People love process. As consumers we love to hear how our favourite whiskey is matured in American white oak casks for over ten years; or how salt-marsh lamb is flavoured by the marshes and coastal pastures that are tided by the sea. It’s a very powerful marketing tool, and it’s why brands try to romance the wallet out of your pants with how something is crafted.
This love for the how extends to a fascination with the daily practices of the people we most revere: writers, artists, musicians, technological innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists – just how do they do it?
It’s the relatively hermit-like and mysterious reputation of writers that perhaps makes us want to know more about their procedural secrets. I’m not talking so much about their aptitude, or how they see the world, but simply how they get up in the morning and write.
We’ve picked some of the best to share; and as we’re prone to do at Cracked Eye we’ve featured those with a short story or two to their name…
“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”
“To publish a definitive collection of short stories in one’s late 60s seems to me, as an American writer, a traditional and a dignified occasion, eclipsed in no way by the fact that a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.”
When Faulkner was working for a bootlegger in Louisiana he met Sherwood Anderson, a short story writer and novelist himself; he recalled:
“We’d meet in the evenings, and we’d go to a drinking place and we’d sit around till one or two o’clock drinking, and still me listening and him talking. Then in the morning he would be in seclusion working, and the next time I’d see him, the same thing, we would spend the afternoon and evening together, the next morning he’d be working. And I thought then, if that was the life it took to be a writer, that was the life for me.”
“I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”
O’Connor suffered from Lupus.
“My schedule is flexible, but I am rather particular about my instruments: lined Bristol cards and well sharpened, not too hard, pencils capped with erasers.”
“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.
It’s not any different than a bedtime routine. Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”
“First drafts as early in the morning as possible, then second, then third (retyping, I work on a manual). Once the first draft is 80% completed I start on the second, so that there’s a conveyor belt of drafts in progress: this helps me to grasp the totality of the book. I accelerate towards the end, usually because I’m on or past my deadline.”
“Rituals. Smoking–pipes, cigars, special brands, accessories, the whole bollocks. Coffee, tea, strange infusions–I have a stove on my desk. Fetishising typewriters, pens, etc. Overall, though, I have a healthy appetite for solitude. If you don’t, you have no business being a writer.”
“Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.”
“I write in my attic. It’s not a dusty spider-hole of an attic, but a cosy cabin high above the street. From my skylight window, I can see fields in which there are horses and crows. Greenfinches annoy me in the spring, rasping outside the window.”
“When the kids were little, my time [to write] was as soon as they left for school. So I worked very hard in those years. My husband and I owned a bookstore, and even when I was working there, I stayed at home until noon. I was supposed to be doing housework, and I would also do my writing then. Later on, when I wasn’t working everyday in the store, I would write until everybody came home for lunch and then after they went back, probably till about two-thirty, and then I would have a quick cup of coffee and start doing the housework, trying to get it all done before late afternoon.”
See http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/12/16/writers-wakeup-times-literary-productivity-visualization/ for an incredible visualisation of writers’ sleeping habits vs literary productivity.