Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How we write

Because writing is so privately done I am always interested in how other writers manage it. So are a lot of people. The Internet is full of articles and lists of famous writers' schedules. But because the Internet can be a bit of a race to the top with whatever low-hanging fruit is available we find a great number of articles reiterating the schedules of the same 15 or 20 writers who managed at some point to set their routines down elegantly, or at least with elan, or, if famous enough, merely at all. 

Kurt Vonnegut, Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Haruki Murakami, and Toni Morrison are among the dominant contingent of dedicated early morning writers that get trotted out over and over. These industrious writers are up at 4:00 a.m., or whatever, and they're writing away before the sun comes up. Maybe I read that this is what it takes to be a proper writer some 35 years ago and, confusedly, went into the visual arts. What a sad loss! I was not destined to become an unacclaimed painter, I was destined to become an unacclaimed writer! Who knows how many years of writing ignominy I lost to painting ignominy! But I shan't blame these writers, many of whom I've read and like. They're just doing what they need to get by. Rather I blame the irresponsible and preachy magazine writers who fawned over them and confused me, and I blame my English Teachers whose enthusiasm for me wasn't quite enough, and the reading public in general, of course, and all Publishers, and God. But not Kurt Vonnegut and the like, who should feel free to rest easy in their graves.

Of course, if you dig deeper, it doesn't end with the morning writers. There are the write all night types, Kafka (sounds more glamorous than it is) and Orwell, when he was on a roll. I'm writing at night right now, so that's not so bad. But it's only 11 and I'm probably almost finished with this as it is. How much more of this were you thinking there'd be?

Having become quite a cocktail drinker I was keen on Vonnegut's (remember him from the pre dawn writers?) affection for Scotch, but it didn't seem to figure into his writing, coming in the early evening. Hunter S. Thompson's inclusion of gin and Chartreuse was faintly thrilling, assuming it's Green Chartreuse, because of my fondness for same, but it has to be taken with a grain of salt as it was a writing schedule mostly taken up with snorting cocaine, and was way over the line into satire and his own personal mythology.

I'm particularly keen on comparing myself to James Joyce, mostly in the hopes that if I make no sense whatsoever people will only become more enthusiastic about my work. He woke up around ten. That's it! That was his schedule. I like that one, but that level of discipline was widely derided. The commentators almost invariably followed up on his writing schedule by saying that it took him 15 years to write Finnegan's Wake. This seems like it's a good point until you ask how long it's supposed to take to write Finnegan's Wake. Did Hemingway, up at dawn, working away on a typewriter while standing up, write Finnegan's Wake more quickly?

Of all people though it's E.B. White and Jane Austen whose writing habits seem most close to my own. They both appeared to have worked in common areas, prone to much distraction and interruption. There's even a story about Jane Austen and a creaky door to her room that she liked because it allowed her to quickly hide her writing at the approach of company. It may or may not be true, but it does seem clear they both worked out in the middle of things, with people coming through and all too many distractions. Tonight I may be down here in my basement studio, but tomorrow I'll be writing illicitly, a sadly open secret, out in the middle of the library I work at, wishing desperately for a creaky door or squeaky shoes that will warn me someone is coming up behind me so I can hurriedly pretend I'm not a genius writer but just a regular, approachable guy it's a pleasure to work with. Not for me the recommendations of Flannery O'connor or Stephen King that I work some regular hours every day. I have to grab desperately at inspiration any and every time I can. It's the desperation itself that's a key ingredient for me. I'll write a sentence while on a walk, cram a paragraph in between two people who need help at the library, sweep my post-it notes under the keyboard if someone inquisitive comes around, or I won't do it at all.

Keep in mind I'm not suggesting such an approach for anyone else; just me, and E. B. White, and Jane Austen. You know, that sort of writer.

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