Thursday, November 4, 2010

To Write Daily Or To Not Write Daily

I’ve been reading Writers On Writing, A collection of Essays by Writers. Two stand out for their contradiction.
Carolyn Chute, author of four novels, (her first, The Beans of Egypt Maine was a critical, yet controversial success) says:
“I am an unmarketable person. I can’t teach writing or make a living in any public way, as I get confused when interrupted or over-stimulated. So, my only income is from novels. I make about $2 an hour. This should explain the absence of dishwasher, clothes dryer, running hot water, electricity, health insurance and other such luxuries.

Writing is like meditation or going into an ESP trance, or prayer. Like dreaming. You are tapping into your unconsciousness. To be fully conscious and alert with life banging and popping and cuckooing all around you, you are not going to find your way to your subconscious, which is a place of complete submission. It takes me three days of complete boredom and no interruptions to calm myself enough to get to that place."

Walter Mosley, famous and acclaimed author of over thirty books, including, the Easy Rawlings mystery series, says:

“If you want to be a writer you have to write every single day. The consistencies, the monotony, the certainty, all vagaries and passions are covered by this daily recurrence. It doesn’t matter what time of day, and there’s no time limit on how long you have to write. Some days it might only be a few minutes, other days it might be a few hours. The important thing is that you breathe and dream your writing every single day or it will lose its life.

Nothing we create is art at first. It’s simply a collection of notions that may never be understood. Returning every day thickens the atmosphere. Images appear. Connections are made. But even these clearer notions will fade if you stay away more than a day.”

Mosley is a commercial and financial success with a plethora of novels behind him and in front of him. He is a good and admirable writer. Chute is not as well known, she lives quietly and poorly in the woods (with her also “unmarketable” husband) yet she is just as committed to her process and her personality. She is poor, but she is honest. She is a good and admirable writer.

Is it possible to be a writer who is a little of both? Can we write daily and also not-write daily? Is every writer a walking contradiction?


  1. Lisa, I certainly hope so: Because I haven't been writing. After graduation, I felt the need to take care of things that had gone uncared for, to rest, to reboot, and to reorganize my mind and workspace. I also felt I the need for distance from my story so I could return to it with gusto and some degree of objectivity. It's taken more time than I expected, but I don't feel (too) guilty about it. My critical thesis work with Ursula taught me to "go with the flow," and (because of my Hamline experience) I now have confidence in the fact that I truly am a writer. I will write. And I will finish all that I undertake.

    This week, my studio space finally came back together. It's less cluttered, and so is my mind. So, back to the two pages a day (or more) I go. I have a new deadline. A deadline is always a good motivator.

  2. Reading those two entries I had desire to read Carolyn Chute, but not Mosley. I certainly felt a kinship with her process and definition.

  3. Do you think it's a writer-gender thing? I have noticed that many of the male writers I read about or hear talk are far more rigid about writing every single day, and more women will admit that they don't/can't etc... not all, of course, but generally speaking.

    Ed is far more disciplined than I am with his routine, (I am only focused in intense spurts whereas he works at least three focused hours every day) but we are both about equally productive in the end.

  4. Hmmm. And not a one mentions anything about writing with a six-year old screaming "I'm going to KILL you!" to a sibling in the background, or while in the carpool line at a child's school, or between visits from their daughter's kindergarten friend, whom they'd so smartly had over to play (so they could get some writing done), who interrupted every five minutes with, "I want to go home now. Well, maybe in a minute."

    Why is that, I wonder?

  5. Yeah, Virginia Woolf says that a woman needs a room of her own, but how can the woman stay in that room if the whole house falls apart without her? It's like a dang double standard. And it might be part of the reason why the few men in children's lit get the lion's share of the attention and the awards. Also I believe there's a strong bias toward males, even on the female side -- I've noticed this myself when listing my favorite authors -- but I digress.

    I WANT to be disciplined and work daily. The reality is I don't. But I'm undisciplined in other things too. Discipline is something to develop, like a muscle. I have a blue-collar muse and I don't think I need all the trance time. If I work, I get into that space. Not always. It's like fishing: sometimes you get a bite, sometimes you don't. But if you don't show up at the fishing hole, you definitely won't get a bite!