This week, we’re introducing a new blog series called Ways of Working. In each edition, a member of the LUMA Community will share rituals, tools, and technology they use to do their best work.
Many writers and editors will tell you they have a specific routine. William Faulkner always kept whiskey within arm’s reach while he wrote. Maya Angelou rented a hotel room by the month and removed all artwork nearby to avoid distraction. Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. and runs ten kilometers or swims fifteen hundred meters every day he writes.
While none of my rituals for writing and editing are this boozy or vigorous, I do believe in creating structure and mindfulness when I work. Following routines allows me to spend less time thinking about how, when, or where I want to write or edit, and more time considering the task itself. Here are some of the guidelines I set for myself when I start a project at LUMA.
Set the conditions
I reserve time on my Google calendar specifically for heads-down writing and editing work so my teammates know I’m busy. I update my Slack status, snooze all notifications, and set my phone to Do Not Disturb.
I prefer to do my creative projects in the morning and early afternoon, before I’ve spent too much energy on other tasks throughout the day. I also try to streamline and simplify other items on my to-do list if I know I have a lot of writing or editing to do – I want to reserve as much creative brain power as possible! For example, I might prepare my lunch or decide what I’ll make for breakfast the night before so I don’t spend time considering those decisions while I’m working.
I also play fetch with my dog or take him for a long walk before I sit down at my laptop to get my brain moving.
Commit to goals
Some writers prefer to work when they feel like writing – they base it on mood. Others prefer to set goals, i.e. write X number of words within X amount of time. I prefer the latter so I can easily look back on what I’ve accomplished in a given number of hours. This is especially important if it’s a big project.
I won’t get boozy on the job, but I do like to make myself a fresh cup of coffee or tea before I sit down to write or edit. No matter the time of year, the beverage must be warm. In fact, there’s science behind the idea that hot beverages can improve your mood! I’m a fan of the two (or three) beverage rule, so I’ll always have a glass of water or a seltzer on-hand.
I’m also a big believer in snack breaks. I try to avoid picking up my phone to check social media, but taking breaks is still important! So after I work for a bit, I’ll split an apple with my dog or grab some hummus and look out my window for a few minutes to give my eyes a rest from the screen.
Use the right tools
If I’m not rushing to meet a tight deadline, I prefer to print out a first draft on paper with wide margins and edit with a PaperMate Flair medium pen. Then I copy my notes to the original Google Doc and share them with my teammate who wrote the article. If I’m in a rush, I’ll head straight to the Google Doc. My most frequently used keyboard shortcut is ⌘ + option + m: insert comment.
Right next to my Google Doc tab is usually my Spotify tab. My go-to background noises are the lofi hip hop beats playlist by Chillhop or any album by Sigur Rós. My main stipulation is that the music can’t have English lyrics – I’ve always been mystified by people who can simultaneously listen to music in the same language in which they’re writing!
Of course a foundational habit of being a good writer and editor is reading. It’s the best way to train your brain to recognize well-written prose or learn new vocabulary. I prefer fiction novels that differ greatly from the subject of whatever project I might be focusing on to keep my mind open to other styles of writing (like a mini Alternative Worlds exercise!)
I also always have someone else check my writing and editing. I might think I’ve clearly presented an idea, but it’s best practice to run copy past someone else’s mental model of the way the world works.
Ways of working
With so many demands competing for our attention, it can be difficult to drown out the noise and truly focus so that we can feel proud of the effort we’ve applied. And it can be tempting to simply copy and paste someone else’s routine because they’ve found success that way – but it’s okay if you don’t want to wake up at 4 a.m., and there’s no shame in seeking inspiration in hotel artwork! I hope you’re finding whatever helps you do your best work.