds the ultimate structure. Add several bricks to the structure and in time, it will become a complete home. And we know it when the work is a keeper when done, but it mostly accumulates in bits.

Set goals and deadlines. Define what you strive for. Have a goal, set a deadline, for time can fly away and there would be no gain for the manuscript, that is a living thing and needs attention, grooming, new content and revision to reach its prime. Some people set a goal for a certain word count; others set a minimum time for the completion of a segment in process each day. Whichever way you go, set a specific target for the session and do not cheat on this agreement with yourself.

Have necessary resources at your fingertips. Have your tools ready around you, be that a thesaurus, dictionaries, source materials, lists, podcasts, similar readings that orient you to the topic and act as references for a particular project. A friend of mine likes to collect words on the topic even before they address it. Today, it has become easier to reach/search for information on the internet we used to find at the library. This is fodder for what it will stimulate to show up on the page. It does not have to be exact, or well done, it just has to be captured so that later, you can unleash the refinements to your hearts’ desire before the manuscript is released to the readers.

When ideas come, write them down. When focusing on a project, ideas and inspiration surface, dance and tease during the day or night; these are wonderful allies of the creative process. They spring from the unconscious, some accidental stimuli quietly contributing alms to the project. These are riches worth capturing. I use what is handy, email them to myself, tape record them on my cell phone, scribe them on any handy paper. These random morsels wait for me to sit at my laptop and record them the next morning. Some may be rubbish, but there are gems that wait to be discovered.

Write about the richness of your culture. We grow up in settings unique to us that shape who we are. Write from that place, honor it, and share about the things you know. Use those experiences, write from them, for that gives color to your voice. It is that richness readers look for as you turn into a bridge between your world and theirs.

Don’t forget to move. Though I realize that moving and exercise is an important component to a writing routine, this is challenging for me. It is easy to slump over and stay on the chair the entire morning, especially when the pen or the typewriter keys click away happily. Breaking to stretch and walk, offers space for new ideas, a way to solve a problem and may pave the way to the next step.

Leave editing for the second draft. Once a first draft has been compiled, it is time for refinements. This is my favorite time. In revision, I remember the reader. I take them in the house through the front door and act as a clear guide. That is when I read the piece out loud, making sure the map is clearly drawn. Distancing from my own words is an important step before releasing a piece to the world.

Share your ups and downs. At the end of each day’s session, it’s time to review and acknowledge your work. Frustrating mornings and times filled with accomplishments are to be expected, the two faces of a coin on our walk along the same path. Report them to your accountability tribe, fellow authors, first readers and supportive people. Sharing them with trusted friends invites a fresh start the next day.

The secret of the writing life is immersion in a routine in a way that has meaning, is fulfilling and gives you joy. Molding your own preferences and developing a writing tribe is important and becomes reinforcing.

When I consider how basic my writing was when I started, I think it may not even be about talent. It may be more about discipline, reading a lot and writing a lot. Practice makes a difference. All of us, beginners, and experienced writers work with our instrument to produce a certain sound. It's like tuning a violin, practicing scales to prepare for a complex sequence of notes that after revisions and rewrites comes together in a satisfying composition. Trusting in that process, I gather my tools, keeping them within reach, surround myself with resources, quiet time and coffee and plunge in.

Identifying what works for you, creating your own ritual is an important step. These ideas may look obvious and simplistic, but together, they create the space we need to write, and all of them together work like magic. So, what are your writing routines and special arrangements?


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