Daily routines of famous writers, part 2

I’m weirdly fascinated when I read about the daily routines of writers. I guess I’m curious to see if my routines are similar or different. I’m looking for the key to writing a good novel. I always come to the same conclusion: there is no magical ritual, there is no one way to write. Still, I continue to post these types of things.

These tidbits are from ShortList.com. Enjoy.

2 murakamiHaruki Murakami

  • Wakes at 4AM and works for five to six hours straight
  • In the afternoons, he runs or swims (or does both), takes care of errands, reads, and listens to music; he’s in bed by 9PM
  • In his own words: “I keep this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the most important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
  • Admits he doesn’t have much of a social life

Jane Austen

  • Woke up early, before the other women were up, and played piano
  • Organized family breakfast, her one major household chore
  • Wrote in the sitting room, often with her mother and sister sewing quietly nearby
  • Hid her papers and started sewing if visitors showed up
  • Ate dinner at 3 or 4 o’ clock
  • Read her work-in-progress to her family in the evening

1 orwellGeorge Orwell

  • Worked at a second-hand bookshop in London in the early morning, wrote in the late morning and afternoon, and went back to the shop in the evening

Victor Hugo

  • Woke at dawn, drank coffee, read his morning letter from his mistress, and swallowed two raw eggs
  • Enclosed himself in his lookout and wrote until 11AM
  • Wrote standing at a small desk in front of a mirror

Mark Twain

  • Ate a hearty breakfast and then went in his study and wrote until dinner at 5PM (he skipped lunch)
  • His family knew not to bother him. If they needed him, they would blow a horn

Stephen King

  • Writes every day of the year, including his birthday and holidays, and almost never lets himself quit before he reaches his daily quota of 2,000 words
  • Usually finishes between 11:30AM and 1:30PM
  • Spends the rest of his days napping, writing letters, reading, enjoying his family, and watching the Red Sox on TV

de beauvoirSimone De Beauvoir

  • Daily schedule focused on her work and her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Worked by herself in the morning, then joined Sartre for lunch. They worked together in silence at his apartment in the afternoon, then spent their evenings attending events, seeing movies, or drinking Scotch and listening to the radio at her apartment

Franz Kafka

  • Lived with his family in a cramped apartment, where he could muster the concentration to write only late at night, when everyone else was asleep
  • Usually wrote from 10:30 or 11:30PM until 1, 2, or 3 o’clock in the morning. Once he worked straight through until 6AM

Leo Tolstoy

  • Worked in isolation. Nobody was allowed to enter his study, and the doors to the adjoining rooms were locked to ensure he wasn’t interrupted
  • Wrote every day without fail, “not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine”

Charles Dickens

  • Needed absolute quiet; at one of his houses, he installed an extra door in his study to block out noise
  • Had a specific setup for his study: writing desk in front of a window and, on the desk itself, his writing materials (goose-quill pens and blue ink) laid out alongside specific ornaments: a small vase of fresh flowers, a large paper knife, a gilt leaf with a rabbit perched on it, and two bronze statuettes (one depicting a pair of fat toads dueling, the other a gentleman swarmed with puppies)


Source: ShortList.com



Just keep swimming

That’s what I think of when I’m struggling with writing–just keep swimming, just keep swimming. You know, from “Finding Nemo.” If you don’t know, you should watch that movie.

That one little phrase has helped me get through hard weeks at work, a week-long trek through the High Sierras, half marathons, and now this book revision.

I’ve come to see that publishing a book is about 20% talent, 20% luck, and 60% tenacity / stubbornness / refusal to give up / ownership of the “Just keep swimming” philosophy.

In the latest issue of Poets & Writers, author Rufi Thorpe says she thinks talent is pretty meaningless and it’s all about “perversity of spirit”:

“Talent is the least important thing about a writer, compared to a love of books, which must be deep and abiding. The only other thing a writer really needs is perversity of spirit, the emotional equivalent of a cartoon creature’s bouncy springiness, so that after being run over or blown up–or, in the case of the writer, rejected and then rejected some more–the writer is irrationally unfazed by even the most valid criticism and continues with the work of being a writer, magically unharmed.”

