On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
By her very own admission, there is nothing fancy about Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing routine. There’s no romantic notion of the inspiration-struck artist, magical talisman or quirky ritual that she needs to rely on to get started on her work each day. Instead, the American author, whose 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, turned her into a best-seller, describes her daily routine as blue-collar and workmanlike.
“I have no German Romantic idea about work,” she admitted to The Daily Beast. “There’s no fugue state, you know? I could no more write at 3 a.m. than I could with a quill pen. I keep farmer’s hours and I have that sort of plotting and plodding way.”
For Gilbert, her life is divided into two distinct times — writing mode and non-writing mode. She approaches her work as a seasonal event, only actively writing a book once every few years while spending the time outside of that on planning and researching her next one as well as promoting her previous books.
After she’s spent several years researching and preparing for her next book, she’ll clean her house, tell everyone in her life not to expect to hear from her in a while. After that, she tells Copyblogger, “clear off my schedule until I have a nice long block of empty time. Bow down. Ask for grace. Commit to the idea of collaborating with the book, not going to war against it. Cross fingers. Make a cup of tea. Begin.”
I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.Thoughts on Writing | Elizabeth Gilbert
On a writing day, Gilbert is up between 4.30-5am. “My favorite time to write is between 5 to 10 a.m., because that way you have the total silence before the world starts chasing you down,” she says.
“By 10 the phone is ringing, emails are coming in, all sorts of things need your care and attention. So I like those secret morning hours. If I’m really gunning, toward the end of project, I might write past noon, but that would be rare.”
When it comes to her writing set-up, Gilbert keeps it simple, relying on index cards and Microsoft Word. “I use a method I learned when I was 14, in Western Civilization class, cataloguing ideas on index cards, in shoe boxes,” she said describing her research system. “My newest book has five shoeboxes full of organized index cards lined up. Without them I don’t think I’d have any idea how to write a book.”
She also chews a ton of gum, going through a pack on every writing day. Though she admits it can be “obnoxious, and another reason why I have to be alone,” Gilbert also believes the act of chewing gum activates her brain — “it produces some sort of cosmic, seismic activity.”
Gilbert generally finishes up her writing for the day before lunchtime, stopping mid-sentence in Hemingway-fashion. “When I finish writing each day, to give myself a boost, I stop in the middle of a sentence. I heard Hemingway did that. When you sit down the next day, you are immediately able to produce something, without that terrible vacuum. It gives you a sense of momentum.”
After her writing is done for the day, Gilbert is free to attend to other parts of her life. As she described to The Cut, “Mornings are for stuff I want to do, and the rest of the day is for stuff that I have to do, and that I’m responding to.” This includes: her meditation routine (“I use Insight Timer and I have a meditation of choice by this guy named Mooji.”), daily check-ins with her close friends, and checking her social media.
Gilbert generally wraps up her day and heads to bed at around 9pm, according to a 2013 interview, although she told The Cut in 2019 that her bedtime has gotten even earlier — between 7-8pm.
Nothing real is at stake here. So just go make a pretty thing. Or make a clunky thing, or a tiny thing, or a big thing, or an ugly thing, or an experimental and wild thing. Doesn’t matter. Enjoy the making. Let it go. It’s merely art. This line of thinking brings me great peace. Gets me out of my own way.Here’s How Elizabeth Gilbert (Bestselling Author of Eat, Pray, Love) Writes | Copyblogger
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