Friday, August 28, 2009

Tracy Kidder's writing life

One of the most helpful things in my world as a writer has been going to readings or other live events and hearing how famous authors discuss their process. Some of them complain about being asked what they perceive as a silly question ("How do you write each day"), but the answers are more illuminating than most of them realize. For example, I learned from a reading with Jane Smiley that she only writes about a page a day. She is slow, but methodical, because she writes every day and over a year it adds up. Most of the authors I've seen live (John Irving, Sebastian Junger, Michael Crichton, Anne Perry, Harry Shearer, Anthony Bourdain -- there have been many of them) do report one consistent thing -- they tend to write on a predictable schedule rather than catch-as-catch-can. Writing becomes part of the fabric of their lives, rather than some sort of marathon they run once in a while.

Here's a bit from today's New York Times about Tracy Kidder's work schedule. You can read the entire piece here. He's known for many books, but the one above -- for which he won the Pulitzer Prize -- is also the one I liked the best.

What is a typical day in your writing life?

I tend to start early in the morning, the time of day when l feel most nearly capable of thought. When I’m writing a rough draft, I have a hard time staying with it for more than a few hours. I used to be able to spend 12 hours or more a day when rewriting, but I can’t do that for many days in a row anymore. In the summertime, I go fishing after writing, for me a lovely antidote to frustration.

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