I’d say the “magically unharmed” bit isn’t exactly accurate. I’ve been harmed. But it just pisses me off and makes me want to publish a book that much more.

Thorpe goes on:

“You have to fall in love with the dark, formless place where the words come from. You have to be addicted to that deep sea inner world that is the reading and writing of books. And you have to be willing to ignore just about everything else.”

Ah, yes, the “deep sea inner world.” It can be a lonely, crazy-making place, but just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

Muse, I don’t have time to wait for you.

I’m writing this post as a means to procrastinate. I’m trudging along through my book revision and I have a very intense chapter to write today. With that in mind, I did every errand I could think of. And now here I am, blogging. I swear I will open the dreaded Word document right after I finish this. Really.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “the muse.” I used to think it was best to wait for inspiration to strike, then write. Now I think it’s best (for me) to start writing and get inspired somewhere along the way. Life has been very busy lately ,with lots of distractions, so I’ve been forcing the writing. But, you know, after those first few minutes of staring at the dreaded Word document, something excites me and it all starts to flow. There are days when it’s just not there, but those are rare. Usually, it’s there; I just have to coax it out.


Last week, Slice published an interview with Elissa Schappel, author, editor, book reviewer, and cofounder of Tin House. She said this about her muse:

“In my twenties I realized that the muse is a bum. The muse only shows up when you bait her by putting your ass in the chair. She can only be lured to your side by the sound of pounding keys, the smell of paper and ink.”

Yes, that’s it.

Well, sometimes that’s it.

Sometimes, I agree with what author Bill Hayes told the New York Times:

“Not writing can be good for one’s writing; indeed, it can make one a better writer… Don’t work through the pain; it will only hurt. Give yourself sufficient time to refresh.”

I have taken months-long breaks from writing over the years. Sometimes I was just too busy. Sometimes I was frustrated with the publishing industry. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like it. So, yeah, there is a place for what Bill Hayes is saying. The problem is that it can be too easy to rationalize that “time to refresh.” I know how that goes:

“Oh, Kim, you’ve had such a long week. You are way behind on episodes of The Killing on Netflix. You’ve cranked out a lot of pages recently. Just veg out today.”

It would be fine if I did veg out. But when else do I have a few hours to focus on an important chapter? I know that some magic will happen in those few hours, in spite of my whining. And, maybe when I’m done, as a reward, I can watch an episode or two of The Killing.

Off I go. Wish me luck.

Great book dedications

Looking at this funny gallery of book dedications makes me wonder who I would dedicate my book to, if I publish it. Or when–WHEN–I publish it. I’m still working on that optimism BS.

These are my current 2 contenders:

For all the trees who died so I could print out hundreds of drafts of this stupid thing.

For the weirdos in my life who never doubted I would publish this damn book, even though I doubted it every day.

Here are some of my favorites from the gallery:

dedication 1

dedication 2

dedication 3

dedication 4

dedication 5

dedication 6

dedication 7


Here we go again

I figure it’s time for a book update. I’ve left y’all hanging. So, at the end of June, I got an agent and she sent my book out to some publishers. Honestly, despite many disappointments with this process before, I was super hopeful. My agent seemed genuinely excited for the book and had so many positive things to say about it. I was convinced we’d find a publisher to share that enthusiasm.

But, you know, the publishing industry is just that–an industry. And a bitch. The publishing industry is a bitch.

I got a lot of comments along the lines of, “The writing is great, but…” And, after the “but” was vagueness like, “it just didn’t grab me” or “it’s lacking some thrust.” My first response to this was anger. After all, I’ve worked on this a long time. My agent had me believe that it would find a nice, cozy publishing home without much difficulty. I got super mopey and disillusioned, much to the annoyance of my ever-positive husband.

