Am I the Pigeon or the Statue? Setting my Writing Routine

from Jane Austen Is My Spirit Animal (Facebook)

Yesterday I ran across this meme after initially seeing it, oh, so many moons ago. At about the same time, I was reminded of the saying, “Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.”

What’s the connection, you ask? If you look closely, both the meme and the saying are reflections of life on any particular day. Sure, when things are going my way, I’m the pigeon perched on the head of the Statue of Liberty, feeling like the queen of the world. Not such a great day? Then I’m the statue, feeling like every other pigeon wants to use me for target practice. Likewise, if I’m indulging my inner Jane Austen, on a bad day I’m the prancing dude at the ball (“Other way, Mr. Collins”) instead of his accomplished partner who will later gossip about his clumsy dancing skills (“For what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in turn?”).

I mentioned in earlier posts that carving out a writing routine has been a challenge for me. I find the temptation to wait for a good mood to hit me (those pigeon/Lizzie Bennet moments) a compelling reason to play games on my tablet instead of writing. But, as E.B White pointed out, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

On one of those days where my motivation to write failed me, I surfed for inspiration in the writing routines of well-known writers. By the time I scraped my chair away from my keyboard, I had a fascinating snapshot of perseverance in the pursuit of creativity.

Ernest Hemingway

Some writers did their best work at specific times of the day. Jack Kerouac wrote by candlelight at night, but Ernest Hemingway was an early morning writer. Some, like Barbara Kingsolver and E.B. White worked around or within the distractions of their families. Stephen King has a quota of six pages each day while Flannery O’Connor, rejecting a word count, limited her time to two hours each morning.

Each writer has their own personal way of making time to write. What works for one writer may not work for another.

But in all the routines I studied, there are a few similarities that are worthwhile incorporating into any writing practice:

Charles Dickens
  • Write every day. That’s it. I’ve seen it, over and over. Just do it. Write. Or at least make time to write. Every writer knows that writing isn’t merely putting words on paper. Charles Dickens had times when he sat looking out the window. Not many words made it to paper, but he was in his chair at least thinking about the plot at hand.
  • Get physical. Kurt Vonnegut dropped pushups or cranked out sit ups whenever he could throughout the day. Haruki Murakami runs or swims every afternoon. Alice Munro walks three miles a day when the work is done. And Charles Dickens took a three hour walk every afternoon through the streets of London. Physical activity clears the mind and makes sure we don’t become poster children for the latest slogan – sitting is the new smoking.
  • Set a quota. A quota can be a word count (such as Anthony Trollope’s 250 words) or pages (Stephen King’s six pages) or time (Maya Angelou in a hotel room from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm). Set whatever kind of goal you like, but be sure to make it reasonable.
  • Make time for everyday life. So often it’s easy for a writer (especially on a productive day) to get lost in the writing and everything else falls to the wayside. I’ve had many days where dinner became takeout because I didn’t leave myself time to cook (yes, I like to cook). Because writers can become somewhat antisocial while a project is in progress, visiting with friends, spending time with family, and other social activities must be part of this equation. When the quota is met, set your writing aside.

Now, as I get my life back together after a hectic and emotional summer, I am creating my own writing rituals. I’ll check back later and let you know how it’s working. Hopefully, with an established routine, it won’t matter one whit if I woke up in a pigeon/Lizzie Bennet or a statue/Mr. Collins mood…

…because I am a writer.

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