I Do This Dance All Day
Writer Vida Adamczewski discusses the pressure to be a ‘Good Writer’, her residency in Norwich UNESCO City of Literature and how she steals herself a writing life.

This is part of our Early Career Writers’ Resources pack on Routine, with contributions from writers including Megan Bradbury, Monique Roffey, Antony Johnston and more. Our Resources packs are generously supported by Arts Council England. Discover more here →

A quiet January morning in a bookshop. The bell above the door hangs still for now. It is cold enough to warrant roosting on the radiator; the tops of my thighs are almost burning. The phone rings and I lift it from its cradle and squeeze it between the chuck of my cheek and my shoulder. Eyes flicked to a second screen, fingers poised on a second keyboard. I pluck the barcode of some desired book and look it up in our database. Go seek it on the shelves. Slide a note inside its pages that it is held. Hide it in the cupboard by my feet. Phone back on its perch with a click. Eyes back to this page. This keyboard. Pick up where I left off – that’s right – somewhere here.

I do this dance all day.

I snapped at my partner this morning, while getting dressed for work. I am finishing a short story collection. Progress is slow. I have a redraft waiting, open on my desktop. Each day, this document is obscured by layers of similar windows, until I clear them in the evening, only and inevitably to stop an episode of The Sopranos from buffering. This morning, I blamed this process on the bookshop customers I had yet to face. Then on the diligent editor who keeps chasing the final version of an article I wish I’d never pitched. Then those keen theatre makers who want help with making reels for their instagram feed. Then this. An article about my writing routine. I told him tritely that given my current writing approach, the article would be very fucking brief.

He told me that I needed to start treating writing like a job. That chafed. I leapt to defend how hard I work, making a persnickety semantic retort: Writing isn’t like a job, it is my job.

(I am taking a break to roll sheets of wrapping paper into tubes.) 

What he meant was that I needed to start setting boundaries to protect my writing time. I had to turn down paid writing work, meetings, and social events in the same way that I turn down similar appointments when I am working in the shop. I am distracted, irritable, unpleasant company when I haven’t been writing. I had to ring fence a few hours a week, for both our sakes.

I stormed out, of course. I fled to the sanctuary of the shop. To the nook behind the till, where my laptop is concealed, and the inviting half eaten pack of softening biscuits left by my colleague, to the heat of the radiator, and the pleasant distraction of strangers asking for my advice, to the waft of their perfume, and their casual shifts from baby voice to grown up talk, to the postman on his route, and the ominous auras of teenage poets lingering in the back room, by the sympathy cards. Sometimes I need to be separated from my writing self, so that I can miss her.

(A delivery of books needs unboxing now. )

Today, in my open tabs, are ten articles describing successful writers’ routines. They swear by 5 am starts and total solitude. I’ve read articles like these before. Over and over again as I have trawled Zoopla for studio flats and googled workspaces that are not open plan. The articles warn me that there is always pressure on a writer’s time, always pressure on their privacy. The Good Writer does not bow to this pressure. The Good Writer eats oats, yoghurt, and freelancers for breakfast. The Good Writer writes for three hours a day, at least, before the sun rises. The collective success of The Good Writer taunts the rest of us, whispering in our ears that this is the only path to publication and we have strayed.


‘A woman must have money and room of her own to write fiction.’ – Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own, 1929


I read ‘A Room of One’s Own’ too young. In my naivete, I flipped the premises. Somehow I thought that the writing fiction bit would secure the money and the room, not the other way round. I’ve been labouring under this misinterpretation ever since.

The Good Writers’ Routine is utopian – a fantasy land of well lit desks and garden studios, where there is never a flu going round. These days, time and space comes at a premium that very few of us can afford. The average advance for a novel is around ten thousand pounds; it typically takes around three years to write a book. According to a 2022 survey of 60,000 writers in the UK, carried out by the University of Glasgow, the average annual income for a writer is about £7000, and less than 20% of writers have writing as the sole income. The rest of us need a writing routine that accommodates our other work.

For the emerging writer, interruptions, intrusions and deviations from The Routine are inevitable. It is frustrating when you have to do your other job, when you can’t afford to take the day. You’ll want to curse your family and friends for having birthdays every fucking week. You’ll end up wishing misery on old men who don’t know their wives well enough to choose them a book.

(The school run flurry, right on cue. I’ll continue after I’ve locked up.)