Then I got a few of these responses: “Love the story, but I’d like to see a revision.” My book jumps back and forth from past to present, and the interested editors want to see a revision to the present-day storyline. So, basically, they want to change half the book. Again, my first response was anger, ie “How dare they mess with my story!” My agent and my still-ever-positive husband convinced me to take a call with one of the editors. So I did. And she was really lovely and complimentary and totally into the idea of collaborating on the revision. Of course, there is no guarantee that once I revise it she will publish it. But, hey, I’ve come this far.

revise or else

I’ve just started doing some necessary research for the new storyline I have in mind. And I’ve started some preliminary outlining of the chapters I’ll need to update. My husband says I should be excited that I “get to” revise it. I think he is insane and I may have said the other night, “Sometimes I think you don’t understand me at all.” I like to think I’m NOT one of those dramatic creative people, but I kind of am. Sometimes. Especially when wine is involved.

I’m aiming to have something back to my agent in early November, before the holiday madness begins. Wish me luck. I’ll need it way more than I would like to admit. Because the publishing industry is a bitch.

Henry Miller’s 11 commandments

Last week, I posted Stephen King’s 22 writing tips. I went on a tip-finding spree of sorts and found these 11 commandments from Henry Miller (Source: Brain Pickings). He jotted these down during his 1932-33 year-of-writing. Oh, the wonders a good list can do for motivation.


1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

Yes, sir. I don’t know who can work on more than one fiction piece at once. Someone with multiple personalities? I would definitely get my characters confused.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”

“Black Spring” was his project at the time. This is his way of telling himself to focus on that, see it through. I am very good at abandoning projects when they really need some editing love. I move on to new things too soon because, honestly, sticking around is the hard part.

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

He lost me at “don’t be nervous.”

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

The exclamation point is jarring. He must have been very serious about this one. I guess it’s safe to say he’s a writer who thinks a solid routine is the key to success. I’m not always sure if I’m one of those writers, though I do see the benefits of sticking to a plan.

5. When you can’t create you can work.

Oh, yes. There’s always editing to do. Always. Things can always be tweaked. Writing a book and editing a book use very different areas of the brain. If one area is checked out for the day, the other can step in.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

“A little every day” should be my writing mantra.

7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Well, yeah, it’s super hard to write about the world in a realistic way if you’re not engaged in the world. This can be really difficult for introverted writers, but necessary.

8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

I had to Google “draught-horse.” Basically, it’s a horse that does a lot of heavy work (ploughing, farm labor, etc). This tip seems to counteract his others. I mean, sometimes, you just have to do the work even if it’s not fun. Sometimes you have to be a draught-horse, don’t you?

9. Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

Mr. Miller, you are confusing. Are we sticking to “the Program” or not? I am not very good with gray areas.

10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Hm, “forget” is an awfully strong word. Clearly, he wrote these tips when he was being lured away from his project at hand to start another project. I always get new ideas when I’m working on something. I just keep a little notebook with those ideas and go back to it later. But, truthfully, if an idea is that tantalizing, you won’t be able to forget it.

11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

What about my day job, sir?



22 tips from Stephen King

As one of the most successful and prolific writers that’s ever lived, I’d say Stephen King is a pretty good source for tips.

Source: Business Insider
(My thoughts in italics)

1. Stop watching television. Instead, read as much as possible.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, your television should be the first thing to go. It’s “poisonous to creativity,” he says. Writers need to look into themselves and turn toward the life of the imagination.

To do so, they should read as much as they can. King takes a book with him everywhere he goes, and even reads during meals. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” he says. Read widely, and constantly work to refine and redefine your own work as you do so.

Steve (can I call you Steve?), you’re killing me with this one. No television?! And just yesterday I was telling someone that my best friends are my pets and my DVR.

2. Prepare for more failure and criticism than you think you can deal with.

King compares writing fiction to crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub, because in both, “there’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.” Not only will you doubt yourself, but other people will doubt you, too. “If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all,” writes King.

Oftentimes, you have to continue writing even when you don’t feel like it. “Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea,” he writes. And when you fail, King suggests that you remain positive. “Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”

These are very wise words. And they are very needed since I have felt like giving up on fiction multiple times in the past 2 weeks.

