Wednesday, February 03, 2010

a good habit is hard to find


This morning I woke up at 6:00 AM with the goal of writing at least 500 words. That might not seem like a lot of words, especially when you think about NaNoWriMo - during which you average 1,1667 words per day - and the few times when, during certain Novembers, I wrote 10,000 words during one very long sitting. Compared to all that 500 is nothing, and that is precisely the point. If I can take the time to write 500 words, then I'll probably keep going. It's the sitting down that is the hardest part. Today I wrote about 700 and when I was done, I put a check mark on the calendar hanging over my desk. I'm going to see how long I can keep the chain going, which is a productivity trick I learned from Jerry Seinfeld, and the only good thing that ever came from that man as far as I'm concerned. (Sorry, Seinfeld die-hards. I've never been a fan.)

I posted my plan and subsequent success in a status update on Facebook (because people always hit the "like" button for stuff like that, and I'm a sucker for positive reinforcement) and a friend told me that this 500-words-a-day rule was one by which Hemingway claimed to live. Hemingway! I love Hemingway! And I would much rather emulate this habit than some of his others.

Which got me thinking of other writers, and what kind of habits they swore by. A brief and unverified Google search revealed the following:
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day, usually in the morning. He claimed to have never written while drunk. (We're two peas in a pod!) 
  • In his book On Writing, Stephen King says that he writes 10 pages a day without fail, even on holidays. (Beginning to feel a little like an underachiever.)
  • William Faulkner drank whiskey while writing. (Wine or beer sounds better, except I like to write in the mornings and alcohol is not exactly a healthy breakfast.)
  • Truman Capote had to write lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis, as the day wore on. (I like Capote's method! Except I think it would kill me.)
  • Junot Diaz writes in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, when he's stuck. (I don't think this would work for me. I'm very partial to my desk.)
  • Margaret Atwood moves back and forth between writing longhand and on the computer. When a narrative arc starts to take shape, she prints out chapters and arranges them in piles on the floor, and plays with the order by moving piles around.(I love Atwood! Plus, her approach sounds very crafty. I might try this!)
  • Anne Rice writes a chapter a day to make sure each section is consistent in its tone and style, and often works for eight or nine hours straight when she's in the middle of a novel. (Damn my full time job!) 
Moral of the story: a good habit is hard to find. Also, don't break the chain! 

Sources found here and here and here.

4 comments:

  1. How neat! Great way to learn to adopt better habits by finding out what the "masters" did/do. I still like Hemingway's method best. I've been trying something similar, a book I've been reading encourages two 15 minutes increments a day, for instance, one in the morning, one at night. So far I've only been able to accomplish the one in the morning, very randomly. So, my chain is broken already. :-(

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  2. That sounds like a great habit for you to take up.

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  3. ooh, interesting. i love hearing how other writers/creative folk manage to keep themselves motivated/get shit done. :)
    -finn

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  4. So far, so good. Today I wrote 6-something. I do love a challenge!

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