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Posts tagged "Joan Didion"


‘Also, the Drink Helps’: Famous Writers’ Daily Writing Routines

Kurt Vonnegut’s recently published daily routine made we wonder how other beloved writers organized their days. So I pored through various old diaries and interviews—many from the fantastic Paris Review archives—and culled a handful of writing routines from some of my favorite authors. Enjoy.

Ray Bradbury, a lifelong proponent of working with joy and an avid champion of public libraries, playfully defies the question of routines in this 2010 interview:

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was 12. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.

I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.

Joan Didion creates for herself a kind of incubation period for ideas, articulated in this 1968 interview:

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I’m really working I don’t like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don’t have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I’m in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

E. B. White, in the same fantastic interview that gave us his timeless insight on the role and responsibility of the writer, notes his relationship with sound and ends on a note echoing Tchaikovsky on work ethic:

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me. A girl pushing a carpet sweeper under my typewriter table has never annoyed me particularly, nor has it taken my mind off my work, unless the girl was unusually pretty or unusually clumsy. My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man—they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.



15 Famous Authors on Why They Write

Gustave Flaubert

The Madame Bovary writer died penniless, but he was a painstakingly dedicated and detailed scribe who worked tirelessly even though his output never matched his peers. Flaubert’s famous line, “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living,” doesn’t mince words and mirrors his tenacious approach to the craft.

Joan Didion (pictured here)

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?”

Don DeLillo

White Noise novelist Don DeLillo wrote a letter that appeared in the April 1996 issue of Harper’s, featured in Jonathan Franzen’s article, “Perchance to Dream.” The essay explored the roles of authors, readers, and written works in America. The Cosmopolis writer — who recently had his 2003 book adapted for the screen by David Cronenberg — called writing a “personal freedom,” and dismissed any romantic notions about the profession. “It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture, but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

DeLillo expounded upon his reasons for writing in an earlier article by William Leith in 1991. “I write to find out how much I know,” he said. “The act of writing for me is a concentrated form of thought. If I don’t enter that particular level of concentration, the chances are that certain ideas never reach any level of fruition.”

Neil Gaiman

“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”

Lord Byron

Byron blamed inactive writing periods, not the syphilis he contracted, for his lunacy. ”If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad,” he once confessed.

Stephen King

Stephen King’s memoir On Writing offers advice about the craft through tales of his childhood, the struggles he faced early in his career, and life-changing incidents like the near-fatal accident the author had in 1999. He describes the best kind of writing as “intimate,” and said that in the end all writing is about “enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” Although many imagine the author brooding at his desk while working on his next novel, King’s ultimate reasons for writing are far more cheerful than that. “It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy,” he said.

Gloria Steinem

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

Truman Capote

The Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood author put a great emphasis on his prose style, aiming for precision, clarity, and a lush, descriptive voice. It was deceptively simple at times, but his word choices were often beautiful in their effortlessness. ”To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make,” Capote once said, perfectly summarizing his style.

William Somerset Maugham

“Writing is the supreme solace.”

Ernest Hemingway

In a 1926 review of Hemingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises, the New York Times described the “gripping” story as “lean, hard, athletic narrative prose.” The same easily applies to the author’s body of work, an approach known as Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory.” His “most from the least” methods were summed up in this statement from the author: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

Terry Pratchett

If you’ve been wondering what kind of wisdom Discworld writer Terry Pratchett has been hiding under his massive hats, it’s quite simple. He makes work, because “writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.”

Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane viewed writing the way his fictional hard-boiled hero Mike Hammer looked at life. The author felt age and experience made him better, and he pressed on for that very reason. “If you’re a singer you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he’s good, the older he gets, the better he writes,” Spillane elucidated.

Anne Rice

Sometimes the motivations to write can be as different as night and day:

“Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”

“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Determined, but feeling broken after several bouts of illness and financial ruin, Fitzgerald’s deeply personal essays and letters were collected in Edmund Wilson’s The Crack-Up after his death in 1940. “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you’ve got something to say,” the Great Gatsby author wrote in a moving passage. Although often somber in tone, Fitzgerald’s perceptive tone recalls the reasons why we adore his novels in the first place.

Judy Blume

On her website, Judy Blume shares a number of tips and personal stories with would-be authors seeking advice and a starting point. “Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being,” she shares. It’s a sentiment that many of the authors on our list have explained, but a PBS interview with the Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret writer describes something more revealing and equally, beautifully honest. She told the network about her struggle searching for books she could identify with as a child — ” families like my family,” she explains, “Which wasn’t perfect; it was a loving family, but it wasn’t perfect. And I knew, you know, there were secrets within families.” Blume ”wanted to write what [she] remembered to be true,” especially since she admits that the “voice in [her] head was the voice of a child.”

by Alison Nastasi


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