I am a creature of habits, some good, some bad. One of the good ones is that I try to write everyday: it's my job. Whether it's working on my new novel or a blog, first thing in the morning, I turn on my computer and get myself set up: my current draft on the left side of the screen, my notes on the right side, and Thesaurus.com in the middle.
I'm lucky. I have a nice office with a comfortable chair, good music in the background (the three Mozart/da Ponte operas, Keith Jarrett solo, Pandora's Chopin and Martha Argerich radio, etc.), and a sliding glass door so that I can walk outside into my backyard anytime I want.
Sometimes I'll hit the floor for twenty-five push-ups. Sometimes I'll go into the kitchen to re-heat my coffee. Sometimes I'll go into the kitchen to get ice for my coffee. Sometimes I'll play a hand of Internet bridge on BridgeBaseOnline. Sometimes I'll go outside and shoot some baskets on my half-court. I'll let our foster dog Chloe in and out of the house a million times. I'll water some plants. I'll replenished the hummingbird feeder if it needs it. Sometimes I'll check MSNBC/CNN/Fox/Thom Hartmann for the latest political gossip. Sometimes I'll call a friend.
I'm a master at procrastination, but I always go back to work. I give myself nothing else to do.
Although writing is definitely "brain work," it takes a physical toll, too. I've been checking out what other writers do, what strange and not-so-strange habits they've embraced in order to get the work done.
Truman Capote wrote lying down, as did Marcel Proust, Mark Twain and Woody Allen.
Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, and George Sand all wrote standing up.
Roth "walks half a mile for every page" and wrote in a shed.
Roald Dahl also wrote in a shed.
Elmore Leonard writes on yellow legal pads.
Don DeLillo types each paragraph onto its own sheet of paper, so that he might concentrate better.
Gay Talese would pin pages of his writing to a wall and examine them from the other side of the room with binoculars.
Jonathan Safran Foer has a collection of blank sheets of paper.
Ethan Canin copied John Cheever paragraphs out to learn what made the man's writing tick.
J.G. Ballard, a fan of discipline in writing, prepared very long outlines, and aimed for 1,000 words a day.
Walter Benjamin advocated delaying writing an idea as long as possible, so that it would be more maturely developed.
Will Self uses a wall of Post-It notes to plan and structure his writing.
Both Graham Greene and Larry McMurtry wrote 300-350 words a day, every day.
Wallace Stevens composed his poems on slips of paper while walking, and then gave them to his secretary to type up.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote his final drafts on separate pieces of paper attached to a scroll with sealing wax.
Jack Kerouac wrote ON THE ROAD on one continuous roll of paper.
James Joyce wrote lying on his stomach in bed, with a large blue pencil, dressed in a white coat.
John Steinbeck wrote his drafts in pencil and always kept twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his deak.
Truman Capote was superstitious: he wouldn't begin or end a piece of work on a Friday ... wouldn't stay in a hotel room that had the number "13" in it ... and never left more than three cigarette butts in an ashtray.
William Golding, Norman Mailer, and Arthur Conan Doyle all claimed to write 3,000 a day. Stephen King's quota is 2,000 words. Thomas Wolfe aimed for 1,800 words.
Anthony Trollope trained himself to write 250 words every 15 minutes, pacing himself with a watch.
John McPhee ties himself to his desk with neckties, so that he has to stay there and write.
Friedrich Schiller kept rotten apples in the bottom drawer of his desk. The smell somehow inspired him.
Agatha Christie ate apples in her bathtub while conceiving her plots. Flannery O'Connor loved vanilla wafers. Vladimir Nabokov loved molasses.
Gertrude Stein and Vladimir Nabokov liked to write in parked cars.
Sir Walter Scott composed poetry on horseback.
Maya Angelou would leave her apartment in the morning around 7 a.m., go to a tiny, bare hotel room, and write until 2 p.m. The only things she brought with her were a Bible, a deck of cards or book of crossword puzzles, and a bottle of sherry.
Balzac's daily schedule was quite unusual. He'd eat a light dinner and be in bed by 6 p.m., before rising at 1 a.m. for his first seven-hour stretch of writing. At 8 a.m., he would take a 90-minute nap, then wake up and write until 4 p.m. Then he would take a walk, visit with friends, and take a bath, bringing him back to his 6 p.m. bedtime. It's remarkable that he could sleep at all since he was known to drink around 50 cups of coffee a day.
Edith Wharton famously wrote from bed every morning, surrounded by her little dogs and aided by servants who picked up and organized the sheets of paper that she dropped to the floor.
Vladimir Nabokov wrote on index cards that he could re-arrange easily. His novel ADA took him 2,000 cards.
To meet his deadline for THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME, Victor Hugo had all his clothes confiscated so that he had stay inside and finish his manuscript.
That seems a little extreme, but whatever it takes, right?
I subscribe to the Woody Allen Theory of Life that "Eighty percent of success is showing up." I show up – at my keyboard – every day.
As Picasso once said, "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."
I'm very lucky to be able to work at the work that I love.