“The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write, and keep on writing.”
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
William Styron called writing “my tortoise-like art” and pursued a strict writing pattern: He rose at 12, then had a leisurely lunch or brunch until 2, when he took a long walk with his dogs and mentally organized his afternoon bout of writing. Once his walk was over, he’d disappear into a barn where he’d coax a No. 2 pencil across yellow legal paper, each sentence painfully polished until he went onto the next. At 7:30 in the evening he’d emerge with “my painful 600 words,” which he played with over a drink and then gave to his wife to type. His daily output? About two and a half pages. Once finished, he tinkered very little. “This guy does not revise heavily and start all over again,” noted Robert Loomis, his longtime editor. “Bill’s first draft was essentially his final draft.”
Few of us have the luxury of rising at noon, plying our craft in a writing barn, or passing our pages onto a wife to type. But Styron’s story here isn’t about the perks of being a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, it’s about the benefits of establishing a writing regimen.
Aspiring writers tend to obsess about “the writing process,” but many quickly discover that there’s no one-size-fits-all pattern to cling to. Styron wrote in the late afternoon, Eudora Welty was at her desk from 9 to 12 in the morning, Michael Chabon is a committed night owl. Roald Dahl wrote in two-hour sessions, working from 10 to 12 and then knocking off for a few hours and picking up his pencil again from 4 to 6. William Styron wrote 650 words on a good day; Stephen King doesn’t get quit until he’s written 2500 words. Styron wasn’t a reviser; Nabokov once said that his pencils outlasted his erasers because he rewrote so obsessively.
The message? At its heart, finding your own writing process isn’t about how or when you write, it’s about discovering a writing pattern that works for you — that plays to your strengths and circumstances — and then pursuing it consistently. professional writers like Styron, Welty, Hemingway, King each learned the secret to productivity: develop a personal game plan for tackling the page and then stick with it through thick and thin. Something to ponder as we all write on.
Karin, your post reminds me of the time when I was writing on a typewriter on the dining room table and every night removed all my stuff so we could have dinner. Then I got a fellowship to Yaddo, and my life changed. I had a studio where I wrote,and for the first time I put my pages across the floor and “saw” chronology; I was able to move and shift time lines around. At noon, not to interrupt my workday, Yaddo left a brown-bag lunch on my front porch–I didn’t have to stop! Of course, now I have a computer, and I can easily cut and paste and move things around. But I will never forget the gift of time and space and support that Yaddo provided. Now, all I long for is a brown-bag lunch.
Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful Yaddo experience with us. What a precious gift — time and space to create in! I’ve visited Yaddo and one of my writing aspirations is to spend time there or in residence at McDowell (Thornton Wilder is one of my favorite writers). I’m wondering if a brown-bag service for writers would be a big hit. Or is there already an app for that?