3. Don’t waste time trying to please people.

According to King, rudeness should be the least of your concerns. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway,” he writes. King used to be ashamed of what he wrote, especially after receiving angry letters accusing him of being bigoted, homophobic, murderous, and even psychopathic.

By the age of 40, he realized that every decent writer has been accused of being a waste of talent. King has definitely come to terms with it. He writes, “If you disapprove, I can only shrug my shoulders. It’s what I have.” You can’t please all of your readers all the time, so King advises that you stop worrying.

Again, wise words. What’s tricky with being a writer is that you do kind of have to please your publisher… unless you’re so famous that you can tell people to f**k off. You’re that famous, Mr. K.


4. Write primarily for yourself.

You should write because it brings you happiness and fulfillment. As King says, “I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

Writer Kurt Vonnegut provides a similar insight: “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about,” he says. “It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”

This is exactly why I CANNOT quit writing, even when I really, really, really want to based on principle. I simply love it. The goal is to try to remember that little fact (“hey, I really like this”) when it sucks.

5. Tackle the things that are hardest to write.

“The most important things are the hardest things to say,” writes King. “They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings.” Most great pieces of writing are preceded with hours of thought. In King’s mind, “Writing is refined thinking.”

When tackling difficult issues, make sure you dig deeply. King says, “Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground … Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.” Writers should be like archaeologists, excavating for as much of the story as they can find.

I think this is why writing feels more exhausting to me than a 10-mile run.

6. When writing, disconnect from the rest of the world.

Writing should be a fully intimate activity. Put your desk in the corner of the room, and eliminate all possible distractions, from phones to open windows. King advises, “Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open.”

You should maintain total privacy between you and your work. Writing a first draft is “completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut — it’s the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts.”

This sounds dreamy and not very realistic for me. I either need to not have a day job or tell my loved ones to leave me alone on weekends. I suppose I can sneak in an hour of privacy here and there–oh, those precious moments.

7. Don’t be pretentious.

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones,” says King. He compares this mistake to dressing up a household pet in evening clothes — both the pet and the owner are embarrassed, because it’s completely excessive.

As iconic businessman David Ogilvy writes in a memo to his employees, “Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” Furthermore, don’t use symbols unless necessary. “Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity,” writes King.

I don’t really know a ton of big words, so I don’t have to worry about this one.

8. Avoid adverbs and long paragraphs.

As King emphasizes several times in his memoir, “the adverb is not your friend.” In fact, he believes that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” and compares them to dandelions that ruin your lawn. Adverbs are worst after “he said” and “she said” — those phrases are best left unadorned.

You should also pay attention to your paragraphs, so that they flow with the turns and rhythms of your story. “Paragraphs are almost always as important for how they look as for what they say,” says King.

I’m never absolutely sure what an adverb is. Yes, I taught English as a side job in college. Don’t judge me. But, yeah, a writing teacher told me a long time ago to get to the point or risk tiring out the reader.

9. Don’t get overly caught up in grammar.

According to King, writing is primarily about seduction, not precision. “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes,” writes King. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.” You should strive to make the reader forget that he or she is reading a story at all.

Oh, good, doesn’t sound like Mr. King is going to make me define an adverb.

10. Master the art of description.

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s,” writes King. The important part isn’t writing enough, but limiting how much you say. Visualize what you want your reader to experience, and then translate what you see in your mind into words on the page. You need to describe things “in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition,” he says.

The key to good description is clarity, both in observation and in writing. Use fresh images and simple vocabulary to avoid exhausting your reader. “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling,” notes King.

This is a really good piece of advice. In some of the best scenes I’ve read, the actual description is pretty bare bones, but the picture in my head is so full of color and detail. Readers want to be invited to imagine.

11. Don’t give too much background information.

“What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story,” writes King. “The latter is good. The former is not.” Make sure you only include details that move your story forward and that persuade your reader to continue reading.

