A hundred trillion years ago, when I was an impressionable young man, someone older and wiser told me that if I didn’t have a regular quiet time every morning, I might as well invite Satan over for breakfast. Since I was Someone Who Always Wanted to Do the Right Thing, I decided I had no choice but to comply (besides, everyone knows Satan eats all the crispy bacon and only leaves you the floppy pieces).
Here’s what my journal would have looked like if I’d kept one in the days that followed:
Day 1: During my quiet time, I prayed. Mostly that I would have a good quiet time. Then I had breakfast.
Day 2: Quiet time cut short by smell of bacon. Thankfully, Satan was busy elsewhere. I got the good bacon.
Day 3: I know it’s late evening, but I was in the middle of a good dream this morning where the pretty girl smiled at me and not the handsome guy standing behind me and I’m pretty sure God would agree I need dreams like that to boost my self-esteem and because I woke up late I had to race to school and after I got home I had to fill the rest of the day with things that made me seem busy so I could put off homework until just before bed. But I’m here now and even though it’s time for my favorite TV show I have decided to…oh, wait…the power’s back on.
Day 4: Floppy bacon isn’t so bad.
Fast-forward a few years. More. Still more. Okay, you’re just about there…wait, back up one or two.
Now pretend this is a brilliant segue from the previous paragraphs (which, in case it isn’t clear, seem to hint that there is a difference between healthy spiritual discipline and Pharisaical, guilt-based behavior, though I didn’t develop the point very much because I mostly just wanted to say stuff about bacon) and the next paragraphs (which will be all about writing, so you can relax now if you were concerned I was going to turn this into a sermon).
Someone younger and maybe nearly as wise told me that if I didn’t write every day, I wasn’t a real writer. Someone else who might have been older and wiser or maybe just about the same age and possibly not so wise but it really doesn’t matter for the purpose of this blog post said “you absolutely have to write every day if you ever want to be a published writer.” And then someone else who I’m reasonably certain was clinically insane said, “I get up every morning at four and write for five hours…” after which his face froze in a creepy question-mark expression that asked “and what are your regular daily writing hours?” He probably would still be waiting for my answer if he didn’t have a 4 a.m. “time to write” wake-up call.
I don’t do any of those things. And I still have the audacity to call myself a writer.
Want to know my routine? Here it is:
Whenever. And wherever.
Sometimes I write for a couple hours sitting at my desk in my ergonomically-engineered office chair. Sometimes I stare into space and don’t write at all for days or weeks. Sometimes I write at midnight while practicing horrible posture in the living room recliner and listening to the cable TV Adult Alternative music station. Sometimes I plug in the earbuds and write as I disappear into movie scores while sitting (with horrible posture) in a chair at Starbucks. Sometimes in the middle of the night I write from my horizontal office (that would be my bed).
So, like I said, whenever. And wherever.
And I’m almost content with this non-routine routine. I say “almost” because I find I still wish I had a few more hours to write. (Don’t all writers wish they had more time?) I suppose I could schedule them at 4 in the morning. But I really love my sleeping dreams. Maybe I could chain myself to the ergonomically-engineered office chair for a few more hours a day, but sitting for too long with perfect posture just makes me grumpy. So instead, I guess I’ll just always wish for more time.
Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. I believe a regular routine can be a very good thing. For some people, a disciplined schedule may be the best (or only) way to keep writing. If you’re one of these people, I salute you (from my horizontal office).
But if you’re not? Don’t beat yourself up about it. (Unless guilt is the only thing that gets you writing. Then self-flagellate all you want.) There will be times when you have to force yourself into patterns that might not be a natural fit (deadlines will do that to you), but otherwise? Just write the way you write. If you write best in your PJs, then slide into your bunny slippers and write away. If you write best at Starbucks, caffeinate your way to the bestseller list. (Just don’t steal my table.)
The point is this: there is no one “right way” to write. There is only your way.
Do you smell bacon?