Writing Routines

Laila Lalami’s Writing Routine: “Uncertainty is basically everyday in a life of a writer.”

Laila Lalami is a Moroccan-American novelist, essayist, and professor, best-known for her 2014 novel, The Moor’s Account, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Writing fiction is different. Nobody in the world is sitting around waiting on your novel. You work on a book. You don’t know if it’s going to sell to a publisher. You don’t know if it’s ever going to be published. When it’s published you don’t know how people are going to react to it. Uncertainty is basically everyday in a life of a writer.

‘It feels bigger than you’: Author Laila Lalami talks about life as a writer | Salisbury Post

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For Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami, procrastination in her work seems to be an intimate part of her writing process. At least, that’s how she sees it. She appears surprised when she recalls her published works to date — four novels, plus dozens of stories, columns, reviews and essays — because procrastinating plays such a big part in her daily routine.

Born and raised in Morocco, Lalami worked briefly as a journalist and commentator in her home country before moving to Los Angeles 1992 to attend the University of Southern California. After graduating with a PhD in Linguistics, she began writing fiction and non-fiction in English, and has since written pieces for publications such as The Boston Globe, Boston Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Daily Beast.

She has also published four novels — Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005), Secret Son (2009), The Moor’s Account (2015), and The Other Americans (2019) — all of which have received numerous accolades and awards.

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Laila Lalami’s daily writing routine

But in every step of the novelist’s writing journey, procrastination has followed her. “I cannot seem to find a cure for my procrastination,” she told The LA Times. “To prevent myself from getting on social media, I use Freedom software, which blocks access to the Internet. That worked for a while, until I realized that my smartphone could do whatever my computer could do.”

In talking about the role procrastination plays in her writing routine, Lalami has also acknowledged that the process enables her to think more deeply about the story — she might not be actively typing words into a document, but she’s still working.

“Just because I’m scrolling through a feed or reading the newspaper or idly jumping from website to website doesn’t mean that my brain shuts off,” she explained. “It’s still trying to flesh out characters, create scenes, work out plot points, or think of a better way to structure a paragraph.”

When it comes to her daily writing routine, the Moroccan-American novelist described a typical day in her writing life in an interview with NYLON.

My writing day begins after the usual morning routine of coffee, school drop-off, and reading about the latest horror from the current administration. I turn on my internet-blocking software and put on instrumental music, which varies with each book project. For my latest novel, The Other Americans, I listened almost exclusively to jazz: John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, the entire Miles Davis catalog. The music brings me pleasure, of course, but over the years I’ve also noticed that it’s become a kind of audio cue—even when I’m not in the mood to work, it gets me started. I write for about six hours, taking breaks to eat or to read. Reading is probably my favorite time of day; it helps refill my reservoir of words. Then, at the end of the workday, I write down my word count in my notebook. It sounds a little OCD, I know, but it’s basically a way to keep myself on track. Seeing that word count go up, even if it’s by just a hundred words, keeps me motivated. People often ask me, “How did you write your book?” and my answer is always the same, “One word at a time.”

15 Authors On Their Writing Habits And Rituals | NYLON

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