There’s an interesting new blog called Daily Routines that sets out just how writers (living and dead, plus other artists and ‘interesting people’) go about the business of organising their working days. Here’s Kafka‘s punishing routine:
Promoted to the position of chief clerk at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, [Kafka] was now on the one-shift system, 8:30 AM until 2:30 PM. And then what? Lunch until 3:30, then sleep until 7:30, then exercises, then a family dinner. After which he started work around 11 PM (letter- and diary-writing took up at least an hour a day, and more usually two), and then “depending on my strength, inclination, and luck, until one, two, or three o’clock, once even till six in the morning.” Then “every imaginable effort to go to sleep,” as he fitfully rested before leaving to go to the office once more. This routine left him permanently on the verge of collapse
Makes me tired just to read it. Toni Morrison got into the habit of starting writing before dawn when she had small children, and has stuck with it. It helped her net a Nobel prize, after all, so there may be something in it. She has some specific advice for creative writing students.
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?
And here’s John Updike answering questions about his writing routine, and confessing his inability to get off the horse:
You’ve said that it was fairly easy to write the Rabbit books. Do you write methodically? Do you have a schedule that you stick to?
Since I’ve gone to some trouble not to teach, and not to have any other employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So I work three or four hours in the morning, and it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases. You begin by answering a letter or two. There’s a lot of junk in your life. There’s a letter. And most people have junk in their lives but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it along steadily that you’re going to forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57. It’s a long time to be doing one thing. I don’t know how to retire. I don’t know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type. It’s still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer, but I do think maybe the time has come for me to be a little less compulsive, and maybe the book-a-year technique which has been basically the way I’ve operated.
We’ve spoken to a number of writers who said they wrote a certain number of pages every day. There’s a lot to be said for having a routine you can’t run away from.
Right. It saves you from giving up.
Wise words there: don’t give up. [AR]