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Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Writers Do It Often (Amid Chaos)

Writing routines range from rigidly regular to quirkily undisciplined.

Do you growl at interruptions when you're writing? Does the clutter in your office affect you negatively? Whether you're easygoing or disciplined, you probably have a routine that works for you. Or perhaps it isn't working for you.

Whatever your interest in creativity -- reader, writer, or other creator -- you'll find it enlightening to think about the ways writers deal with mental and physical clutter in order to get into a flow state. As you read about how bestselling and award-winning novelists make "it" happen, note the anarchy and turmoil of the process.

Habits such as we're discussing here prime the psyche and the body for creativity, as discussed in a previous post . For example:

Novelist Marilynne Robinson , author of Housekeeping , the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead , and her most recent novel, Home was asked in a Paris Review interview about her writing habits. Here's an excerpt:

I [write] a lot in the study, but the couch also, and so on. It's nice to be able to move around and not be completely bound to one place or another, the way some people are. Although I do stay inside my own house. That's crucial.

Q: Why?

Because I can forget my surroundings. And I don't get distracted by thinking, Who chose that painting? I know who chose that painting.

Q: Does writing come easily to you?

The difficulty of it cannot be overstated. But at its best, it involves a state of concentration that is a satisfying experience, not matter how difficult or frustrating. The sense of being focused like that is a marvelous feeling. It's one of the reasons I'm so willing to seclude myself and am a little bit grouchy when I have to deal with the reasonable expectations of the world.

Q: Do you keep to a schedule?

I really am incapable of discipline. I write when something makes a strong claim on me.


A British author of biography and history, Simon Sebag Montefiore , recently came out with a novel, Sashenka . When asked how writing fiction differed from writing his history books, he replied, "Totally joyful! ... It's just been a joy to imagine and make up things." Yet, when asked to describe his process as a writer, he responded:

I exist in a state of total chaos and free fall at all times. I have children and I work from home. When I have time I write and a lot of the time I am kind of stressed that I haven't got enough time.

Bestselling memoirist Frank McCourt described his process this way in an interview in the now-defunct Personal Journaling (Winter '99):

Every morning beginning at 8 a.m. I sat down with a composition book and in longhand wrote Angela's Ashes . Later, I'd type it into the computer to edit. I'd write until I petered out, usually four or five hours. I'd read about writers who were so regimented that every day they'd write 3,000 words. Ibsen's neighbors set their watch by his morning walk. That's not me.

Ethan Canin , author, once said during a public reading I attended,

The freeing moment is not a sensory experience. The freeing moment is sitting down and sometimes just writing two sentences and somehow that unlocks this other thing and it comes out. You cannot write a novel out of inspiration, out of a moment of genius. There's no substitute for sitting down every day for four hundred days and writing a page.

Chris Bohjalian , author of 11 novels, including Midwives, The Double Bind , and Skeletons at the Feast , was i nterviewed about his writing process , he explained that he has two desks. Only one has a computer on it.

I write the scenes on the computer, the lion's share of the draft, and print out scene by scene and edit by hand at that smaller desk with a fountain pen. When it comes to editing [fountain pens] force me to move slowly and methodically and ...; find the best synonym.

And finally, for today, popular science fiction novelist Nancy Kress told me in a long-ago interview that she tries

to make as little as possible interfere with the sleep state and the writing state. I get up, make a cup of coffee, feed the cat while the water's going -- this is all very defined -- take the first cup of coffee to bed and just sit there drinking it. And then I go and make another cup of coffee, bring that to bed, and I put the computer on a bed tray and I work in bed.

Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry