The Daily Routines of Famous Writers
December 29, 2013 9:01 AM   Subscribe

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” The daily routines of famous writers. posted by SpacemanStix (36 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

Funnily enough this has been a big thing in the comics tumblrsphere lately...

A writer writes! But it’s not quite that easy …

I still say 6 years "writers block" is bullshit.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't click on either of these links.

If I do, I'll spend the next week freaking out about how I'm doing my job wrong instead of writing.

My best advice to writers is to avoid reading piles of advice to writers. That way lies madness.

Write, as much as you can and whenever you can. That's it. That's all.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:15 AM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Honestly you should just avoid writers in general.

( I don't have writers block I have writers don't wanna)
posted by The Whelk at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like Hemingway's write until you know what happens next and then "... you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again."

Works for me ... sometimes.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2013


The link mentions the Paris Review's archive of writer interviews. I'd like to emphasize that this archive is among the best of its type anywhere on the internets.

Most of the interviews are with mid-to-late-career writers, most of whom were well established as among the greats (or at least the very, very goods) by the time they were interviewed.

It covers everyone from Pound, Eliot, Hemingway and Faulkner to Franzen, Gibson, Mitchell and Crumb.

It is sortable by name or by decade, and is truly an astonishing resource.
posted by dersins at 9:58 AM on December 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


My best advice to writers is to avoid reading piles of advice to writers. That way lies madness.

Yes this, with a strong underline of "piles." Some advice can be helpful and teach one a few new techniques. So read a bit, particularly from writers one likes.

But otherwise, write it down, then rewrite it. Repeat until you get it right or the deadline was two hours ago.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2013


"Stop faffing about and actually DO some writing" is really the first and only but of writing advice, everything wise is a variation on that or editing advice.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


My best advice to writers is to avoid reading piles of advice to writers. That way lies madness.

My frustration with this is that if you're meant to be a writer, you're writing.

You have a routine, you have a workspace, you're not constantly moaning about how you could be writing if not for this, that, or the other. Your routine may be less than picturesque, which just means you'll need to fabricate a bit when describing your fabulous life as a cosmopolitan writer when you start getting interview, but because you're a writer, you will probably be able to come up with something.

I can never get over how much "advice" for writers is really geared to people who fantasize about being writers, but just aren't writers. If you actually bought a book of sample plot starts because you want to write a novel, but have no clue what you want to write about, you're lacking the spark of demented fixation that you need in order to write. A writer is a person with a fiendish, incurable compulsion, not a dilettante with a sexy literary habit.

The advice writers really need is all on marketing, avoiding despair, and being comfortable with the narcissism you need to manifest in order to feel like someone in the world would give a shit about what you're writing, not how your favorite writer always lit a pine-scented candle and sat in one particular chair.

An abbreviation of Heinlein's dictum is best:

1. Write every day
2. Finish everything you start
3. Send out everything you finish

Your mileage, of course, may vary.
posted by sonascope at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


Glen Cook, while not nearly so famous as Bradbury or Vonnegut or the like, has had a writing career spanning decades. He wrote two or three books a year while working on a General Motors assembly line. Not, like, at night. He literally wrote the books while working on the line in the brief pauses between cars. If Cook can write three books a year while doing that I don't want to hear how your cat makes it tough to write or whatever. Writers write.
posted by Justinian at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I have needed advice. I have given advice. I have heeded advice and ignored it. I have even ignored the very same advice I've given.

Here's what confuses me: I'm usually happiest when I'm writing, as I am today. But I can't figure out which way the causation goes.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:42 AM on December 29, 2013


Routines are boring.
posted by The Whelk at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2013


I can never get over how much "advice" for writers is really geared to people who fantasize about being writers, but just aren't writers.

This is, or was me and it really is so true. I used to write when I was younger and although I don't really have a dream to 'be a writer' in the making a living at it sense the fantasy of being writer has always been there. I would read a lot about writing, think about writing and look for advice about writing. There's no end to information out there for this situation.

I do write a bit now, just because it's fun. I will admit that I did get one of those plot starting books as well. Not because I have any illusions that it will lead to the next great novel because it's like a challenge and game for me.
posted by Jalliah at 11:08 AM on December 29, 2013


It's not that difficult.

1. Find a process of writing that works for you.
2. Do that process.
3. Tweak process when necessary.
posted by jscalzi at 11:09 AM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


A writer is a person with a fiendish, incurable compulsion

I think I know what you mean by this, but I feel nonetheless compelled to say the notion that all artists are necessarily compelled to produce whatever it is they produce, regardless of environment or process or training or background—that if you must work hard to find the impetus and routine necessary to create large things you are somehow less of an artist than one whose fiery muse spurs them to mash out thousands of words per day—is one of the more poisonous and unhelpful characterizations of the artist's life.

Artists make art. Writers write. For some, the minute-to-minute process of this is transparent and effortless; for others, it is the single biggest obstacle they encounter. In the end, all that matters is the output, not how easy it was for you to find the discipline to make it.

Writing is not a compulsion. It is a gerund.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:11 AM on December 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


I still say 6 years "writers block" is bullshit.

Happens all the time. My longest bout was a bit over 2 years. Then I made a friend who had an MFA from the IWW and was a writing coach. I bemoaned my writer's block to her, and she said she dealt with this all the time. She insisted we should set up a "pair writing session." We would both get our laptops together, go to some place like the library or a coffee shop, and we would sit together and write for 15 minutes. We would each do our own writing, without speaking to each other. Then at the end, I would show her what I had written in 15 minutes. It didn't have to be great, it just had to be 15 minutes of writing. Then she would assess what to do next, which would probably be a daily 15 minute session until I got back on track.

I was so mortified at the thought of having to sit there with a professional writer watching over my shoulder, I thought to myself, "hell I could write for just 15 minutes at home by myself, so why haven't I?" So I did. I cleared my desktop and set a time to write for 15 minutes. 6 hours later I had a first draft of 4000 words. She tricked me!

Eventually I realized that my writer's block was not unproductive time. I spent that time ruminating over my work, restructuring it and rewriting it in my head. When I eventually write it down, it's almost fully formed. I once had a shocking experience with my editor. He commissioned a 400 word piece. Oh crap short pieces have to be immaculately edited and everything must be perfectly structured. It takes more effort to write a good 400 word piece than a long 4000 word piece. So I banged out a rough first draft and sent it in. The editor sent back a note, it's perfect, he'll run it as it is. I said hey waitaminute, that's only a first draft. You're the editor, you're supposed to hack it to pieces and tell me where to fix it. He said nope, it's perfect, you find one single thing you can improve about it, I'll give you 48 hours for a rewrite. I labored over it for the full two days and I could not find anything to change, except I removed a single misplaced comma (comma splices are my bete noire, as some have probably noticed). I sheepishly returned it to my editor, who said that someday I'd learn that this is journalism not literature, and it just has to be good enough, and that I am a good enough writer. Funny though that I wasn't good enough to get paid enough.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:18 AM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not that difficult.

1. Find a process of writing that works for you.
2. Do that process.
3. Tweak process when necessary.
4. Draw the rest of the fucking owl.
posted by fatbird at 11:20 AM on December 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


There's such a major difference between writing and actively pursuing publication that often gets glossed over in people's thinking. Having a writing habit is not at all like having a writing habit and actively seeking publication. Simple generalizations are almost always more revealing about the psychology of the people who make them than about the subject they presume to illuminate. Haven't read the thing about the guy with 6 years writers block, but just in general, why's everybody seem to have such strong opinions about other people's creative processes these days, like these are serious moral questions or something...?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bendis was right. So too is "writers write." But that's not much more than the Nike insight ("Just do it") that applies to most endeavors. Only in writing, at least in my experience, does the principle get mythologized into this weird elitism-discouragement: that you'd already be writing if you were meant to, and otherwise you lack the requisite mad brilliance, mwahaha.

Personally I think that's because writing is so accessible, on a low level. Everybody is taught writing in a way that isn't true of painting or dance or music or sculpture. It's a much smaller step from layperson to, let's say, "hobbyist," and people who take that step sometimes want to exaggerate it.

That's just my opinion, and others may disagree. I've met enough people who have taken up writing and other arts later in life and excelled, and I've met more than enough people who subscribe to the "It has to be in your blood!" mumbo jumbo whose work has never found an audience and probably won't. Writers write, yes...but it's just a verb, not some mystical state of being. If you want to do it, start. If reading about other people's routines is helpful in that, cool.
posted by cribcage at 11:36 AM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


4. Draw the rest of the fucking owl.

I really don't understand why but I can't stop laughing at this....
posted by Jalliah at 11:51 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The culture around writing has definitely gotten... weird. I've been writing as a semi-serious pursuit most of my life ("published" my first books when I was 8--with a little help from my wonderfully supportive and encouraging grandmother). I co-edited and published zines and hosted literary readings in Panama City, Florida of all places and sat as editor on our junior college literary and general interest magazines, worked as poetry editor of the FSU undergrad literary journal, got an undergrad degree in Creative Writing and even published poems (I know--that doesn't count as real writing anymore to a lot of people, but it mattered at the time) in a couple of national journals while still an undergrad. I then went on to make a professional career in legal code editing and technical writing (which weirdly morphed into a programming career over time), and yet despite all the years I've spent working professionally and less formally as a writer, I've got nothing significant to show for it yet, and I've had friends and acquaintances occasionally look at me askance when I talk about trying to get back into seriousuly focusing on making a career in writing, as if I'm just some trust fund dilettante. It's a weird time for anyone trying to do anything, really. A lot of knee-jerk judgmentalism and facile assumptions about what goes into being succesful in any field and a lot of second guessing and handwringing over the purity of people's motivations.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:01 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ugh. "Seriously." Stupid tablet keyboards.

