Writing Routines

Justin Cronin’s Writing Routine: “To write a novel is to finish one, not start one.”

Justin Cronin is an American author, best-known for his best-selling vampire trilogy consisting of The Passage, The Twelve and City of Mirrors

Whether it’s 1,000 words a day, 500 words a day, 250 if that’s the time you have. But if you write 1,000 words a day, in 100 days you’ll have a novel. Until you get to the end, you don’t have anything. To write a novel is to finish one, not start one.

Justin Cronin’s Advice for Writers with Day Jobs and Children | Chicago Review of Books

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Justin Cronin was going for a series of long jogs in 2006 with his 8-year old daughter, Iris, when he started to come up with the idea for The Passage, the first instalment of his highly successful vampire trilogy.

With Iris pedalling her bicycle right beside him, the two of them bounced ideas back-and-forth about the story, centred around the premise of a girl saving the world. Iris, who was the inspiration for the main character, Amy, insisted on it.

At first, though Cronin very much enjoyed these jogging sessions with his daughter, he had no intention of actually writing the book. But that slowly changed.

“As the weeks went by, I began to think this story actually could be a book, and that it was actually a better book, a much better book, than the one I was actually supposed to be writing,” he revealed in a 2016 interview.

“And not just one book: saving the world seemed like the kind of undertaking that would take three books to accomplish. The story that became The Passage had begun to fill my head, to breathe and walk and talk – to be populated, as someone once said, by ‘warm new beings’ I actually believed in.”

And so, Cronin began to write the book. At the time of working on The Passage, the author was still the English professor at Rice University, as well as teaching at a couple of low-residency graduate programs. During those days, he wrote whenever he had the chance.

“I had to work around the schedule and try to have a certain number of days that were clear of other commitments and then have days that were pure teaching from beginning to end,” he told January Magazine. “That way, I had three or four days a week when I could focus on the writing.”

Published on June 8, 2010 by Ballantine Books, The Passage was an instant success. The novel debuted at #3 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list, and remained there for the next several weeks. It also received rave reviews from The New York Times Book ReviewLos Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, with Mark Medley of the National Post describing The Passage as “one of the creepiest books of 2010.”

With the commercial success of The Passage, Cronin was able to quit his teaching jobs and dedicate himself to writing full-time. The sequel, The Twelve, was published two years later, and the final instalment The City of Mirrors four years after that.

Justin Cronin’s daily writing routine

As a full-time writer, Cronin treats his work just like any other job — he shows up to his office (a guest bedroom in his house above the garage) at the same time and follows a routine each day. For a typical writing session, Cronin likes to aim for 1,000-2,000 words per day, using a large whiteboard to map out the story.

I start work around nine o’clock in the morning, and I work until three, when the kids get home, and then I’ll do a second shift basically after everybody goes to bed. Somewhere between nine or ten I’ll go back out to the office until midnight or one. And the deeper you are in a book, the longer and weirder the hours get. So by the time I was finishing the book and doing the last draft of the book, I was the last man awake in Houston, Texas. I’ve always had to work around the fact that I have kids, and I work at home, so that’s the unmovable fact of my life. The night owl thing suits me. There are other writers who get up at four or five in the morning and try to get most of their workday done by noon, and I’m not that guy, my rhythms aren’t like that.

Interview | Justin Cronin – January Magazine

As part of Cronin’s writing routine, he separates his creative time from his actual writing time. During his earlier days, Cronin did most of his thinking about the plot while on his runs, but now as he’s gotten older, much of the idea generation is done while he’s swimming laps in the pool.

“I believe that creativity requires a form of auto-hypnosis in order to work,” he explained in an interview with The Daily Beast. “You need to put your mind in a state where the unconscious mind, where all the interesting connections are made, where metaphor is built, you have to be able to lift that dream state closer to your waking state.”

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