This month in our ‘Writers Ask Writers’ blog series, we’ve asked: which other writer, living or dead, we would like to be for a day?
I’d also like to welcome our guest blogger, Kirsten Krauth, author of newly published Just A Girl who blogs over at Wild Colonial Girl.
When Sara Foster first suggested this topic, I was excited. I thought of all the literary greats who I imagined spending more time ‘living’ than actually writing. Did I want to be Ernest Hemingway, who wrote standing up in pencil before typing anything, and took a one mile swim without fail every day? Or Henry Miller, who made sure to enjoy dinner with friends or explore his local area on foot in the evening?
|Ernest Hemingway – working standing up|
I wanted to write about the stereotype of the ideal writer: someone who is free to write when they want, read when they want, and take the day off when they want. That’s the life I wanted, and the one I am realising doesn’t exist. The more I researched successful writers, who have made writing their career, I realised that they don’t just sit on the patio with a bottle of whisky and ‘think’, or read whatever they like whenever they feel like it. They write – every day. They work hard.
I was amazed at how many writers write in the early morning, and then exercise in the afternoon. I read about Haruki Murakami, who rises at 4 and writes for five or six hours. Barbara Kingsolver, who wakes at four, because her mind ‘is too full of words’. I was also surprised by how many writers work standing up, or pacing. Ernest Hemingway. Phillip Roth. A.J.Jacobs writes while walking on a treadmill. I’m pretty sure I would fall off.
I was also fascinated by how many writers, when asked in interviews about their routine, added a caveat. They warn people that writing takes a lot of work. As if people believe that books just fall out of people, with no labour involved. Khalid Housseni, who argues ‘To be a writer…you actually have to write. You have to write every day, whether you feel like it or not.’ And Jodi Piccout, who says ‘I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands’. And Maya Angelou, who said ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’ Karen Russell, a Pulitzer shortlisted author, says that ‘showing up and staying present is a good writing day.’
It would be easy for me to idealise one of these writers, or someone else, as having my ideal writing life. But I would be letting myself believe in a fantasy. Something intrinsic stops me doing that. I can’t allow myself to wax lyrical about the cliches of writing, without giving away something important.
When I think about other writers, its not their lifestyle that I covet. It’s their ability to write, and all the interviews I’ve read underline that these people are hard workers. They talk about finding it difficult to motivate themselves to stay in their story, without distraction. It’s not easy to self-motivate, but they do it, and that’s how they improve.
It’s important to me to believe that the effort I put into sitting down every day for 5 hours in my office, and trying my best to work, is how I will get better, and keep improving, and create work I am proud of. Without that, all the other moments, when you cut loose and give yourself the afternoon off, or enjoy a long lunch aren’t enjoyable. Because you don’t deserve them.
I think the person I’m going to choose to jump into the shoes of is someone who I’d like to be inside the mind of, rather than coveting their routine. I could choose Margaret Atwood for her descriptive powers. Or Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Dan Brown or J K Rowling for their plotting abilities, something I find reminiscent of doing a Rubix Cube in the dark. I would like to spend time in the shoes of these writers so I can learn from them.
But today, as I try to hone my second book into something more than a mess of words, I’m going to choose Ernest Hemingway, whose prose is so clean, and who can write a short story or novel where no words (none!) are wasted.
But I know that he only learned what he did through hard work, through sitting down and improving day by day, word by word. And for that, I don’t want to be anyone else but me. I want to work hard at this, and I want the energy I put into it to pay off in my own writing. Let’s hope I have what it takes.
And now I’ll hand over to my writing friends:
Annabel Smith AKA Truman Capote
Dawn Barker AKA Mary Shelley
Natasha Lester AKA Joan Dideon
Sara Foster AKA J K Rowling
Amanda Curtin AKA Katharine Susannah Prichard
Kirsten Krauth AKA Leonard Cohen