Monday 17 May 2021

Why can't I be more like Jeffrey and Dan? An author in search of a writing routine - by Tracy Darnton.

Confession time: I don't have a proper writing routine. I lurch from one set of demands on my time to another and the writing is the thing that tends to get pushed down the list. I have a big To Do list and 'Getting a writing routine' has been on it for a few years. 

But I've been wondering lately if I'm ever going to find the routine that works for me, which brings me to my new writing friends: Jeffrey and Dan. 

I had afternoon tea with Jeffrey (Jeffrey Archer to you) as one of the Society of Author @ Home events. Me, and a couple of hundred other members on zoom, but it feels strangely intimate and I'm sure we are now on first name terms. Turns out Jeffrey is thoroughly engaging and generous with sharing tips with other writers. Time flies on a Thursday afternoon. First thing to say is Jeffrey has written a lot of books. He has sold millions of copies. 275 million copies. Hats off. If anyone deserved to take their foot off the pedal a little, it is he. 

The usual question was asked whether he had a writing routine.  "Yes," says my new friend Jeffrey, and he described working two hours first thing in the morning.

Ooh, well done, Jeffrey, I thought. Two whole hours of writing is really good. I should do that.

But that was only the beginning for Jeffrey - that was just his pre-breakfast appetiser. His day was broken up into many blocks of two hours writing with time off for meals and a three mile walk. Jeffrey is 81. He slogs his guts out for fifty days handwriting each book - each, very long book. He retires to bed at 930. 

I wanted to ask him about the washing - like, does he just ignore the washing machine beeping that it's finished? And what about the dishwasher. Or those presents you have to buy and wrap and take to the post office. Or book the man to sort out the dangerous tree. What about the guttering, Jeffrey? is what I wanted to type into the chat box, but didn't.

Because I can't get those things out of my head, even if I lock myself in a room, my head always comes with me. 

And so to my next author: Dan Brown. Dan has also sold a lot of books. You may have heard of him.  Dan and his thriller writing masterclass has been accompanying me while ironing or on the spin bike.  Although the tempo is not as good as Everybody (Backstreet Boys) for the spin bike, I've enjoyed the lectures and advice. I would like to have Dan to supper - he seems genuinely lovely and eager to share his writing knowhow. 

Sometimes I've been distracted by the oak panelling (or is it walnut?) and fancy light fittings in the background. Dan has a very nice home. Or if it's not his actual, real life home, it should be. It glows, in a millionaire American way that I'm sure I could get used to. 

Dan likes to write when he's fresh with no email distractions. Good idea, Dan. I should do that too. 

Dan likes to start at 4.

Excuse me? At 4. In the morning? 

Surely just on a tight deadline?

Nope. 365 days of the year. Writing is the most important thing he's going to do that day.

I'm sensing that Dan would not have time to come to ours for supper. 

Both Jeffrey and Dan work incredibly hard on their story, on research, on getting everything correct and writing page-turning books. These people are driven. They're not doing it for the money or fame anymore. They are writing machines

Am I just lazy? Possibly, but see above - spinbike!

One thing's for sure, Dan's not dusting that massive harp I see in the background himself. And I bet he wasn't trying to get the limescale off the taps before he started writing in the middle of the night!

But can I keep using that as an excuse? Am I just a procrastinator?

Dan has a timer which he sets. I have a timer. I have a timer too, Dan. A pretty glass one. We are writing soulmates. I set mine to make me sit at my desk for 15 mins solid. What do you do with yours, Dan? I ask over the hiss of the iron. These pillowcases won't iron themselves.

What? Oh. We are not writing soulmates after all. 

Dan sets his timer to makes sure he gets up from his desk and does push ups and sit ups every hour.

Good grief, Dan. I can't do one flipping push up. But it is on my To Do list. If I had a panelled study and could do a push up on the hour, everything would be alright. And a harp - I need a harp.

I'm beginning to think it is a miracle I have written any books at all. Maybe I'm a maverick, a free spirit, a faffer *, maybe I...Sorry, I have to go - the washing machine is beeping. 

* one who faffs.

Tracy Darnton is the author of YA thrillers The Rules and The Truth About Lies. Amazingly she has found time to write another one, out next year. 


Nick Garlick said...

I wonder if they'd have such a routine if they *weren't* so successful. Spending 18 months writing a book only to see it NOT get published doesn't exactly fill me with oomph and fizz to get going on a follow-up. And as you say, who's doing the ironing?

Carrie Fisher once made a comment about being married to Paul Simon: that it was often a case of, 'Sweetheart, instead of writing another million-selling song, could you please empty the dishwasher?'

Penny Dolan said...

Jeffrey handed writes his novels? So who types his books?

Tracy, these are exactly the things ì think when I hear accounts like this.

Stroppy Author said...

Nick, I think that's a good point. I usually have a commission before I start writing so it has to be done. It's very different if you are writing on spec. The few books that don't have a deadline do drift...
I don't have what I would call a routine but as far as it goes it's close to Jeffrey Archer's - I do start before 7 every day (5/6 in summer, 6/7 in winter) though it kicks off with relevant reading over coffee and then switches to actual writing — which includes edits, planning, correcting layouts, arguing with editors, etc. Mornings are definitely my most productive time. But I don't swap writing for dusting or emptying the washing machine. If I'm going to procrastinate, it will be reading something only tangentially related online (like this!), not doing the cleaning. You do need to decide what is important to you and do it. I don't see myself lying on my deathbed wishing I'd done more dusting. Unless I die of a dust-induced condition, of course. Which is quite likely, on reflection

Stroppy Author said...

Penny, he pays someone to do it. I don't see that as any different to paying someone to do layout if you self-publish, or paying someone to mow your lawn or cut your hair, or a million other things. I couldn't do it as I type faster than I write - it would be entirely pointless! I can see if you started in the days of manual typewriters, which are quite hard work, you might have gone that route

Steve Gladwin said...

I just love your style, Tracey and there's no doubt that if they're not telling porkies, these guys put the hours in. Now I'd just love to know what David Walliams's writing routine is! I also suspect that there are a lot of writers like Kevin Crossley-Holland, who get the one person to type up their handwritten work who can actually read their writing.More power to the amenuensis!

Penny Joelson said...

Fabulous and totally relatable!

Sue Purkiss said...

Very much enjoyed this!

Anonymous said...

Laugh-out-loud funny! A great read...and so enlightening.