When Writers Write

My friend Jal noticed this post on Brainpickings.org

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

by Maria Popova

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

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.

Simone de Beauvoir:

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.

There are several others. It closes with Kurt Vonnegut:

In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town.

I'd love to see an article called "The Daily Routines of Great Teachers." As with writers, I admire immensely the teachers who are "pluggers." A key value is they don't wait for the optimal mood or situation. Instead they power through The Resistance...i.e., they lose 12 minutes of a prep period to a kid in the hallway, and then someone ate their yogurt so now they gotta run across the street to buy something to eat, and still they manage to use 19 available minutes to plan 1/3 of a lesson instead of just zoning out and surfing the web. I struggle with that sort of resilience and discipline.