Hunched at a crowded desk in a shared room in a shared flat, or hiding behind the till avoiding the eye of a chatty customer, I chew my cuticles to bits worrying that Woolf is right. If only I had money, and a room of my own.

At other times, when the words are coming easily, I think ‘Pah. Any room will do.’


‘A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.’ – Don DeLillo, The Paris Review, 1993


The closest I have been to following The Good Writer’s Routine was during my residency at Dragon Hall in early January. Kindly funded as part of my UEA New Forms Award, I spent a week in a toasty warm cottage in Norwich, replete with stocked bookshelves, big armchairs, sunlit desks, and coffee in the cupboard. The conditions were perfect; solitude, silence, space, time. The first day, it was thrilling. At dawn, I went for a long walk along a disused railway track and returned for breakfast. I wrote excessively, moving from the desk only to crack my neck and shoulders or refill my mug. On the second day, it turned. I was tired. I felt lonely. It seemed almost vulgar, swanning from room to room. I hunkered down in the bedroom and absently watched half a disappointing documentary series despite having taken a strict lenten vow to abstain from Netflix while I was in Norwich. I messaged anyone I knew that lived in the city, who might take me out for a drink.

A sinking feeling on the third morning, of time wasted. Of failure. It wasn’t just the economic conditions of my life in London that were preventing me from being like The Good Writers. The problem, it seemed, was internal.

On the fourth day, I sat down for coffee with Megan Bradbury. She recognised that feeling of inadequacy. The desire to be well-behaved, disciplined and Good had characterised her early years of writing too. She offered comfort in two forms; 1) admission that her own process deviates significantly from the 5am start, chapter a day privations of The Good Writer; and 2) the promise that it will get easier to trust the process. It is one thing to stand by your chaos when you have been published, and quite another when you feel like a complete novice.

Shame is the enemy of imagination, and it is more lethal to your writing instinct than disorganisation.


‘A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.’ – E.B. White, Paris Review, 1969


I truly believe that for many writers, The Routine works. But it isn’t how I write. If I wake up at five to face the demon of the empty page, it will be with deepening dread, a foggy head and a dry mouth. If I make writing into a job, I will resent it.

I worry about delegitimising my writing by not having a schedule. I worry that by admitting that my writing actually isn’t ‘like a job’, let alone ‘my job’, I am renouncing any claim to find it hard or wearing, or deserving of remuneration. The truth is that no writing routine, no matter how dogmatic, will make other people take your writing seriously or pay you properly. The writing itself will do that, I hope, when it is written. To get it written, I have to put (wrench) aside the need for my work to be acknowledged by others, and let it emerge spontaneously again.

I need to write when I can feel it pressing at my skin, when I am crawling with it, even if that is in my notes section, or on the loo, or in a bookshop after closing with the shutters down and the lights turned off. The most important thing is not when I write, or how religiously, but that I want to. The want ensures that I will look for the time, and that when I find the time, I will cling to it, limpet-like.


‘[…] not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.’ – Joan Didion, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, 2021


I owe my partner an apology. I do need better boundaries for my writing. Boundaries to protect that want, that itch, to help me heed the tug of my brain shifting into writer-observer mode.

A common misconception about boundaries is that they are a prohibition, demand or expectation on other people’s behaviour, that they look like this: When I am writing, you must not talk to me. But boundaries must actually be formulated as conditions, like this: if you talk to me when I am writing, then I will send you away. The boundary exists in your response. That is why you can enforce and control your boundaries even when chaos or indignation abounds.

If I get the urge, I will write it down. If I am writing it down, I will not open another tab.

I am writing now as I walk home, browsing supermarket shelves at snail’s pace as I fill my notes. Joan Didion writes like this. I might not be able to protect a few hours a week to write like it’s a job. But I can borrow time from elsewhere. I run late to a meeting to squeeze the last sentences from bed before I really must get dressed. I let my dinner get cold. I dawdle outside the front door, sliding down the wall to seat myself in the corridor. I write behind the till, in the supermarket, on buses and in waiting rooms. Between these slips and galleys of the day, in the minutes syphoned off here, borrowed from that, and tacked on there, I am stealing myself a writing life.

Vida Adamczewski was born in Peckham and read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. While studying, Vida was diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue, conditions that render her frequently bed bound. Her writing has appeared in Ambit Magazine, Document Journal, The Byline Times, and The Mays. In July 2021, a staged reading of Vida’s lyric play Amphibian was performed at the Playmill New Writers Festival at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. In 2022, she was awarded the UEA New Forms Award for her writing.