Do you write in the morning or the afternoon?
Do you write in longhand or on a computer, and if it is a computer, is it a Mac, and if so, what are your thoughts about the Apple Air?
Do you write with an animal nearby, and if so, is it a lemur?
Do you sit or stand? Bartleby the Scrivener stood. He was weird, right?
What do you wear when you're writing or even to bed?
Do you wear cologne because I'm smelling something and it smells like cookies. Is that you?
I wish I had a better answer than the reality.
I wish I could say, "Well, the answer is incredibly interesting. First, I perform a ritual cleansing, shaving my body of all hair. Next, I don a white linen robe. I stand before a window, facing east, where I address the sun. Words then flow from my body onto the page. Then I break for lunch."
I read once that W. Somerset Maugham had a rule to write 500 words a day. No more.
Hemingway spoke of stopping in the middle of a sentence so he could pick up the thread more easily the next day.
Others have used tricks to keep them in the chair. I read something once about the New Yorker writer John McPhee. Apparently he had a bad habit, early on, of getting up out of the chair. The story goes that he took a belt from a bathrobe and tied it to himself and to the chair.
McPhee once said, "I come into the office at 8:30 in the morning and I leave at 8:30 at night. During this time I'm allegedly writing. If I'm lucky, I do two or three hours of work a day. In the meantime, I slowly go nuts."
Philip Roth, before retiring, moved to Connecticut where he lived alone and wrote all day, every day.
Before I was married, I lived in Paris for a time. I was there to write my first novel, which (fortunately) was never published. I'd quit my job and taken some meager savings and done an apartment swap with some friends of friends.
I woke early, made a large pot of coffee, and wrote until noon.
Or rather, sat there until noon.
Sometimes I wrote. Other times I made notes. Still other times I stared out the window wondering why the French spoke so fast.
I had the luxury of time. Less so now.
Married, with two children and bills to pay, I have to make my living doing other things — time-consuming things. I'm also quite fond of my children (most times) and like spending time with them.
So when to write?
I find chunks of time.
I don't mind not having a schedule. If given an hour, I will sit there for an hour and write.
People think there's a secret. The secret is that there is no secret.
Sit down. Pick up a pen or pencil. Open the computer.
Type a sentence. Type another. And another.
The body shaving is optional. My advice? Avoid it.
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John Kenney has worked as a copywriter in New York City for 17 years. He has also been a contributor to the New Yorker since 1999. Some of his work appears in a collection of the New Yorker’s humor writing, Disquiet, Please! He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Books mentioned in this post
John Kenney is the author of Truth in Advertising