The story is that Edith Wharton wrote in bed.
Whenever she would finish handwriting a page, she would drop it on the floor. Later, her secretary would gather up the sheets of story and type them.
One must have a method.
Despite the — dare I say it? — privilege inherent in the image of the heiress-author abed with her papers and laying abed with her papers and having an employee follow behind her, it must be acknowledged that Wharton found a system that worked for her. She wrote over twenty novels, countless (well, I’m not counting them) short stories, poems, and essays. If she did it from the comfort of a luxurious bed, can I really fault her for that?
Nope. Not at all. Not even a little.
A lot of writers — present company included — pay very close attention to successful writers’ processes:
Stephen King‘s 2,000-words-per-day is practically gospel now because so many writers quote On Writing.
Hemingway wrote standing up and left his writing at the most interesting part so he’d be excited to get back to it the next day. (Plus that whole “write drunk, edit sober” thing.)
Jane Austen wrote at a small desk in the sitting room and hid her pages of writing if company came over.
Anthony Trollope apparently wrote for two hours in the morning, every morning, before work.
These processes, or schedules, or rituals, or whatever-you-want-to-call them, are all valid. Obviously. Every one listed above is a demonstrably successful writer. But my point is even simpler than that.
They did whatever worked for them.
And that’s the trick. Do what works for you.
Soooooo not simple.
In some ways, knowledge of other writers’ routines is very useful. You understand there is no one way to do this writing thing. Any time of day is valid. Any writing utensil — quill, ink, computer, typewriter — is available. The world is your oyster!
But if you choose something, and you’re not flexible, you can fuck yourself.
For example: You determine you’ll write at X amount of words at X time with X implement. You Will Be Disciplined. You Will Have Routine.
Then you oversleep one day and BAM — the bullshit fairy visits you. You Have Failed to stick to the Routine. Thus you are a Shitty Writer. Stephen King writes this way! Ernest Hemingway writes this way! Therefore, if YOU cannot write this way, then you must colossally suck.
It’s just not true.
The bad news is you didn’t get much writing done.
The good news is you figure out that you need to try something different.
I, for example, am no morning lark. My creative engine starts revving around 4:00p.m. and can go pretty steady until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. I’ve tried to get up early to write. It resulted in shitty, grouchy days and my children wondering why I’m growling at them. I leave the mornings to the birds.
Don’t feel like one person’s way of doing things is the only way. And don’t let anyone prescribe anything to you, unless they’re a doctor and you need medication. Just figure out your way of getting words on the page.
But, if a writer has discussed their process and something in it resonates with you — steal it, take it for a drive, see if it works for you too.
For example, I’ve determined that I should spend at least 10 minutes a day writing…and I’ve taken to bringing my notebook with me to bed, much like Wharton. Maybe I write before bed, or right after I wake up. But words are getting down, so that’s a good thing for me.
Just wish I had a secretary to type it all up for me….
What are some “process” things you’ve stolen from other writers? Have you ever experimented with something that didn’t work? What was that experience like?
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.