Life for One Who Writes

The Writing Life is not it’s all cracked up to be. Let me jump out of the blocks with that one. I do so only because it’s true. Before I give you a choice set of lines from a brilliant writer, I give you a few of my own thoughts on The Writing Life. By the way, my favorite book about writing is by William Zinsser, On Writing Well.

Here’s a good (and typical) day, and it would be every day if my school somehow got the idea that funding a professor to write without teaching would be a good idea, and if they’d point my finger at me when they called forward the one they wanted to assign to The Writing Life.

Until that day, and I’m not waiting on it, I do this when the day permits.

I get up somewhere between 5 and 5:30am, spend some time pottering around the house doing all the things that folks like me do to rev up the engines for the day, like eating breakfast (Greek yogurt), making a cafe latte, saying my prayers and reading the news online, checking on the blog and making sure the tweets are ready for the day. Between 7 and 8am I descend into the bowels of my house (the basement) and get to my desk and work there — with normal breaks and interruptions — until I’m done, usually by 2pm and occasionally not until 3pm. I used to be able to work later, and I spend the rest of my day reading or pottering around.

On my off days and in the summer and over breaks I do this every day. The days don’t vary much unless I have coffee with a friend or a luncheon. I’d like to play more golf but I manage that rarely these days. I wonder if my golf game will desert me while my neighbors must wonder what I do in this house all day because nothing seems to be going on from the outside.

The Writing Life is about routine, day after day, month after month, year after year, and it takes a decade or more for The Writing Life to make sense and to be natural. If I miss a few days it gets hard to get back into the rhythm, and a week or two away and it takes at least two days to feel comfortable again.

Which leads me to a real writer, Harper Lee, who was once asked by some students what it was like to be a writer…

She told them she sat at her desk between 6 and 12 hours every day. That day produced one page of a completed manuscript. (One page.) Then she said this:

To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not. Everyday. Alone. Without interruption. Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour to writing. In fact, it’s heartbreak most of the time.

She’s got it right, of course. It’s not glamorous; it’s lonely; it’s everyday; it’s a disciplined habit. At the end of the day you might have very little to show for it. Some weeks are unproductive. But after a decade or two, you wander past a bookshelf in a bookstore and say to yourself amongst other browsers, “I wrote that.”

It’s more than a passing thought, that’s for sure. It can distract your browsing.

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