Writing Routines

Jeffrey Archer’s Writing Routine: “You can never tell when and where inspiration will strike.”

Jeffrey Archer is an English novelist, best-known for his 1979 book, Kane and Abel, which remains as one of the best-selling books of all time, with an estimated 35 million copies sold worldwide.

You can never tell when and where inspiration will strike. For me, it’s most likely when I meet someone interesting. But if I’m faced with a particularly tricky part of the plot, I usually solve it in the middle of the night.

Jeffrey Archer on his greatest inspirations and the book he didn’t want to end | Pan Macmillan

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When Jeffrey Archer was studying for his Diploma of Education at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, he was also a successful athlete, competing in sprinting and hurdling, and eventually he became the president of the Oxford University Athletic Club. Later on in his novelist life, Archer credited the discipline and competitive spirit of his writing career to his time at Oxford.

“The training to run and to be an athlete inculcated itself in me without realising it,” he said in an interview with The National. “So when I said I want to be a writer, that same brain said: ‘You wanted to go to the Olympics and now you want to be a writer? Well, then, you have to train hard, work hard and play for gold’.”

Since publishing his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, in 1976, Archer has gone on to write over 40 works, including novels, plays, non-fiction, children’s books, and short story collections. Over the years, his pace of publishing books hasn’t slowed, rather it has increased if anything.

“I used to write one every two years, but this has accelerated to one a year,” he wrote on his website. “It normally takes me about six weeks to produce a first draft. I then take a four-week break and get away from it. I come back and do another draft. That takes another four weeks, and I handwrite the whole thing out again.”

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Jeffrey Archer’s daily writing routine

When Archer is starting work on a new novel, he heads to his home in Mallorca in the January and February months to “enjoy the warmer weather and clear skies.” As a writer who is fortunate enough to have suffered from writer’s block, he’s gone so far as to name his Mallorca home, “Writer’s Block.”

On a typical writing day, the author works from 6am to 8pm, with multiple breaks in between.

I’m very disciplined and prefer to write at my home in Mallorca, as I have a purpose-built writing room overlooking the Bay of Palma. I don’t like any distractions while I’m working – so no phones or music, just quiet and a calming view. I still work in two hour blocks – and I have a huge hourglass, which was a present from Mary, on my desk to ensure that I work for the full 120 minutes of each session. I write from 6.00am to 8.00am, then break for two hours for breakfast and to read the morning newspapers, or catch up on the cricket scores around the world; then from 10.00am until 12.00pm, when I break to go to the gym or for a long walk before a light lunch. Back to work at 2.00pm until 4.00pm, after which I might relax by watching an old episode of my favourite TV show, The West Wing, or some sport, and then my final session is from 6.00pm till 8.00pm. Then it’s a relaxing dinner and in bed around 10pm. I find that my morning sessions are usually the most productive.

Q&A | Jeffrey Archer

Archer also says he often doesn’t know how his books will end. He will usually know the first four or five chapters in detail, and then outline the next 10. After those chapters, he’s typically in the dark on how the story will play out.

“As I write, I’m wondering what will happen on the next page,” Archer explained. “My theory is, if I wonder what will happen on the next page, there’s a good chance you’ll wonder what’s going to happen on the next page too! If you know exactly what’s going to happen two chapters down the line, you’ll give it away. If you don’t know, you can’t give it away.”

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