I turn to Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How artists work when I need inspiration and a reminder that while the writing process isn’t easy, writing regularly makes it easier. Rituals, like weight-lifting, build muscle, and we writers need strength to finish our projects.
Ernest Hemingway’s ritual was to begin writing at dawn, when no one would disturb him. He would read what he had previously written and wouldn’t stop until he knew what would happen next.
According to Currey, Hemingway wrote standing up, “facing a chest-high bookshelf with a typewriter on top, and on top of that a wooden reading board. First drafts were composed in pencil on onionskin typewriter paper laid slantwise across the board; when the work was going well, Hemingway would remove the board and shift to the typewriter. He tracked his daily word output on a chart — “so as not to kid myself,” he said. When the writing wasn’t going well, he would often knock off the fiction and answer letters, which gave him a welcome break from “the awful responsibility of writing” — or as he sometimes called it, “the responsibility of awful writing.”
Philip Roth wrote after breakfast and exercise, from 10 to 6 (!!!!), stopping for lunch. Sometimes he would work in the evening, or, if the urge hit at 2 a.m., in bed. If inspiration pulled him out bed at 5 a.m., so be it. “I’m on call,” he said. “I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.” What a great image!
Joyce Carol Oates generally has two writing stretches: 8-ish to 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. until dinner. In-between she takes a break.
Her writing sessions also include rewriting and rewriting what she’s already rewritten. Even if her day’s production is a single page, the effort is worth it, she says, because pages add up. “As a result I have acquired the reputation over the years of being prolix, when in fact I am measured against people who simply don’t work as hard or as long.” (I think she’s being a tad modest, given her 50 novels, and dozens of short story, poetry and essay collections.)
So, here’s a question for you: If you were to be included in the next edition of Daily Rituals, what would Currey write about your daily writing routine?