Writing Routines

Gillian Flynn’s Writing Routine: “There’s no muse that’s going to come down and bestow upon you the mood to write.”

Gillian Flynn is an American writer, best-known for her three novels, Sharp ObjectsDark Places, and Gone Girl, all of which have been adapted for film or television.

I could not have written a novel if I hadn’t been a journalist first, because it taught me that there’s no muse that’s going to come down and bestow upon you the mood to write. You just have to do it. I’m definitely not precious.

The Gone Girl phenomenon: Gillian Flynn speaks out | The Guardian

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Before Gillian Flynn was a best-selling author, she was a journalist. She freelanced briefly at U.S. News & World Report, before being hired as a feature writer at Entertainment Weekly in 1998. After being promoted to a television critic, Flynn continued to write about films until she was fired 10 years later. The author has credited her background in journalism in helping her novelist career.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, both of Flynn’s parents were professors at Metropolitan Community College–Penn Valley. As a young girl, her father would regularly take her to watch horror movies, giving her a taste of the macabre that would later show up in her work.

“My dad was a film professor, and so I inherited his love of movies, and for me, especially scary movies,” she recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “We had an old top-loading VCR and I watched Psycho a million times. In the mirror, I obsessively practiced the final shot of Anthony Perkins: the Norman Bates smile right at the camera. I can still do it really well.”

Later, while she was working as an entertainment journalist, she began writing on the side, chipping away at her stories during the nights and weekends. Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects, was published in 2006 and won several awards from the Crime Writers’ Association, including the New Blood Fiction Dagger and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

She continued to juggle working as a journalist and her writing, until the end of 2008 when she was laid off from Entertainment Weekly. It was around this time that Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, was published, and Random House asked her for a follow-up. The author decided to go all-in as a full-time writer and began writing her next book, Gone Girl.

Published in 2012, the novel was a hit and made the New York Times Best Seller list. The screen rights to the novel were bought by Reese Witherspoon’s film production company and 20th Century Fox for $1.5 million and Flynn was tapped to write the screenplay for the film adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

Since then, Flynn has continued her work in film and TV production. She executive produced and co-wrote the HBO adaption for Sharp Objects, which was received with critical acclaim, as well as co-wrote the 2018 Steve McQueen film Widows.

I write for people who are readers the way I’m a reader. I don’t care if I dislike a character; I care if I find them interesting or they make me laugh, or if I’m trying to figure them out. I am always more interested in that.

The Gone Girl phenomenon: Gillian Flynn speaks out | The Guardian

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Gillian Flynn’s daily writing routine

On a typical writing day, Flynn’s peak hours are during the dead of the night — from 11pm to 3am. “I love writing after midnight because you start feeling like you have the world to yourself,” she told Glamour. “Your cell phone stops going, there are no texts coming, and you can really get into your world.”

Because of her late night writing hours, the best-selling author usually isn’t awake until 10am, which works well because her husband is a morning person and he’s up early to get their two kids ready while she catches up on a few extra hours of sleep. After her morning dose of coffee and breakfast (”I have my bowl of cereal, which is Lucky Charms. That’s my ritualistic cereal.”), she’ll spend her time hanging out with her children.

When it comes to her actual writing session, Flynn described her regular routine in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Drink half a pot of coffee. Go downstairs to my basement writing lair. Sit myself in my chair and threaten myself like a recalcitrant child: you will sit in this chair and you will not move until you get this scene written, missy. Get the caffeine shakes. Regret drinking so much coffee. Finish writing the scene. Reward myself with a game or eight of Galaga.

Gillian Flynn: How I Write – The Daily Beast

For her writing process, Flynn likes letting the words flow, rather than trying to plan the story in advance or stick to an outline. “I start writing because of certain characters or themes or events I want to explore, but I’m often not sure what form that will take,” she explained. “So I do float along a bit. I probably write two novels for every one I end up with—lots of deleted scenes as I try to figure out what it is I’m really interested in, what it is I’m actually writing.”

More recently, as she’s been focusing more on her TV production career, Flynn’s hours mirrored that of a showrunner, as opposed to a writer, which regularly includes 16-hour work days and shoots that start at 4am.

“I’d come home as the sun was coming up, sleep for a few hours, and get up and try to remind my kids who I was,” she said. “I’ll go through these streaks where I’ll only sleep three or four hours a night, and then two weeks later, it catches up to me and I have a deep, sick sleep. I’m really erratic to the point where sometimes I think I should get a sleep test, because it doesn’t seem entirely normal. But I’ve always been this way.”

At the end of each day, however, Flynn will take a bath as part of her evening routine. She described the ritual in an interview with Glamour.

I take a bath pretty much every night. I grew up in an old house, and it had no showers, just bathtubs. I think I was probably 12 when I had my first shower, and they don’t really appeal to me. But I love a hot soak in the bath while reading. My favorite part is the filling of the tub. I get in the tub with no water and I try to fill it as slowly as possible so that I can really watch the water creep up over me. There’s something really soothing about that—it’s a kind of ritual. I stay there until the water gets cold—usually 45 minutes to an hour. If I’m feeling environmentally nasty, I might splurge and add more hot water, just to stay in a little longer.

Gillian Flynn’s Bedtime Routine Is Not For the Faint of Heart | Glamour

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