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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

If It Works for Stephen King, Shouldn’t It Work for Me?


012-stephen-king-quoteWriters often look to famous authors for role models. We assume that whatever routine works (or worked) for a famous writer should work for every writer. If Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, 365 days a year, every writer should write 2,000 words a day, 365 days a year.

The problem is that what famous writers do is often contradictory: Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Gunter Grass all wrote standing up; Mark Twain, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton and William Styron all wrote lying down. Should you write standing up or lying down?

Henry Miller managed to contradict himself within his own 11 Commandments. Number 4 directs: “Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!” Number 9 allows: “Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.

Isabel Allende lights “candles for the spirits and the muses” and surrounds herself with fresh flowers and incense. Steven Pressfield has to wear his lucky sweatshirt with his lucky name tag and, among other things, position a toy cannon on a thesaurus (to fire inspiration into him) before he can write. Do you need to candles or cannons?

The Finger Pointing at the Moon…

finger-moonTrying to do what famous writers do is mistaking the specific for the universal. The universal principle in these examples is that writers benefit from rituals and routines.

The specifics are the flowers, the lucky sweatshirt, the 2,000 words a day. Those are the specifics for Allende, Pressfield and King (respectively). They are not your specifics.

Should you have a writing ritual? It’s a good idea, but not absolutely necessary.

What should your writing routine be? No one can discover that but you.

Shouldn’t you have an established routine and know what your writing ritual is by now? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but “shoulding” on yourself rarely helps.

Pay attention to what you do (more about tracking in upcoming post). Notice the results you get. Revise until you find what works for you. Re-assess your rituals and routines from time to time as you develop as a writer and as your projects and circumstances change.

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