How did self-declared “middle-aged Portland housewife” Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) spend her day? In 1988, the acclaimed novelist of science fiction and speculative fiction shared her daily routine. If routine sounds dull and uninspiring, anathema to creativity, Le Guin’s fellow writer, Stephen King tells us that it’s “not any different than a bedtime routine. Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.” Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott (23 January 1930 – 17 March 2017) observed in 1985 that, “Any serious attempt to try to do something worthwhile is ritualistic.”
Even the apparently haphazard can be routine. Belgian author Georges Simenon (13 February 1903 – 4 September 1989) would write in bursts of activity broken by weeks or no writing at all. When he was working on one of the hundreds of books – in 1928 alone he wrote 44 novels – Simenon would wear the same outfit everyday (a checked Abercrombie & Fitch sports shirt), pop tranquilizers and have copious amounts of sex, with as many as four different women a day.
For many would-be writers, these insights show the need to find your own space and a develop a routine that fits with your life. When he first started writing, lawyer John Grisham had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”
In 2015, Le Guin addressed question, ‘How do you make something good’ submitted by a student of her free online writing course.
Inexperienced writers tend to seek the recipes for writing well. You buy the cookbook, you take the list of ingredients, you follow the directions, and behold! A masterpiece! The Never-Falling Soufflé!
Wouldn’t it be nice? But alas, there are no recipes. We have no Julia Child. Successful professional writers are not withholding mysterious secrets from eager beginners. The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time.
In 2019, she added (via):
A story is, after all, and before everything else, dynamic: it starts Here, because it’s going There. Its life principle is the same as a river: to keep moving. Fast or slow, straight or erratic, headlong or meandering, but going, till it gets There. The ideas it expresses, the research it embodies, the timeless inspirations it may offer, are all subordinate to and part of that onward movement. The end itself may not be very important; it is the journey that counts. I don’t know much about “flow” states, but I know that the onward flow of a story is what carries a writer from the start to the end of it, along with the whole boatload of characters and ideas and knowledge and meaning — and carries the reader in the same boat.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Daily Routine
5:30 a.m. – Wake up and lie there and think.
6:15 a.m. – Get up eat breakfast (lots).
7:15. -a.m – get to work, writing, writing and writing.
Noon – Lunch.
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. – reading, music.
3:00 – 5:00 p.m. – correspondence, maybe housecleaning
5:00 – 8:00 p.m. – make dinner and eat it
After 8:00 p.m. – I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this
Lead image: Ursula Le Guin. Photo by Marian Wood Kolisch, 2009
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