Writers are Weird: Writer’s Routines (Part Two)

An eclectic bunch of Brits today, and this time I don’t mean me. The great, the surreal and the genius!

Will Self is an elaborate and intricate writer so you would think that his prose would need complete silence at almost monasterial levels. However, his approach is even more complex than his writing. Apart from working on a manual typewriter (quaint yet what a pain in the ass) as early in the morning as possible he works on multiple drafts at the same time. He waits until the first draft is 80% finished and then draft two and subsequently draft three. He says it gives him a, ‘grasp of the totality of the book’!
He goes onto to talk of battling the loneliness of the writer, which he believes is alleviated by the following of Rituals. He smokes, the more noble and ritualistic pipes and cigars and drinks Coffee, tea and what he calls strange infusions! Knowing Mr Self’s colourful past, that could mean a number of things. Overall, he states, you have to have a  healthy appetite for solitude and if you don’t, you have little business being a writer.

C.S. Lewis constantly lamented that he rarely had a “normal” day but he always aimed to have a standard day that was repeatable, building up the illusion of routine, even if he failed to live up to it. He would choose to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at his desk by nine, there to read and write until one (oh and if a cup of good tea or coffee was brought to him around eleven, he was very appreciative). As you can see from his exacting timings, lunch should be on the table at one precisely! By two (at the latest) he would be on the road for a walk OR a talk, never both at the same time as he did not like to be distracted from his concentration on specific pleasures. He would arrive back from his walk at four-fifteen and would take tea in solitude. He liked to read and eat as the same time (as do I) but never poetry, which he saw as blasphemous! He preferred ‘gossipy, formless’ books which could be opened anywhere. Whereas I imagined he was reading the thirties equivalent of National Enquirer, he was actually devouring Boswell, a translation of Herodotus and a History of English Literature. Light reading then…
At five he was back at work again until seven. Then an evening meal and at last people were allowed to talk to him (or failing that light reading).  Bed was no later than eleven and he would fall asleep dreading the knock of the postman as he despised correspondence and saw it a burden. His ideal life was quite solitary so he was ideally suited towards his literary intentions.

Charles Darwin, as summarised by his son Frances had developed a rigid that seldom changed in his later years, even when he had visitors. He felt that a half an hour of conversation at a time was all that he could stand, because it completely exhausted him.

0700 – Up and off for a short walk (somewhat of a theme occurring)
0745 – Breakfast alone (again, a theme)
0800–0930 – Worked in his study which he considered this his best working time.
0930–1030 – Went to drawing room and read his letters, which were usually volumes from supporters and detractors alike, followed by reading aloud of family letters.
1030-1200 – Returned to study, which period he considered the end of his working day. END! Wow. Well I guess the guy figured out evolution so he was due some downtime in his latter years.
1200 – Walk, starting with visit to greenhouse, usually alone or with a dog.
1245 – Lunch with whole family (his main meal of the day). After lunch read The Times of London and answered his letters.
1500 – Had a lie down in his bedroom or on the sofa and smoked a cigarette whilst he listened to a novel or other light literature read by Emma Darwin, his wife.
1600 – Walked again.
1630–1730 – Worked in his study usually clearing his affairs.
1800 – Rested again in bedroom with Emma reading aloud.
1930 – High tea while his family dined.Sometimes he played backgammon with Emma, usually followed by reading to himself whilst Emma played the piano.
2200 – He was usually in bed by 2230 but slept unusually badly.

So this instalment of the LitBrits shows that they like their routine and rituals, their traditions, if you will. This probably says a lot about the former Empire dwellers. Next time we will look at our more contemporary cousins and the best sellers.





One response
  1. Dawn Avatar

    One interesting thing about all these personalities and their routines… they remained focused on the task at hand, whatever the task was. There was no multi-tasking.

    I mean, Darwin didn’t even want to walk and talk at the same!

    I do find it interesting that I keep a similar working schedule to Darwin’s – work in the morning and again in the evening, mid-day reserved for other pursuits. I used to work all the way through but the demands of caring for a toddler and keeping a house (as opposed to an apartment) forced me to rethink my schedule.

    It will be interesting to compare these schedules to modern-day writers’ schedules. I’d even like to see some FWJ bloggers post their own!

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