I read somewhere that Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words day in and day out, "wife in and wife out." For years I have resisted imposing that kind of structure on myself. There have always been enough "have tos" and "must dos" in my life, I didn't feel I needed anymore. Forcing myself to write would take away the joy and leave me with just a job. But now I am rethinking my position. Talking Books by James Carter, is a collection of interviews with mostly British contemporary children's writers." The writers discuss their journey to becoming authors including schooling, favorite books, writing habits, family life, etc. etc. I keep the book in an orange metal magazine rack in the loo, along with other pick-up-and-put-down periodicals. One of my favorite interviews in the book is with Phillip Pullman. Each morning, Pullman he goes down to cluttered, filthy, messy garden shed "and generally write[s] three pages by lunchtime, always by hand." Pullman is very specific about the type of paper he writes on--never recycled because it's "too gritty and full of bits of twig and stuff." He selects a type of paper for "each particular book and it's got to be used for only that book and nothing else." He color codes the corner of each piece of paper: Subtle Knife's color was yellow; Northern Lights color was indigo.
John Cheever, the short story master, used to go downstairs to the boiler room of his apartment building, take off and put back on his suit and then return to his apartment, thus beginning his writing day. (I also recall reading that he wrote naked in the boiler room of his building.) I prefer the first scenario.
Cheerer's and Pullman's routines sound OCD, Hemingway's less so, until you consider that along with "wife in and wife out" he purportedly kept this 500 word commitment war in and war out, safaring, fishing, binging whatever. I prefer to think of it as ritualistic--like baseball players who don't change their socks during a winning streak or my daughter who kisses her fingers and touches the ceiling of the car whenever she goes through a yellow light--mindful.
"As a writer," Pullman says, "you have to write whether you've got ideas or not, whether or not you're feeling inspired. He notes that people who do not write talk "as if it all depended on inspiration" and the way they say it makes it seem as though they too could be writers if only this "mysterious inspiration" would strike them. "The trick is to write just as well when you're not feeling inspired as when you are" --Do the Hemingway.
Pullman believes that success in writing is due to three things: "talent, hard work and luck" and the "only one you have any control over is the hard work" --Do the Hemingway.
So I am rethinking my writing life. Maybe these rituals are good things. I ritualistically brush my teeth everyday--and put the cap back on; I eat breakfast, make coffee, make phone calls first thing every morning--day in and day out. Committing to write a certain number of words, pages, minutes could be a good for my writing life. And on some days, if I'm lucky, if I work hard--Doing the Hemingway-- inspiration will strike.