Writers have weird writing habits; some more strange than others. I read somewhere recently about a dozen or so writers who get up in the morning and write without fail. Then there were the powerhouses like Ray Bradbury who advocated for joy in writing. Others, I am sure, were tormented. We all know their stories. Somewhere, a long time ago, I read about Henry Miller who would not write at night; not anything serious. He preferred to go out and explore places (read: visit whorehouses, no doubt), or just go read in a café somewhere. I wonder what Miller would have made of all the internet cafés and people taking up space in chain coffee joints like Starbucks.
In college, we read Flaubert among others. My professor in that class raved about how Flaubert would agonize all day over a single sentence. I didn’t get it back then, but I do now.
Hemingway would quit for the day just when it was getting good.
Thomas Wolfe was famously reported to have shouted “Ten thousand words!” one day when he hit that benchmark. I was always a fan of Wolfe. But more than Wolfe I admire Henry James; not so much for his portrayal of Americans meeting Europeans or his use of interior monologue and unreliable narrators. What I admire is how he wrote so much in longhand first. Writing with a pen and paper (or pencil if you prefer), lends a different pace to writing, to the process, that typing at a computer cannot.
Some writers leave the comfort (or chaos) of their own homes and go to a writing studios or an office. I never understood this. But then I am not in a position to write full-time for a living so I don’t know if that would work for me or not.
Other writers carve out a niche in their homes; one author I friended on Facebook wrote of how her children had, on some quest that only children understand, invaded the sanctity of that space recently. I suspect there is a story in that day. Perhaps she will remember it and write it down in the future.
I think most writers, to a degree, have a ritual they go through before getting down to business. Kerouac, it’s been pointed out all over the internet, used to write by candlelight. Later, he prayed to God to keep his mind intact. And, speaking of the beats, I remember reading somewhere once that Ginsberg often sat naked at a desk composing poems.
Like famous authors, the writer plying his trade in secret also has his quirks. For instance, I have this pen. It’s my favorite. I bought it eight or so years ago at a Papyrus stationary store of all places. It was a steal at fifteen bucks. My pen is black, thick and fits my hand nicely. I covet that pen. And yes since then I have purchased countless replacement ink refills for it. One time, the cap cracked and I repaired it with some epoxy. It was as good as new.
Recently, I attended an orientation for adjunct professors at a school where I started teaching. It was the usual fair for an English department meeting: endless talk about essay lengths for incoming freshmen, departmental policy that, at least for me, turned into a hypnotic white noise that was broken only by the cackle of some veteran adjuncts who sounded like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth on crack. At one point, a blank sheet of paper was passed around to collect email addresses.
One of the veteran adjuncts leaned across the aisle of desks in a classroom where our meeting took place and asked to borrow my pen. Not just any pen. THE PEN. She must have thought I was a lunatic as I went into my beat-up book bag to find another. I didn’t have one. Begrudgingly, I let her borrow my precious but I never took my eyes off her, fearing she may abscond with my powerful talisman and leave me mojo-less. I got my pen (THE PEN) back, but after the meeting I couldn’t help thinking that its magical powers had somehow been diminished, contaminated by alien hands.
It’s been a busy start to the semester and this weekend is the first time since last week that I’ve been able sit down and write something. With the pen I wrote two new poems. Later tonight, I’ll go back to work on my novel; one I am writing the first draft, you guessed it, by hand. Pray the pen still works for me. Without my sacred Precious, I would be lost.