“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that
you may be violent and original in your work.”
Flaubert was a big believer in having a routine as a writer — and he has plenty of company. Flannery O’Conner, for example, made it a habit to be at her desk from 9 AM to 12 every workday. Sometimes she wrote a lot, sometimes only a little, but she stayed at it all the same. Stephen King takes a different approach: day in and day out, he stays at his desk until he’s produced 2,500 words. Yet another well-known writer goes off to his writer’s den and doesn’t emerge until eight hours later. And one popular author simply describes her work mode as “ass in the chair.”
Anthony Trollope surely wins the award for regimented writing. Even while holding down a raft of postal service jobs, he was a staggeringly prolific author. And no wonder! Trollope literally wrote like clockwork: he would pen his novels from 5:30 to 8:30 every morning before leaving for his government job. In his autobiography, Trollope said that he kept his watch on his desk to time his productivity; his goal: 250 words every 15 minutes. If he finished one novel before his three hours were up, he simply took out a fresh piece of paper and started something new.
Now this kind of highly structured work style may or may not float your boat. You may prefer the work-play mode, alternating intense periods of concentration with small breaks in which you take time to absorb what you’ve done and refuel before shifting back to work again. I seem to fall into this category myself, though when I was working on my book, Birthing the Elephant, I spent two months interviewing and then worked two solid hours every day for six months to write the text — along with my regular freelance projects. Whatever approach you choose to take, find your work rhythm and stick with it: creating a regular work structure to anchor your day and week will fuel not just your creativity, but your confidence as well.