As for writing routines, I try to write anytime I have a spare moment, which means most nights starting around ten and stopping only when it's clear I'm too crosseyed to keep working, or when our daughter wakes up and needs a little extra help getting back to sleep (which until more recently was pretty often). As a result, I'm chronically sleep deprived, but I've at least managed to get a good enough start on some things I've had cooking a while now (in one case, over 10 years) that I'm starting to feel somewhat hopeful again. At the very least, I'm amusing myself now.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:23 PM on December 29, 2013


Remember to just do it.

Unless what you do is awful, then you should stop.
posted by The Whelk at 12:50 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


But The Whelk, isn't deciding what's awful or not suposed to be the reader's job? If not, I say let's just automate reading and be done with it. Computers could write and read far more efficiently than messy, emotionally-sloppy and fickle human beings ever could.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on December 29, 2013


As far as I can determine 10 of the writers do/did most of their work in the morning--never a writer but I always tried to get all of the arduous (disciplined) tasks of the day done by noon--including major professional/work tasks. I am surprised that no one has mentioned or taken off on the morning pattern.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2013


That's a wonderful idea and I support it whole hog, once we get procedurally generated writing worked out we can finally put the whole blasted business behind us and go back to to enjoying ourselves.
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Besides you can't trust the reader, they could be anyone, even someone you don't know.

I mean really why should their opinion mean anything. People like blood pudding. They can't be trusted.
posted by The Whelk at 1:38 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like Scalzi's advice here, but maybe that's because pregnancy has thrown my writing routine for a loop and I'm currently feeling like a failure at life for only writing and revising 10k in six months while working full time rather than writing every day or nearly as is my normal schedule.

I want to write. But sleep. Sleep is so good!

As far as I can determine 10 of the writers do/did most of their work in the morning--never a writer but I always tried to get all of the arduous (disciplined) tasks of the day done by noon--including major professional/work tasks. I am surprised that no one has mentioned or taken off on the morning pattern.

I really hate the whole emphasis on early birds, as someone who is a dedicated night owl and (before aforementioned pregnancy) got most of her writing done between midnight and 2 a.m. Ironically, third trimester's seen me doing my only writing during chunks of insomnia at like 4 a.m. but what the hell else am I going to do during that time? Anyway, not everyone is productive in the mornings. Every time I tried to force it previously, because that's what "real" writers do, my words came out awful. And distinctly uncaffeinated.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:23 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously I do all my best work between 12 and 4, there is no one around to bug you and you can't use the time to do anything else.

Plus it's culturally acceptable to drink at this time and that's good to use for rewards.

Plus I am a vampire.
posted by The Whelk at 4:27 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Early morning is great for like, vigorous calisthenics on docks in the crisp Maine fog.

Not so much detailing the life of 16th century aesthetic mystics.

But then again I'm opposed to writing these days and art in general. Very unnecessary. An affection really. You can't do anything with it like a log or bit of tin. Right out I say.
posted by The Whelk at 4:30 PM on December 29, 2013


As far as I can determine 10 of the writers do/did most of their work in the morning--never a writer but I always tried to get all of the arduous (disciplined) tasks of the day done by noon--including major professional/work tasks. I am surprised that no one has mentioned or taken off on the morning pattern.

Check out the writers on Twitter at 3am doing word sprints. All I get done in the morning is business stuff. I answer e-mail, write out interviews, update my (financial) books, blah-de-blah whatever promotional thing I'm working on. My brain is not available for creative work until noon at the earliest, and it's much happier at midnight.

I agree, though, that other people's advice is the best way to make yourself miserable as a writer. John's right: figure out what works for you, and then do that thing. The only process that matters is your own.
posted by headspace at 4:32 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


“Early risers are conceited in the morning and stupid in the afternoon.” (Rose Henniker Heaton)
posted by LeLiLo at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find I do my best, most consistent, most resilient writing in the morning. I'm not remotely surprised to find other times of day work better for others. We're not all writing the same story either.
posted by philip-random at 11:39 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plus you need like four hours after waking to sober up.
posted by The Whelk at 11:44 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another late afternoon/night-owl here. Early morning is for getting the young ones in the house appropriately dressed and out the door, and for meetings with my subject matter experts. Afternoons and late nights allow me to get information absorbed in the morning or genned up during down time AFK out into distributable format. Though the early waking necessitated by my household duties does set me straight into some embarrassing homonym traps later in the day. My sleep-tracker constantly nags me for not getting enough sleep but at least I'm getting something done. I can sleep when I'm dead.
posted by tilde at 11:52 AM on December 30, 2013




Writers and Rum
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:59 AM on January 10, 2014


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