Routines? Superstitions? Who Needs ‘em?
By Steven Savile
Today I wrote the words THE END on the latest manuscript. There’s something wonderfully ritualistic about it. It made me think of that scene in Misery where Paul Sheldon has his little habits, the things he always does at the end of a book, printing it on certain paper, keeping the only copy of the book in a particular leather folder, etc. I’ve got a good friend who has his own ritual – a shot of Macallan and a good cigar. Always the same. And I started thinking about me and my routines.
I’d love to be a single shot good cigar kind of guy. It feels that that’s what a real writer should do. I’d love to say I only ever print out my stories on Conqueror and write long hand with 2H pencils in a Moleskin notebook or that I have a place where I write.
But the fact is I’m a pretty disappointing example of the superstitious guy – during the writing of Immortal, for instance, I’ve been variously in the local bookstore overlooking Högtorget in Stockholm watching the hustle and bustle of life, I’ve been in Javasavi, a funky little boho café around the corner from my house, I’ve been in Brasco, beneath an immense picture of Pacino’s Scarface. In By George in the local shopping mall because they have the best cinnamon buns in the city. In Limoné, which is just across the street from Brasco, actually. What I haven’t been is in my study. I have a gorgeous leather inlay desk, antique, but the most uncomfortable chair in Christendom. Plus, I make lousy coffee and I’m a bit of a caffeine addict, hence the long line of cafés responsible for Immortal.
I’ve written some scenes on a Macbook Air, some on a Sony Vaio, some on my iPad, even a couple using a Bluetooth keyboard and Docs to Go on my iPhone. Parts of it have been written in Scrivener. Parts in Word. Some of it in Pages. Some of it long hand, in very spidery scrawl in a variety of notebooks. The long and the short of it is when it comes to place I like to shake it up, when it comes to method, I like to shake it up.
It doesn’t seem to matter what I do or where I do it…
I order the same thing every time I go into the café, whichever café it is. It’s reached the point where there are a dozen cafés in a 2 mile radius and the people at each of them greet me by name, start pouring the latte and crack open the coke zero as I walk to my seat – the same seat every time.
See, whilst I am not superstitious, I am routine driven.
I know, for instance, that I have an almost pathological need to respond to every email as it comes in, so if I am hoping for a ‘big writing day’ I go to the boho café or the bookstore one, because they aren’t cursed with wifi, but if I am expecting some important work email I’ll hit Brasco because they’ve got an ultrafast connection and by 4pm it’s normally dead in there so I can work undisturbed. The internet though is the death of concentration. If I try to write where there’s wifi the temptation is every 15 mins to check my Kindle numbers, to cycle through Facebook, the Spurs messageboard, Horror Drive-In, Soccernet and back to the Kindle numbers before I go back to the paragraph I was writing.
I did hear about a program for the mac that disables the wifi and Bluetooth ports for user-defined periods of time… which appeals to me. I think I’d get 2,000 more words a day down if there was no internet…
Talking of words, I have a daily word count and I won’t let myself out of the chair until I’ve done it – it’s 1500 words. I could do more. I won’t do less. On a bad day, when the words aren’t coming at one venue, I’ll take a walk to another, using the 20 minutes between them to blow out the cobwebs, and by the time I sit down again I’ve managed to trick my stupid brain into thinking I’m just getting started so those words from the first session are banked up and nine times out of ten I’ll hit my 1500 target inside 90 mins of sitting down for the second stint.
I used to write a lot at night, but despite the fact I am generally puttering around in the study until 2am I’ve stopped doing that. I’ve traded it for another routine. I’ve just started reclaiming an hour or so a night to read. Thanks to my iPad I can read at night without a light, and without straining my eyes, and over the last couple of months I’ve read more books than probably in the last 3 years put together. I’m very old school about it, curling up beneath the covers only without the touch these days. It’s a wonderfully refreshing way of reminding myself daily why I fell in love with books and writing in the first place.
Alas, despite having written THE END today there’s no hot toddy, no cigar. There’s not even a rest. I’ve got two hours ahead of me wrestling with an outline for an upcoming novel.
I really do need to try harder to be a real writer. I feel like I’m letting the side down.
Over the last six years Steven Savile has written twenty books for various media properties including Doctor Who, Torchwood, Stargate, Warhammer, Slaine and Primeval. His Primeval novel Shadow of the Jaguar was a #1 bestseller in 2008. Silver, his debut thriller, was released in 2010, and reached #3 in the UK ebook charts. Forthcoming books include London Macabre, Immortal and Gold, the sequel to Silver. His work has been published in nine languages. He has been a runner-up in the British fantasy award, and won the Writers of the Future award and the 2009 Scribe Award for best Media Tie-in novel. You can visit him online at