Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Writing as habit

I shouldn't even be posting this, but I really need the writing inspiration.

From Rachel Toor's "The Habit of Writing" at the Chronicle:
"I only write when I am inspired," Faulkner apparently said, and added, "Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." Most of them say that you need to take writing seriously, to treat it like a job.

That's probably good advice. It just doesn't work for me. For me writing has become less a job than a habit.

A friend who wanted to start running said that he'd heard it takes three months to form a habit. I don't know whether that's true. It sounds both facile and pseudoscientific. But over the years, I seem to have performed a trick of mind, managing to convince myself that getting up every day and going someplace to write was as normal as brushing my teeth, making my bed, or watching reruns of House. Whatever psychological move I used, it seems to have been successful.

And in the comments, a quotation from Philip Glass:
In my student days I knew a lot of composers, many of them more talented than myself. But I learned one thing most of them did not: good work habits. When I was still a teenager, I forced myself to write music during a set period every morning, and I also forced myself to stop at one in the afternoon. I refused to take down musical ideas at other hours, even when they came to me. You might say I trained the Muse to come calling at my hours, not hers. And it worked. For years now, I have gotten my ideas in the mornings and never in the afternoons."

Now back to work.


Anonymous said...

This is slightly mean I suppose but the mechanical situation he describes shows in Glass' music. My vote is for writers' hours *and* a notebook.


I'm also realizing place is really really important and I should give up trying to train myself to be someone else. I'm in Mexico DF and it makes me write. So I realized all of my writing streaks and writing years have been while living in metropolises. Something about the easy availability of libraries, archives, bookstores; something about the way in which there are always exhibits and things happening that feed into the project; something about the energy that comes from feeling how many other people are doing things, too.

At home I have writers' hours but they put me to sleep and/or are a space in which I feel more intensely my claustrophobia living in a micro-town that is also a university fishbowl.

I feel guilty about this -- one should stay home, spend nothing, and be good, I was always taught -- but it's a fact, everything truly good I do is done somewhere urban, and I think I should just face that and take it into account.


All of this to say: writing is a habit, YES, but you need conditions in which you can make it a useful habit.


My micro-town is good for another kind of writing -- fiction, some kinds of journalism. It's good for imagination but it's not good for being incisive. I lived in a fairly large city in Brazil that had those characteristics, too.

undine said...

profacero--Philip Glass: heh. That's an interesting observation about writing more/better when in a metropolis. There's an energy in cities, as you say, that seems to feed the writing energy.

Mike Jones said...

"coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, 'Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write.' There's no difference on paper between the two."
-- Frank Herbert (author of the 'Dune' series)