Raymond Chandler to Alex Barris
March 18, 1949
From Raymond Chandler Speaking, p. 79
I’m always seeing little pieces by writers about how they don’t ever wait for inspiration; they just sit down at their little desks every morning at eight, rain or shine, hangover and broken arm and all, and bang out their little stint. However blank their minds or dull their wits, no nonsense about inspiration from them. I offer them my admiration and take care to avoid their books.
Me, I wait for inspiration, although I don’t necessarily call it by that name. I believe that all writing that has any life in it is done with the solar plexus. It is hard work in the same sense that it may leave you tired, even exhausted. In the sense of conscious effort, it is not work at all. The important thing is that there should be a space of time, say four hours a day at least, when a professional writer doesn’t do anything else but write. He doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it he shouldn’t try. He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks. Either write or nothing. It’s the same principle as keeping order in a school. If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored. I find it works. Two very simple rules. A. You don’t have to write. B. You can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.
Interesting! But don't you think he's kind of contradicting himself? Isn't what he advocates not actually all that different from sitting down at 8 every morning?
It is kind of contradictory, but I think he's saying that he doesn't want to be like Anthony Trollope, who set his watch and wrote 250 words every fifteen minutes like clockwork from 5-8 every morning. What I liked about this is that Chandler was saying that, all right, you need inspiration--but if you don't sit and make time for it, you'll never get it. Also, the thing about the boredom is so true: sometimes you have to imprison yourself at the desk (or I do) and not allow any distractions; sooner or later, you'll start to write because there's nothing else you can do. It's a way to get past that "I can't just start writing!" anxiety that sends us running to check email.
Also key is having an end in sight. I tried the Paper Chase's recipe one time, which was, you sit there until you get the requisite number of words. It failed - I suddenly had all day to sit there (it was in the summer, so I could do that) and sat there until 10 PM before I started. Because I didn't say I couldn't do anything else.
But what has always worked for me is to say: you have to come up with 200-250 really good words and you only have 2.5 hours ... in which the only other allowed activities are revising yesterday's words or planning the next session's!!! In 2.5 hours you HAVE TO STOP and you CANNOT COME BACK for at least 2.5 hours, either! That works much better.
Also: target amount of time spent per day is 2.5 hours, because 2.5 x 6 = 15 and 15 good hours a week is realistic. Summertime goal is of course 5 hours, 2 sessions. Maximum is 7.5 hours, 3 sessions. More is not normally allowed because one does not sprint in marathons except at the end.
I have joined this bandwagon and I
am going to start following my own writing advice again. :-)
Sptc, this is a whole new way of doing sprints. Telling yourself you can't write for a while must be like torture, if you're really getting into the writing.
Dear Not General,
this is a great entry on Chandler! My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college student and writer who currently contributes to Too Shy to Stop, an upstart online magazine focused on culture and the arts.
I found you entry, as it would turn out, while doing research for my own essay on Chandler. I focus on some of the more remarkable characteristics of Chandler's work, especially his dialogue and use of symbolism.
If you have the time, check it out! I'd love for you to read it and comment.
Thanks for the interesting info on Raymond Chandler. Too Shy to Stop writer Peter Ricci just did a piece on Chandler's contributions to crime fiction. You can read the full article here.
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