‘Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’ – Gustave Flaubert
‘Been working every day and going good. Makes a hell of a dull life too.’ – Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Malcolm Cowley
Flaubert’s advice is now an oft-quoted maxim for writers, and it certainly helps to have a routine. A life that is made of early mornings, healthy food, exercise, a dedicated time for writing and the same for reading, and early bedtimes, is ideal for a writer’s productivity. I have been adhering to this routine for a while now and while I can attest to its wisdom, it goes against my nature. I hate routine. It’s anathema to me. I’m also someone who enjoys other people, having chats and craic and great company, feeling like I’m a part of the world. As a result, quiet early nights and no socialising is not my first choice, but it has to be done.
Sometimes I think I picked the wrong career. Not only am I a very social person, but I’m also an incredibly impatient person which clearly isn’t ideal when you’re facing into a long creative process. I wonder is writing a novel actually the longest creative process there is? You can make a movie, record an album, paint a picture or choreograph a ballet in less time than it takes to write a novel. From my own experience and talking to other writers, it would appear that between two-and-a-half and four years is about average. Of course there are exceptions like On The Road (first draft written in three weeks) or The Sun Also Rises (first draft written in two months), but for the rest of us it takes a lot longer than that.
Sometimes I ask myself why I’m still writing. The answer is twofold. Firstly because it’s not a career that I chose, it’s more of a compulsion. I have written in one form or another (poetry, songs, attempts at short stories, two novels) since my teens and I suppose even if I never get a book deal, I’ll still feel compelled to write for the rest of my life.
Secondly because it’s the best job I’ve ever had. The rest of the Hemingway quote above is, ‘But it is more fun than anything else…Do you suffer when you write? I don’t at all. Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing.’ Amen to that Ernest!