Tuesday 3 June 2014

Quick Hits: Daily habits of famous writers

Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings has a fascinating post on the daily habits of famous writers. By pulling relevant quotes from interviews published in The Paris Review, Popova manages to capture just how much diversity there is in approaching writing by these authors. Fascinated by this diversity in daily routine, she wondered whether there might be a relation between the sleeping habits of writers and their productivity. To explore this, she enlisted the help of an Italian information designer to create an infographic that visualizes the two variables. The full post is worth reading, so I won't ruin it for you. Both efforts reflect a desire that I think is common in writers. Since many struggle to write, we endeavour to understand just how the others manage to "do it." 

The interviews upon which she drew for this data include, as might be expected, many gems of advice. Take, for example, E. B. White's proclamation that "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." 

In ending this post, I will leave you with an excerpt from an interview with Maya Angelou, who left us so recently but will never be forgotten. 

"I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work. And to blue pencil it. When I finish maybe fifty pages and read them — fifty acceptable pages — it’s not too bad. I’ve had the same editor since 1967. Many times he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times over the years I have said to him things like: I will never speak to you again. Forever. Goodbye. That is it. Thank you very much. And I leave. Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions. I send him a telegram that says, OK, so you’re right. So what? Don’t ever mention this to me again. If you do, I will never speak to you again. About two years ago I was visiting him and his wife in the Hamptons. I was at the end of a dining room table with a sit-down dinner of about fourteen people. Way at the end I said to someone, I sent him telegrams over the years. From the other end of the table he said, And I’ve kept every one! Brute! But the editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important."

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