Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
First things first: you want to write, then you’ve gotta sit your butt down in that chair (or bed, if you’re Capote or Proust; or you can just stand like Hemingway—whatever) and work. How long should you work, you ask? Well, let’s take a look at Mason Currey’s wonderfully informative and (not surprisingly) a bit discouraging book Daily Rituals, in which Currey briefly explains the writing schedules of 161 major authors. Take your pick: you could work the not unreasonable hours of 9 am to noon, like Thomas Mann did, or you can take the graveyard shift and work on and off from 5 pm until 3 in the morning, like Fitzgerald did (or tried to do; he was off partying many of those nights). But if a rigid routine is not your strong suit, maybe you can take after Sylvia Plath, who could never nail down a solid writing routine. Or if you’re just obsessed, you can work twelve-hour days like H.L. Mencken, but…I wouldn’t recommend it.
Last Night’s Reading: Illustrated Encounters with Extraordinary Authors
After selecting your bookstore/s, we must discuss readings. Yes, some writers adore the attention of a public event, while others (most, I think) find them to be nerve-wracking spirit-crushing torture fests. Luckily, the wonderful Kate Gavino captures them in Last Night’s Reading with charm and artfulness—but most importantly because Gavino draws some well-established authors, who are by now to a certain degree used to such performances, her illustrations show the fan’s side of things, which should inspire and encourage young writers nervous at taking their place at the podium. Readers are listening! They’re interested in what you have to say! Each of Gavino’s drawings is accompanied by a quote from the subject. Here’s my favorite, from Donna Tartt: “If you’re not enjoying something, it’s almost always because you’re doing it too fast.” So don’t let your nerves get the best of you; take a moment and heed Tartt’s advice. Enjoy the reading, if you can!
Suppose there was some kind of mysterious portal into a magical realm, and you, for all your life, have wanted nothing more than to march right up to that enchanted threshold and toss your body through it. But let’s say, too, that there have been others who’ve entered the portal before you, but when they report about their experiences—reports full of wondrous creatures and fantastic occurrences—their language is riddled with irked reservations, petty complaints, and seemingly obstacle-less problems. Yeah, they seem to say, the realm’s an incredible place—you ain’t seen nothing like it. But does it have to be so damn chilly all the time? Sure, no one actually complained about the chilliness of the place, but they may as well have. Because for you, simply getting into the portal is the whole point of your life, and yet here are these ingrates acting like it’s some burden to exist in a world of imagination.
This is what it’s like, sometimes, for wannabe writers to hear the grievances of their literary idols. How could they complain, for instance, about how hard writing is? How could they kvetch about deadlines—or interviewers—or critics—or sales—or reputation—or money—or fame? Aren’t they aware of where they live? How could they act like it’s anything other than paradise? Are they trying to sabotage your ambition? Do they hope you’ll heed their advice and stay put in the non-magical world of everyday life so that they keep all the exotic accoutrements for themselves? Are they just…full of shit? They must be because now they’re talking crazy and saying something about other portals; like, other portals within the portal, which, c’mon, is totally nonsensical, right? Like, this is a cheap ploy to keep the underlings out while they enjoy the probably unbelievable benefits of the ones already through the portal? Right?
Well: no, they aren’t—but also yes, they totally are.
Writing as a vocation comes, like any job, with its own set of rascally and rambunctious aspects, and with its proprietors prone to peccadilloes. But there are also things about being an established writer that are very difficult to explain to those who’ve yet to achieve some semblance of success. For a young writer, the mere fact of getting published, or of earning any amount of money, seems an impossible dream—and so hearing those who’ve managed such feats (and more!) complain about their situations…well, it can seem a bit ungrateful…entitled, even. But I’m here to tell you that while, of course, in every vocation there are those who will do nothing but grumble and whine about every perceived slight or disrespect that seems to come their way, it is still true that being a professional writer isn’t easy, nor do the perks outweigh the many drawbacks.
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Here are seven books that speak to different aspects of the writer’s life, but keep in mind that I’m not trying to discourage anyone from becoming a writer; rather, I’m merely trying to honestly prepare those about to pursue a career in letters. (Because no one who really wants to write can be turned off by…writing.)
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