Friday, December 18, 2009

Kate Chopin on writing schedules

Some wise man has promulgated an eleventh commandment, "Thou shalt not preach," which, interpreted, means, "Thou shalt not instruct thy neighbor as to what he should do." But the Preacher is always with us. Said one to me: "Thou shalt parcel off thy day into mathematical sections. So many hours shalt thou abandon thyself to thought, so many to writing; a certain number shalt thou devote to household duties, to social enjoyment, to ministering to thy afflicted fellow creatures." I listened to the voice of the Preacher, and the result was stagnation all along the line of "hours" and unspeakable bitterness of spirit. In brutal revolt I turned to and played solitaire during my "thinking hour," and whist when I should have been ministering to the afflicted. I scribbled a little during my "social enjoyment" period, and shattered the "household duties" into fragments of every conceivable fraction of time, with which I besprinkled the entire day as from a pepper-box. In this way I succeeded in reestablishing the harmonious discord and confusion which had surrounded me before I listened to the voice, and which seems necessary to my physical and mental well-being.

from "In the Confidence of a Story-Writer"

4 comments:

profacero said...

OMG that is amazing.

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What I have to say is, writing takes a long time even when you know exactly, or well enough, what you are doing, and agree with it. You still don't get anything done unless you give into the fact that it takes a long time.

I am not saying you can't get anything done if your time only comes in small pieces. I am only saying that in that case you need a lot of small pieces, and you have to keep your work at the back of your mind the rest of the time.

And you can't put your life on hold, but you do have to put the project first.

EVERY other production paradigm, every other hurry-up prod, every allegation that you should just be able to whip things out faster and more easily, is false and therefore counterproductive.

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But for me the main thing is not to criticize myself for writing slowly. I like to start as soon as possible (which people always call unnecessarily fast) and write a page a day (which people call slow and lazy).

If I can't start now, or if I feel I have to write more than a page, I get frustrated, impatient, and overwhelmed. I like to start now by revising yesterday's page, then segue into writing a new page, then read and make notes for tomorrow's page, and then knock off. Then I read more generally toward the project, look up documents, and so on, but I don't WRITE again until tomorrow, unless I am really on some kind of deadline and am also in a position to have more than one block of writing time in the day.

I formed this habit in the sixth grade and I find I am in it again. I have been told it is bad many times but it has always worked for me.

Ink said...

That is an incredible passage. Brava, Kate! I wish I could write phrases like "besprinkled the entire day as from a pepper-box."

Thanks for sharing!

undine said...

profacero and Ink, when I came across this, it leaped out from the page in golden letters. Angels sang. I heard the invisible choir.

Writing absolutely does take a long time, even though I am getting positively snappish about it. The other day, I turned on the TV and heard someone from History Detectives say "and that was the subject of my first book." My immediate reaction was "and you didn't write your book by watching History Detectives, did you?" and turned off the TV.

Bavardess said...

I love that passage. There is nothing more likely to make me rebellious and to guarantee my non-productivity than being made to adhere to a preset schedule (even - or maybe especially - one of my own invention).