The Northcote Town Hall’s imposing double doors lent an air of anticipation to the audience waiting for the Extraordinary Routines session that promised a glimpse into the hidden world of the writer. The event didn’t disappoint making the effort of dragging one’s self into the city on a Sunday morning worthwhile.
Each writer had their own routines and rituals:
Clint Greagan award winning blogger, has been writing since he was a kid. He is a stay-at-home dad with four boys under the age of ten, and makes time to write between 8.30pm and 11.30pm at night. In his words he’s ‘a man sitting alone in the dark with headphones on, illuminated by a computer screen, night after night, year after year.’ And usually accompanied by an 80s music playlist. Pants on or off is optional (TMI!! Ed).
Louris van de Geer is a playwright who seeks, and creates in her mind, images that capture the feelings she wants to convey in her plays. She takes notes or jots down ideas on little slips of paper and she uses these at the library where she works to capture her thoughts. Gin is her ‘civilised’ way of ending the day. If the creative process is going well she has a ‘congratulatory’ gin and if not it’s a ‘panic’ gin. This ritual is a nod to Ray Bradbury (‘I have three rules to live by: Get your work done. If that doesn't work, shut up and drink your gin, and when all else fails, run like hell.’)
Fiona McIntosh, a prolific novelist, is disciplined in structuring her writing day. She writes between 8am and 12pm four days a week, and has a word count to meet each day. Writing is her business and she aims to write three books a year. In contrast, her actual writing is ‘mad and chaotic’, and she works on a ‘desk of bedlam’ strewn with research notes and chocolates, and surrounded by her three dogs.
The three writers did agree on several issues with regards a writer’s daily life, such as: the need for down time, and three hours of writing a day was considered optimal, after which point the mind becomes tired and distracted. Fiona summed it up best: ‘let the back of the brain take care of business’, to let the story ideas percolate whilst you go about the other areas of your life.
Social media was thought to be a dangerous distraction. Fiona suggested it was important to set limits. She herself admitted to being easily distracted by incoming emails. Louris spoke of getting caught up in theatre trailers on YouTube.
Writing is their happy place. Fiona described sitting at her computer as her ‘safe place’ and admitted to getting upset if her writing routine got interrupted. Clint described writing as ‘restorative, like having a nap.’ And for Louris, all she needed was her pictures and her gin.
Despite the different daily routines of the three writers, the audience at Northcote Town Hall discovered that the extraordinary does arise out of the ordinary. As Clint put it, ‘if you want to be a writer, you have to sit down and write.’ Or as Fiona says ‘There’s no such thing as “am I in the mood to write.”’ It’s picking up the pen (so to speak) and doing it. It’s the regularity and consistency of writing that sets apart the successful writer. The magic of what they produce comes from writing every day. Something that is attainable for any writer willing to put in the effort and create their own daily extraordinary routine.