The Writer’s ‘Routine’

Having authored 6 books, I am often asked the question: ‘What’s your writing routine?’

I know they are asking in the hope that ‘if I do what she does’, I will be able to finish my book. It’s a fantasy I have indulged in too.

I remember reading up the writing routines of a host of famous authors. Many of them say they follow a ‘strict schedule’. Wake up early, write from 8 am to 1 pm. Have lunch. Take a nap. Start writing again. Have a drink in the evening. Dinner. And go to bed early.

One Mr V S Naipaul even takes a nap in a particular armchair, insisting that the blanket must be folded ‘just so’. This part is taken care of by the lovely Lady Naipaul. God bless her soul.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a house in the English countryside. And neither did I have a ‘Mrs Naipaul’ to fold my blanket. I belonged to a rather ordinary (upper) middle class household where the day began with the tension of waking up my daughter and running after the schoolbus with toast in hand.

A normal day ‘at home’ is punctuated with drivers, dhobis, maids and courier delivery boys constantly ringing the doorbell.

So how did I manage? Well, what worked for me was the fact that I had a ‘deadline’. It might be the effect of two years in business school, where my system was programmed to start when you start – but meet the deadline.

I began writing my first book on January 1, 2008 (having completed the research and interviews in the 3 months preceding that). The book was to be released on at the IIMA Entrepreneurs conference scheduled for 30th of June 2008.

At the time I was the hands-on editor of JAM magazine but luckily I had an excellent team. I handed over the day to day responsibilities to them and turned my focus on the book – which went on to become ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’.

I worked mainly during my daughter’s school hours. And sometimes, late at night as well.

Some days, I didn’t ‘feel like’ doing anything. And I didn’t. On others, I was extremely productive.

I concluded that creative ‘moods’ are like the waves of an ocean. You can’t go surfing when the tide is low.

My years and years of training as a journalist also helped. Working with a lot of data, on a deadline, to produce the ‘best copy’ you can is kind of now ingrained.

Another rule I follow is I do not rewrite. Things come out the way they are meant to, the first time. Is what I believe. And practice.There are other ways of doing it – but this is mine.

I worked this way for subsequent books, as well. Along the way I became a ‘full time’ author. I no longer worked in an office, I no longer had an office.

By the time I was writing my fifth book ‘Follow Every Rainbow’, I was feeling a little saturated. I wanted to write the book in peace, the ‘doorbell’ was getting to me. Luckily, a friend offered the use of his (empty) office and I gladly accepted.

For my 6th book (‘Take Me Home’), I didn’t feel like ‘going to office’ anymore. I found a cosy little café in Fort area of Mumbai. It made me feel ‘writerly’. The ‘Teapot Café’ is run by a young Parsi girl and her friendly staff. It’s not Starbucks but cool in its own way (and affordable!).

I spent a productive month on a comfortable blue sofa, fortified with pots of masala chai, bread-omlette and dhansaak.

Then, I completed the book and the ‘magic’ ended. I went back once, but don’t feel like I have to go back to write my next.

So – what am I saying? A routine is something very personal. Something which works for you. Some people can write while waiting for a flight at the airport. Others can write only at a desk and chair. Some do it early, some do it late at night. You know it’s working when the words are coming, output is there.

And no routine is static. Right now, I write day-long and then go swimming at 5 pm. In a month, the rains will descend on Mumbai and I will have to find something else.

But I do think it’s important for writers to find that something which empties their mind of all thoughts. At some point in the day. Yoga, meditation, exercise – whatever.

Along with high tide and low tide, you need to stillness and silence. Because that is the secret language of the universe. Which gurgles within you and produces the words.