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writing routines

Earlier this month I listened to Terry Gross’ interview with one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Strout, on Fresh Air. Strout revealed during the interview that she maintained a strict writing practice:

“…I had a rule. Three hours for three pages. And I write by hand. So I really just meant three pages of notebooks – notebook pages filled. And I was always able to do the three pages…I would write what was most urgent to me at that time, and that proved to be helpful because then I could transpose whatever was feeling most urgent to myself – into a character, and that it would be truthful. There would be something truthful there and it wouldn’t be just wooden writing.”

When listening to the interview, I thought Strout had said, “Three hours or three hundred pages.” According to the transcript on NPR, the ‘or’ is a ‘for.’ Since I don’t have three spare hours every day, Strout’s words inspired me to fill three handwritten pages in a journal daily. I haven’t missed a day since I started a week ago. Without the prompting of a New Year, a holiday, or any notable landmark of time – I rolled out a new routine.

The steady workings of the universe not only brought me Strout’s interview, but in the same week I also came across a post on “Getting Back Into Writing Shape,” and attended an event in town held by holistic health coach Traci Philips. (The same Traci who co-facilitated the writing workshop with me last fall using essential oils as writing prompts.) I was unaware what the focus of Traci’s event was until I arrived. She always has something valuable to say so when I saw she was offering a free talk and it was just three miles from home I added it to my calendar. Her talk was on resolutions and our motivations–for anything in our lives, not just health. She asked very deep questions, like: Why? Really, why? It prompted everyone present to keep digging. She also explained that when she works with a client she discusses many different approaches until the individual connects with something. “Like a buffet,” she explained. She sets everything out on a figurative table and lets others come and take what suits them.

I’d like to think the different ‘signs’ I saw this month only motivated me to start a regular creative writing routine because I heard something that I connected with: Three pages. I can write three pages. Even after writing 2,000+ words for clients. I also connected with Strout’s handwritten practice – I love minimizing screen time and flexing the old school writer muscle.

I know other writers with their own unique rituals. Writing as soon as they get up. Slapping their own wrists if they don’t meet a 1,000-word daily quota. Stream of consciousness writing. Timed writing. And it goes on. That’s “the buffet” – none of it interested me. I found myself struggling for creative writing time, and only surfacing every few weeks to squeeze in a solid hour or two of revisions and very little new work. Protecting my writing time is still important to me, and now I know it’s protecting those three pages. Three pages are on the buffet every day.