I've been reading more writing books than usual this year as I'm trying to nail down what I need to fix in my own writing. I'm going to try and take notes as I read then put them together into something that's a coherent discussion. This is the first of those books.
Creative people are fascinating creatures with even more fascinating habits and rituals. I study them, dreaming of a day when I can have my own writing rituals as a full time writer. As it stands now, my ritual is sporadic and streaky at best. But I've lamented about this before and I won't do so now. I want to make some comments about reading this book and what it left me feeling about creative people and their rituals while comparing them to mine.
A quick note: if I have a gripe against this book it's that there is very little in the way of contemporary writers. Most of the writers in the book are long gone and come from a different time. A time when there was either a patronage for the arts or you could actually make something of a living from working as a writer. So, anyway, some thoughts.
- Lots of smoking and coffee. I mean a lot of smoking and drinking. It made me feel like I should be doing a lot more of both. I do drink chai lattes from my Kuerig (Dunkin Donuts on occasion), but no coffee for me.
- Benzedrine too. Every other entry seemed to mention the almost necessity of drugs to help fuel their creativity. I am not interested in drugs to fuel my creativity. As I'm typing this, I'm getting over some major dental work while refusing anything heavier than Advil.
- Many worked for short periods of time, 2-4 hours maximum. This was surprising. There were writers that worked for longer periods of time, but for the most part, they'd work for only a few hours a day. There is an massive expenditure of energy that comes with being a creative person and the more I think about it the more I realize that it makes sense because even on a good day, I might spend a grand total of four hours on a good day of writing. So I got that going for me.
- Morning work time, often 5-6 am or at dawn. Many writers stuck to working in the early AM before they had to work OR that was just when they wrote, often finishing up before noon and having the rest of the day to do whatever. I'd love to do this and tried to this weekend, but for some reason I just couldn't get out of bed earlier than 8 am. And weekdays, I get up between 6 and 6:30 for work. I just don't think I can get up earlier than that. And I mean physically. The interesting thing about this is that where it didn't make sense to me when I was younger, now that I'm in my mid forties I totally get it. I used to be a write at night kind of guy, but the energy isn't there anymore. After everyone goes to bed at night (an ordeal in and of itself), my brain just doesn't want to write. It wants to watch stupid videos, catch whatever movie is on HBO, TCM or whatever and just cycle down for the night. It's something I think I have to change.
- Naps. Lots of naps. I can get on board with this, if I could convince my wife I would become a famous writer. This might help with the brain at night, but again, without a note from the home office, I don't see this one floating.
- Did I mention coffee and cigarettes? Good God, the amount of coffee and cigarettes consumed by authors of some repute is just astonishing.
- Exercise. This doesn't surprise me in the least. I see a difference in my writing when I'm exercising then when I'm not. From a simple afternoon walk (which I intend to start doing when the weather gets a little nicer) to swimming (another one that makes perfect sense to me) to gym workouts (my preferred source of exercise when my not 21 year old body isn't betraying me). I've been doing better with this and I'm hoping it reflects in my writing in the coming months.
- Solitude and assistants. I can clear the air about assistants. I'll never have one. I'll never be that successful. But the importance of assistants to some writers is fascinating. Many writers never typed, leaving that up to assistants. Yet, despite this reliance on them, writing is a solitary affair. Actually, most creative endeavors require a soul crushing amount of solitude...and most dealt with it my including massive amounts of social time in their day, whether that was with their families, contemporaries or friends. It's a weakness I have and I recognize. I've become, as was recently reported online, one of those middle aged men without close friends. I'm trying though, reconnecting with old friends and trying to make new ones. I often wonder if I have developed a sort of social anxiety disorder. I've made some great friends over the last few years through school and my writing, but I often find myself completely unable and unwilling to meet them in person because I just can't manage it. I've been trying to fix this, but it's hard to change, there's a lot of code to rewrite.
- Coping with jobs and families. Again, there was some of this, but I think that since many of the examples written in the book were from days gone by, a lot of them were dated. I certainly spend more time and doing more stuff with my kids than I remember my dad growing up and the book supports this, especially since many of the writers were from the 20s to the 60s, when gender roles were very different than today. To be honest, I found more in common with some of the women writers that were mothers than the male writers that were fathers.
- Architects are some weird people. More so than painters, composers and writers. I'm talking weird stuff like nudity, sexual depravity and general weirdness.
- Coffee and cigarettes. If I got one thing from this books it's that most of the creative works people love owe a lot to coffee and cigarettes.
The book left me with some interesting ideas that I think I realize that I'll never implement. I'd like to, but it won't happen. Maybe slowly over time. I think the first one I want to do is waking up earlier. Baby steps.
The next writing book I'm going to talk about: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL. No, seriously. See you then.