“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper. ” ~ E.B. White
Okay. Fine. I needed that smack-a-writer-across-the-pouting-face statement by Mr. White, placed at the top of another fantastic article, written by the founder of BrainPickings.com, Maria Popova. The Daily Routines of Famous Writers is an article worth reading for any reader or writer who can spare some time after you’ve kindly read my diatribe, and it can be found here. Having given Maria Popova her well deserved kudos for yet another great article, I have to admit that after reading it I wanted to set my writing table on fire, throw what little pages I have completed on my novel in the flames, and then take a long nap in front of the television.
Why? Well, for starters, let’s take Don DeLillo, shall we, who tells the Paris Review in 1993, “I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle — it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours.” Or, let’s ponder this daily routine from Haruki Murakami, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
Wow. Really? This is what great writers do every day in order to write the way they do? I commend them and admire their vigorous dedication to getting into an energized Zen mode before picking up their pens, but I think all of that activity would put me in a (desperately wished for) numbing coma. Given my admission that I would welcome a numbing coma after all that laborious physical labor, my avoidance of running at all costs, and my lack of a pool, I don’t think these strenuous methods of centering and inspiration would work for me. A nice brisk walk through my neighborhood or the local nature reserves might be nice, more my pace.
Next, let’s look at this quote from the brilliant Joan Didion in 1966, “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.” Now, take this quote from an interview with Simone de Beauvoir in 1965, “I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.”
Some of the routines of Didion and de Beauvoir could be realistic for me to take up . Like the drinking, alcohol or tea. I could do that. But with 3 small, busy children, a husband who appreciates a little attention from time to time, housework, helping ageing parents, volunteering with church and the kids’ schools, bathing, doctor and other appointments, my part time hospice social work career, cooking, and of course all of that LAUNDRY, I’m not sure, like Didion that I could have an hour alone before dinner, or choose to not have anyone over for dinner at all – because even though they usually don’t like what I cook, my kids are over every night for dinner without fail. As a social worker, I think I recall that there are some laws about feeding your minor children, and that being drunk every night at five is somewhat frowned upon. With the crazy aforementioned duties of parenthood, spending the afternoons with my friends until five o’clock and then going right back to my writing until nine like de Beauvoir would not be very realistic either. After all, there are those pesky laws again about supervising and being ultimately responsible for the safety and welfare of your elementary school age kids until they graduate into their majority.
So what is a writer-mom to do? What should my writing routine look like so that I can use my time and ideas most wisely, while not neglecting my familial and community responsibilities? This past summer, I had this wild dream that once September came around and my youngest would be off to kindergarten, I would have all day to write. While that is somewhat true, I do have more time alone during the day than I have had in the past 9 years, I also have more work to do during those hours. As your children grow and your parents age, there comes more responsibility – some of it physically taxing, and some emotionally and spiritually draining. So although I feel blessed to have the option to work very part-time, meaning one night a week at the hospital, I also know that during the week days, it’s not all Jerry Springer, bon-bon’s, and lunching with the ladies from 8am to 3pm.
I had the choice to either continue working full time after I had my children or stay home with them instead of using day care. Since I chose to stay home with them, and my husband works outside of the house, earning the funds to keep us fed, clothed, appropriately medicated, and so forth, I have felt a sense of duty to take on the larger burden of the housework. I don’t know how seriously my husband would take it if I said, “I need more time to write. You need to do all of the housework, cooking, food shopping, activities and homework with the kids, and all of the LAUNDRY either before or after work, while I run, swim, drink tea and cocktails and write in complete quiet solitude every hour I’m not sleeping.” I think he would just laugh thinking it to be another of my crazy jokes.
So my writing life is still a fledgling work in progress. I have to find what routine will work best, meeting mine and my family’s needs, while also remaining open to slow and sudden changes that often take us by surprise in life and warrant a need for flexibility and change in whatever routines we’ve forged.
So thank you, Maria Popova. You’ve shown me that even though I may not be or work like Didion, de Beauvior, DeLillo, or Murakami, that it is vital to have some kind of routine. One that brings out energy, creativity, and inspires a little hope and reinforces the belief that this writing thing is doable and lovable, even if it is hard work.
Please share your comments with me-I love hearing your thoughts! What is your special passion? How do you find time for it? What gets in the way? If you’re a writer, what is your routine?