Kay’s Journal: Writers on the Writing Habit

Here’s what I’m thinking about this week!

I’m restoring myself to balance after that intense sprint of curriculum writing that ate the entire month of January. It’s now in pilot stages and exceeding my expectations. Happy endings!

This weekend I returned attention to my moldering creative writing project. My critique group meets tonight and I had not submitted original material on my novellas since October (!). To get myself in the mood, I pulled from the shelves Donald M. Murray’s Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers,  a compilation of quotations about writing and its craft. Here are some quotes from the chapter “On the writing habit” that speak to me this morning.

On the writing habit

What civilians do not understand–and to a writer anyone not a writer is a civilian–is that writing is manual labor of the mind: a job, like laying pipe. –John Gregory Dunne

Talent is cheap. What matters is discipline. –Andre’ Dubus

Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it. -Madeline L’Engle

I try to write for three hours in the morning, and if I don’t write anything, I sit and stare at the paper–otherwise, nothing would ever be written. –Molly Keane

It’s hard, but I work every day–weekends, too…. Every day I do something. Left foot, right foot. –William Kennedy

It’s not any romantic question of inspiration. Any productive writer learns you can’t wait for inspiration. That’s a recipe for writer’s block. –Susan Sontag

Use the day before the day. Early morning hours have gold in their mouth. –Goethe

I didn’t express confidence so much as blind faith that if you go in and work every day it will get better. Three days will go by and you will think every day is terrible. But on the fourth day, if you do go in, if you don’t go into town or out into the garden, something usually will break through. –Joan Didion

On quotas:

If I type a single page with small margins, that’s about 600 words. If I do one page, I’m very happy; that’s my day’s work. –E. L. Doctorow

I get up in the morning, that’s one of the hard partsm drag myself over to the old typewriter and sit down–that’s even harder–and then I tell the Lord, “I ain’t greedy Lord, just give me the next 500 words.” –Harry Crews

I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. –Ray Bradbury

I write on a quota basis. I try to write three or four yellow pages a day, five days a week. If you keep doing that with some–almost religious–dedication, the books mount up over the years. –Robert Coles

The day’s quota for me is twenty-seven lines on a legal pad. Twenty-seven lines because twenty-seven lines add up to one typed page. I write with pen and ink, and I type it all up at the end of the week. I’m not allowed to go to bed that night until I have finished my twenty-seven line quota for that day. And I do that six days a week until the novel or story is finished. –Reynolds Price

I write a thousand words a day when I’m writing. Minimum. There’s no deviation from that. I write a thousand words a day, every day. –Joseph Wambaugh

Writing a book is like rearing children–willpower has very little to do with it. If you have a little baby crying in the middle of the night, and if you depend only on willpower to get you out of bed to feed the baby, that baby will starve. You do it out of love. –Annie Dillard

I sink into my morning chair, a blotter on my knee, the last words or deed of some character in ink before my eyes, a pen in my hand, a pipe in my mouth, and nothing in my head. I sit. I don’t intend; I don’t expect; I don’t even hope. Gradually my mind seems to leave the chair and be where my character is acting or speaking, leg raised, waiting to come down, lips opened ready to say something. –John Galsworthy

Writing is essentially about going into a room by yourself and doing it.– William Goldman

From Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers, Donald M. Murray. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers. 1990.

What are your writing habits? Tell us in the Comments section!





3 Responses to Kay’s Journal: Writers on the Writing Habit

  1. Katherine Cox Stevenson February 7, 2018 at 11:21 am #

    Thrilled to be part of your pilot Kay. Such fabulous quotes. Thank you!

    I don’t have structured writing habits as such although do write in my journal daily. Sometimes in the morning. Other times during nice weather I take my journal to the beach or the woods and write there.

    I am writing a memoir and seem to need deadlines otherwise my inner critic gets a stronger hold. I am in my 4th month of 6 working with a memoir mentor and submit 20 pages to her every second week.

    I also virtually write, with a mutual friend, Linda Barnes. Fridays we both write knowing the other is as well. Helps me for accountability.

    If I miss a day writing I feel it in my body. Something big missing. I equate writing with exercise and nutrition for my health.

    Thanks for the question. I look forward to others’ responses.

    • Kay Adams February 10, 2018 at 11:09 am #

      Your note, “If I miss a day writing I feel it in my body” reminds me of the cellist Pablo Casals who said “If I don’t practice one day, I notice. If I don’t practice two days, my peers notice. If I don’t practice three days, the world notices.”

  2. Katherine Cox Stevenson February 13, 2018 at 11:47 am #

    Love this Kay! Thank you. Just wrote that quote in my journal.

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