In , under a section titled Daily Routine , Henry Miller footnotes his 11 commandments of writing with this wonderful blueprint for productivity, inspiration, and mental health:. Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all. Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride.
Cut the movies! Library for references once a week. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections.
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Then I continue from there. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him. When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.
You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.
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When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through. I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours.
No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes — I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet. A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. Looking out the window, reading random entries in the dictionary.
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Productivity maniac Benjamin Franklin had a formidably rigorous daily routine:. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for m or do both , then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
William Gibson tells the Paris Review in I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.
As I move through the book it becomes more demanding.
At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. Maya Angelou shares her day with Paris Review in I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution.
I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home.
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I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And to blue pencil it. Many times he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times over the years I have said to him things like: I will never speak to you again. That is it. Thank you very much. And I leave. Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions.
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If you do, I will never speak to you again. About two years ago I was visiting him and his wife in the Hamptons. I was at the end of a dining room table with a sit-down dinner of about fourteen people. Way at the end I said to someone, I sent him telegrams over the years. She then adds in the fifth volume , in Lastly, the Kurt Vonnegut routine that inspired this omnibus, recorded in a letter to his wife in In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. What they have worked out is this: I awake at , work until , eat breakfast at home, work until , walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at , read the mail, eat lunch at noon.
In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. Not the most original method I'll wager, but this is tried and tested. Pupils divide a page in their jotter and give each quarter the headings likes, dislikes, motivations and flaws. What makes these complex and rich characters? What makes them get out of bed every morning? What stops them from achieving their ultimate goals in life? How would they react in various situations? Once pupils have thought about these characters, I ask them to complete the page in their jotter with as many pieces of detail as they can for their own character.
They swap with a partner and, using another person's character notes, write a monologue beginning with the line, "I lay away, unable to sleep, and all because…" What is this new character excited about, or scared of? What have they done or what will they have to do? This exercise is always busy, exciting and produces promising and complex pieces of writing. There's something a bit weird about the idea of being a writer; it's a vague, wishy-washy concept for students. They don't yet understand the hours of admin, self-promotion, editing, graft, grief and rejection that writers go through.
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Many pupls seem to think writers have great lives, are fabulously wealthy and sit around all day making up stories, all of which go on to be published without much bother at all. So I always like to find video clips of writers talking about writing, sharing the pain they've gone through, their thought processes and daily routines. If you can find video clips of a writer whose work you're using as a model or studying in class, then this can really help pupils to engage with their work.
YouTube is full of interviews with writers, recordings of book festival appearances and spoken-word performances. Being a Scottish teacher working in Scotland, I use of a suite of videos filmed and hosted by Education Scotland , which features a number of writers discussing their inspirations and motivations, how to create characters, how to write in genre and how to redraft. The videos are all around five minutes long which makes them excellent starter activities; you can find them here. This can be modelled in class by the teacher projecting their work onto the whiteboard.
Most pupils assume that once they've chosen a narrative perspective and tense, their narrative voice will take care of itself. But with a little coaching and training, maybe we can hone their skills and abilities that much more. Narrative distance is the proximity of a reader's experience to the character's thoughts.
How close will we get? A close-up narrative would allow us to share the character's complete thought process, hear their heartbeat, feel their discomfort. A mid-distance narrative would give us key insights into pertinent thoughts the character has, but not bother us with every detail; we would see the character going into a coffee shop and have to surmise their mood and personality by observing how they react and interact. This is more of a film director's vantage point.
And for a long-distance narrative, we only see the character from a distance — in the midst of other people, operating in a vast and complex society. We would come to understand them from the way they move through the world and the opinions that other characters have of them. It's a bird's eye view. There is a lot in here, and mastering these narrative distances would take considerable effort and time. But if pupils could get to grips with them and become comfortable in zooming in and out on a story, then they will have developed some intricate and powerful writing abilities.
The oldest trick in the book, perhaps, but still a good one. Writing Prompts is an excellent website full of creative writing resources to use in class.
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