By Ashley Lister
5.00am: The day begins with an early start
No one ever wrote a novel by sleeping and we all know that sleep is for those lesser mortals who don’t have deadlines. Consequently, sleep needs to be ended as soon as possible. 5.00am is the perfect time to start the day and allows me to get ahead of all those slugabeds who are still in dreamland.
5.30am: Off to the gym
I believe the axiom ‘healthy body, healthy mind’, is quite true. If you want to make sure your mind is in the right place for writing, make sure your mind isn’t worrying about your body. I do a little cardio and some free weights.
I also get to ‘people watch’ those people who are taking care of their bodies, which means I’m researching the heroes of my next opus magnus.
Back home to a breakfast of protein shakes and macrobiotic yoghurt, all of which is going to keep my bowel and colon healthy. This is about all I can manage on a morning as, thinking about the health of my bowel and colon is not conducive to a large appetite.
7.00am: Shower and dressed
They say you should dress for the job you want. As I don’t have a Batman suit, I dress in a three-piece suit and tie my tie in a Merovingian knot, just to look a little different. Is this necessary for good writing? Of course not. But I feel more confident when I’m dressed like my personal image of a successful writer, so (to me) it’s an important part of my daily ritual.
8.00am: Check emails
Delete all the ones offering me the chance to look after the millions from a Nigerian prince. Search (fruitlessly) for offers from Netflix script writers who want the rights to one of my novels or short stories so they can make it into the next binge-worthy blockbuster. And maybe reply to three emails that are relevant to my business life as a writer.
8.30am: Feed and walk the dogs
This is good thinking time. I can bounce ideas off the dogs and they don’t tell me I’m being ridiculous. Also, when I’m picking up their warm poop in a plastic poop-bag, it reminds me of Amazon reviewers.
9.30am: Begin writing
This is the most important time of the day. It’s a time that’s preceded by rituals.
I used to need a cigarette and a coffee on my desk to help stimulate my creativity. Nowadays, older, wiser and with dyspeptic intolerance for the things I used to find fun in life, I begin my writing armed with an unsweetened green tea and a punnet of black seedless grapes.
I use Microsoft Word because it’s the software I’ve been using for more than 20 years. It works for me because it’s a word processor that I can easily operate using muscle memory, allowing the creative portion of my brain a chance to focus on being creative.
I also have my watch programmed to remind me to take 250 steps every hour. Research has shown that people who have sedentary occupations can live longer if they invest in an extra two minutes exercise each hour. So, if I’ve not moved from the desk in an hour, my watch prompts me and I go play fetch with one of the dogs. (The dog usually wins). This is all part of my plan to live for ever.
1.30pm: Back to the current WiP
There’s always a temptation to dip into emails, mess about on social media, or try to beat my high score on Candy Crush Saga. However, Edgar Allan Poe did not achieve his output by responding to emails; Shakespeare did not mess about on social media; and Charles Dickens would probably have been crap at Candy Crush Saga.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the tenacity to sit in front of the PC producing coherent words, but this is where deadlines become so useful. If you haven’t got a publisher giving you a deadline, set a personal deadline and stick to it. Admittedly, this means extra pressure. But, if there’s no pressure, you don’t get diamonds.
5.30pm: Feed and walk the dogs
Rather than bouncing ideas off the dogs on the evening walk, I’ll stick in headphones and listen to an audio book. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advocates the need to ‘sharpen the saw’, that is, seeking continuous personal and professional improvement. Listening to audio books, immersing myself in current writing and paying attention to the way in which modern authors tell stories, is my way of sharpening my personal saw.
6.30pm: Evening Meal
I dine with my beautiful wife. She’s a successful artist and we talk about our respective days. Sometimes I even listen to what she has to say. We never have wine with the meal because neither of us like the taste.
7:30pm: More Saw Sharpening
After the kitchen has been tided, and the dishwasher is cleaning the pots, pans and plates, we retire to the drawing room and find something edifying to watch on the idiot box. I enjoy horror films and comedies. I also like TV Shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race and Ultimate Beastmaster – because these are shows that present people in challenging situations and I get to see how others deal with conflict. Again, this will feed into my writing and help me shape characters and plot developments in future fiction.
This might also be the part of the evening where I treat myself to a finger of bourbon.
The incredible poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, wrote the following lines:
I’d love to burn the candle at both ends but I know it would take a harsh toll on me. So I have to make the sacrifice of early nights and early mornings. It’s an ascetic life, but it’s one that makes me happy. The suggestion that writers should ‘write drunk and edit sober’ is one that always irritates me because I think it’s just another way of glamorising substance misuse.
And so, with those pious thoughts in mind, I retire to bed, rest, and prepare for another day of being a healthful, happy writer.