Professor Wu's Rulebook

Writing against impossible odds – what does your writing day look like?


‘There is nothing so dangerous to good writing as having too much time, too much liberty. You need the filtration system of being kept from your work,’ so says renown author Maggie O’Farrel. Writing in The Guardian, she says that “the idea that there is a typical ‘writing day’ makes me laugh”.

Here at Nothing in the Rulebook, we’ve previously asked whether there is such a thing as ‘the perfect daily routine’ for writing, examining in the process the writing habits of a number of literary titans. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, stuck to a regimented routine of writing, reading, exercise and general life admin.

But are such routines only available to those writers who are not dependent upon other sources of income? With author’s incomes collapsing to ‘near abject’ levels, many writers, both established or aspiring, must balance the requirements of writing with the rigors of a 9 to 5 job. And while certain literary voices, such as legendary poet Charles Bukowski, can urge you to quit your soul sucking job to pursue your dreams, it’s obviously more easily said than done.

Some writers, such as Willa Cather, have elucidated at great lengths that face writers who must also work regular jobs. But even if you are free of the challenges that face employees in the hurly burly world of the modern capitalist workplace, what of other demands of day-today human existence?

In her article, O’Farrel notes that it is not just about the work than brings in additional income, but also the work of being a mother – and of being a fully functioning social adult in the modern world.

“Life with children precludes such planning, such routine, such predictability. Last week, for example, my writing mornings were disrupted and erased by, in no particular order: the cat being copiously indisposed on sofa and carpet; my daughter drawing a seascape of swimming lions on top of some notes I had made; one child sent home ill from school; and another requiring lifts to and from concert rehearsals.”

The challenges facing writers who wish to establish a regular pattern of writing into their day-to-day lives are steep. As O’Farrell notes: “All books are written against impossible odds”.

And of course this is just on the practical side of things – before we even start to consider some of the more existential challenges writers must grapple with; including the need to “struggle with integrity” as James Baldwin says.

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. Some practical advice may be to include exercise in your daily routines, as so many creatives do. But perhaps it ultimately comes down to a matter of attitude. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote to a close family friend and aspiring young writer: “nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one”. It takes time, and effort – and the struggle to face the challenges of writing and becoming ‘a writer’ is part of what you do when you love something enough, and when you’re drawn to write without question – when the thought of not writing is impossible to contemplate; when not writing becomes more difficult than all the difficulties one must face in trying to write, to express yourself.

These are just the thoughts that spring to mind when reading O’Farrell’s insightful article, which you can read on The Guardian here. So what do you think? Is there such a thing as a typical writing day? If so, what does yours look like? Or what would yours look like in an ideal world? Let us know in the comments below!

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