"oh what a tangled interweb we weave..."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Work Habits

I just finished a play. And man was it a tough one. Part of the problem was that I wrote the first words last May (a full 9 months ago for those of you counting). Then I stopped and got distracted by a whole bunch of other stuff. Then started again in August. Then stopped, got distracted by a bunch of other stuff. Then started again in November. Or rather stalled again in November. And stalled in December. And then got the engine running at a crisp 5 mph in January. And finally somehow got to the finish line last week.

For the record it's my belief that there's nothing wrong with starting and stopping. If you're stuck, move on. Distract yourself. It happens to the best of us.

There is a problem however with cutting off momentum. I was cruising along in May and even in August, after stopping once already. But then I cut myself short. I told myself I had "more pressing" things to write. Stupid. When I came back to the play, I found the battery was dead. Which is about as surprising as having cocktails with a girl, telling her that you have to leave momentarily to attend "more pressing" social events, then coming back and finding that she's long gone and won't return your calls.

Anyway it was during this time that I became obsessed with the work habits of other writers. Because if there's one thing that all writers have in common it's that they all want to know how other writers work. Do they write everyday? If so, for how long? If not, for how long? How long, how long, how long?

So here's a list of some of the ones that I found:

-Quiara Alegria Hudes writes from 9-5 Monday-Friday and takes the weekend's off. So basically, she treats it as a standard job.

-Ingmar Bergman, similarly, wrote from 10-3 on weekdays for ten weeks, and then he'd have a screenplay done.

-Graham Greene literally counted words and wrote no more or less than 300 words every day. Yup. He was almost always in the middle of a sentence and he would just stop. So, yes, he cut the momentum off, but only until tomorrow, which isn't so long.

-Raymond Chandler had "writing time" where he would sit in his office from late morning until late afternoon no matter what. Didn't write consistently. Sometimes only wrote outlines for months and months. Sometimes didn't write anything for weeks at a time. But refused to leave.

-Likewise the Coen Brothers sit in their office and take naps. And DON'T, I repeat DON'T do outlines of any kind. As Ethan Coen says: "the rule is, we type scene A without knowing what scene B is going to be -- or for that matter, we type scene R without knowing what scene S is going to be." And then they take naps. Lots of naps. (For more on the naps, check out this great podcast interview where they talk about their work habits:

-Hiram Haydn, author of The Hands Of Esau (and William Goldman's editor for years) had a busy job working in publishing. Had a wife and a bunch of kids to support. So when did he have time to write? Sunday. Every Sunday morning. The only time he could, but he did it.

-And finally my absolute favorite quote about writing work habits from E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime and more: "Here's how it goes: I'm up at the stroke of 10 or 10:30. I have breakfast and read the papers, and then it's lunchtime. Then maybe a little nap after lunch and out to the gym, and before I know it, it's time to have a drink."

So what do all of these writers' habits have in common? Look carefully. I'll wait. Did you see it? No? Good, because I couldn't see it either. They have absolutely nothing in common with each other except that they all are the habits of writers. Which is good news. Very good news indeed. Because it means there is no wrong way to skin a cat. So I invite you all to share stories of how you choose to skin.

1 comment:

  1. Hello. I very much appreciated this blog. I'm an actor from the old vic new voices group, but also write - mostly books at this point. It's quite heavy going. I signed with a literary agent (www.convilleandwalsh.com) back in October and my first book is out on submission. My second book is in the process of finding its way to the page. I started writing seriously - aiming at 1000 words a day - on January 1st 2010. After a month I realised I had to leave the house to get some kind of social life, or I would go insane. I had been sticking to the 1000 words-a-day thing (on average) with the exceptions of weekends and a few days where I had to go shoot, do admin, etc. So I went out. Hardcore. I partied and went to fashion launches and film festivals and private members' clubs and book readings and houseparties and poker nights and took psychotic writing assignments in hotels far from London and went out all night and didn't get home until dawn. Each day after these chaotic nights I would wake up, make coffee, crawl back into bed with my laptop and write about 6,000 words about what I'd felt about I'd done and what I'd seen the night before. Not always for the book, but six times as much as I had been writing when I was sitting down everyday, at a tidy desk, seriously trying to write. Go figure.

    =) Interested to read other tales cat-skinning...