If you need to do research, make sure it doesn’t overshadow the story. Research belongs “as far in the background and the back story as you can get it,” says King. You may be entranced by what you’re learning, but your readers are going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.

Oh, yes, the unnecessary back story. I am guilty of this. I’ve learned that it’s good to be curious about every little thing about characters–where they came from, their favorite foods, etc. But you don’t need to include all those little things in a story. 

12. Tell stories about what people actually do.

“Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do — to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street,” writes King. The people in your stories are what readers care about the most, so make sure you acknowledge all the dimensions your characters may have.

Well, yeah, this makes sense. Humans aren’t one-dimensional, so characters probably shouldn’t be either.

13. Take risks; don’t play it safe.

First and foremost, stop using the passive voice. It’s the biggest indicator of fear. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing,” King says. Writers should throw back their shoulders, stick out their chins, and put their writing in charge.

“Try any goddamn thing you like, no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it,” King says.

I think this is tied very much to #4 and #5.

14. Realize that you don’t need drugs to be a good writer.

“The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time,” says King. In his eyes, substance-abusing writers are just substance-abusers. “Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit.”

I am a terrible writer when intoxicated. I’m glad I’ve realized that.

15. Don’t try to steal someone else’s voice.

As King says, “You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile.” When you try to mimic another writer’s style for any reason other than practice, you’ll produce nothing but “pale imitations.” This is because you can never try to replicate the way someone feels and experiences truth, especially not through a surface-level glance at vocabulary and plot.

When I was young, I tried to copy people and I think it was actually a good exercise. It got me more in touch with what felt authentic to me. So,  I say play around and see what feels right.

16. Understand that writing is a form of telepathy.

“All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing is the purest distillation,” says King. An important element of writing is transference. Your job isn’t to write words on the page, but rather to transfer the ideas inside your head into the heads of your readers.

“Words are just the medium through which the transfer happens,” says King. In his advice on writing, Vonnegut also recommends that writers “use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

You lost me here.

17. Take your writing seriously.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or despair,” says King. “Come to it any way but lightly.” If you don’t want to take your writing seriously, he suggests that you close the book and do something else.

As writer Susan Sontag says, “The story must strike a nerve — in me. My heart should start pounding when I hear the first line in my head. I start trembling at the risk.”

Hmm, if I take my writing too seriously I get paralyzed. I have to keep it light. And, then, when I have a full manuscript, I get serious about the editing.

18. Write every single day.

“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop, and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to,” says King. “If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind … I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.”

If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, King describes the moment as “the smooch of death.” His best advice is to just take it “one word at a time.”

I wrote every day for 100 days and that went well. But I don’t know if it’s always realistic to write every single day if you have a job and obligations to other humans. I try not to set any rules like this because then I just get annoyed with myself when I break them. I do agree that momentum is crucial when writing a novel though. You can’t let too many days pass between writing sessions.

19. Finish your first draft in three months.

King likes to write 10 pages a day. Over a three-month span, that amounts to around 180,000 words. “The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season,” he says. If you spend too long on your piece, King believes the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.

I completely agree with this. Barf it out, then clean it up.

20. When you’re finished writing, take a long step back.

King suggests six weeks of “recuperation time” after you’re done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development. He asserts that a writer’s original perception of a character could be just as faulty as the reader’s.

King compares the writing and revision process to nature. “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees,” he writes. “When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” When you do find your mistakes, he says that “you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us.”

I completely agree with this too. I always need a BIG break after I write a book. It takes weeks before I can look at it again and see what needs fixing.

21. Have the guts to cut.

When revising, writers often have a difficult time letting go of words they spent so much time writing. But, as King advises, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Although revision is one of the most difficult parts of writing, you need to leave out the boring parts in order to move the story along. In his advice on writing, Vonnegut suggests, “If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.”

Editing is easier after you’ve taken that break after writing a book. I’ll go back and look at entire chapters and cross them out, even though they seemed so important as I was writing them.

22. Stay married, be healthy, and live a good life.

King attributes his success to two things: his physical health and his marriage. “The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible,” he writes.



Source: Business Insider