Thu 5 Nov 2009
Here is the daily routine of one famous writer (bonus points for guessing who… the answer is at the end of the blog):
Midnight to 6am – write
6am to 7am – breakfast and bath
7am to 11am – write
11am to noon – lunch
Noon to 6pm – sleep
6pm to 7pm – dinner
7pm to Midnight – socialize
Once you get past the rather bizarre hours, one thing should jump out at you: that’s a lot of writing! More writing, in fact, than sleeping, eating, and socializing combined. And this leads me to a rather upsetting truth: the annoying thing about being a writer is that you have to write.
I know that this should have been obvious, but somehow when I thought of novelists I always tended to think of tweed jackets, book tours, and cocktail parties filled with witty conversation… the way they look in movies. Sure, when inspiration comes, they sit at a desk and bang out words on occasion, but that is just an inconvenient necessity, the mundane work required for the greater goal of being an author. Right?
Nope, not so much. The thing about inspiration—and it took me a long time to learn this—is that if you wait for it, it usually never comes. You have to work for it. You have to write for hours, every day, even when you’re not inspired. For a long time I tried to write part-time, but it never worked for me. In writing SIEGE, I set aside chunks of time—a couple of weeks, a month, and in one instance a full six months—when I could do nothing but write for six to ten hours a day. I made writing my full-time job and worked part-time to support it. Most of what writers do, I finally realized is… write. That’s when things finally began to click.
Again, this seems obvious, but I’ve met enough people who share my delusions about what the writer’s life is like to think that this misperception is wide-spread. While living in Paris, I attended a writer’s workshop in an appropriately atmospheric room—sloping roof, shelves overfilled with books, old leather couches, a single tiny window with antique glass. The workshop was filled with would-be authors who certainly looked the part: a white-haired fellow in tweed and spectacles; a sharp-edged Parisian woman in a black turtle-neck, skirt, and knee-high boots; and innumerable young men in ragged clothes, notebooks clutched in hand. They were all very earnest about becoming authors. Unfortunately, none of them seemed very fond of writing. Sitting in cafés and talking about writing, yes. Actually sitting down and putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, no.
But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Didn’t Walter “Red” Smith—the first sports writer to win a Pulitzer—famously say: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein”? Isn’t writing supposed to be hard? Well, yeah, writing is sometimes hard. Sometimes I struggle with scenes, or chapters. Sometimes I feel like I’m writing garbage. Writing is often hard for me—but torture? If writing is torture, then stop! There is no sense torturing yourself on a daily basis. There are other jobs in the world.
As for me, I have found that I love writing, and the more I do it, the more I like it. It’s a bit like travelling in Italy. They say that tourist should start in the north, and if they like it, head further and further south. Italy will only get better. If you don’t like the north, then stop. Italy is not for you.
I think writing works more or less the same way. Start writing, and if the more you write the more you like it, then maybe you picked the right profession. If the more you write the more painful it becomes, then stop. True, Balzac—he of the bizarre schedule above—did not much like to write. He moaned that he was “a galley slave to pen and ink,” and he was plenty successful. But, he also wrote himself to death at age 51. Let that be a warning to you! If you think writing is torture, then get out now while you’re still alive. Because even when you think you’ve finished your first book… you’re not really finished. And even after you finally sell that first book, you’ll only have to write more, and faster. Which brings me to the curse of the second novel, but that’s for another blog…
Stay tuned next week for: I finished the novel! Or so I thought…
And don’t miss these coming attractions:
Secret agent man
The curse of the second novel
And, Why writers hang out in coffee shops…