5 for Friday: The Writing Life

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As I approach the end of my MFA program (only 3 plus weeks
till I turn in my thesis!) I’ve been thinking a lot about the “writing life.”
Sure, I’ve had a writing life of sorts for many years now, but the one I am now
about to embark on will be quite different. I will no longer be protected by “the
bubble.” Deadlines will now have to be self imposed rather than teacher imposed.
I won’t have the constant, reassuring guidance from my favorite professors. I will now have to be proactive about
maintaining my treasured writing community. These are all good things. Things I
am looking forward to. Truth is—I was always self motivated and thus I’m not too
anxious about the idea of creating my own schedule, my own goals, my own
deadlines. I did it before I entered the program and I know I can do it after I
graduate. It was nice, though, to have such a rigorous schedule—it was training
that taught me and shaped me and reminded me of how important it is to remain
consistent, to keep working, to move forward. The writing life. It means
something different to each and every one of us. How will mine develop as I
move forward? What will my day to day writing process look like? Feel like? How
will I create the perfect patchwork life—one tightly woven with family, friends,
work, and writing?

Here are 5 writers on some aspect of the writing life and
what it means to them:

“This
morning, my four-year-old was wearing shorts and a T-shirt with a cowgirl
outfit over it, which slid down her hips as we tried to cross Connecticut
Avenue. I have a great excuse for the fact that her hair wasn’t brushed—her mother’s
a writer.

Annie
Dillard says it takes five to ten years to write a novel. Some people do it in
a year, but some people can lift cars. I did have a struggle with this book, The Bowl is Already Broken, which is
more complicated and ambitious than my first. One strange complication was,
three years into writing about a woman who was pregnant and didn’t know it, I
was pregnant and didn’t know it! My editor says I’m the only woman who’s ever
gotten pregnant from writing. So life intervened in all its complicated ways….”

-Mary Kay
Zuravleff, Off the Page

“Some
days I find it a pleasurable experience. Some days I’d rather do just about
anything else. Every writer seems to need to develop his or her relationship to
the process. I know writers who write sporadically; in huge fits of
inspiration, and then nothing for long periods. I know writers who write in
pure agony one hour a day, which is all they can bear.”

-Michael
Cunninghan, Off The Page

“I
have no set routine for writing. I write every day if I can, and if I’m working
on a novel I try and get a certain number of words on the page before it gets
dark. And then, in the evening, if something has struck in my head, what
Berryman, in ‘Dream Song 29,’ calls ‘the little cough somewhere, an odor, and
chime,’ I tend to write poems. If it goes well I’ll still be sitting there at
three in the morning, rearranging words on the screen.”

-Nick
Laird, How I Write

“I have
lots of wonderful days. I have many wonderful days that are too quiet and
unsensational even to take note of. A very nice day would have work in the
morning and some accomplishment, however, small; an afternoon with my husband
or some outing like jogging or bicycling on country roads here in rural New
Jersey; a return in the late afternoon to work again; and maybe an evening with
friends in Princeton.”

-Joyce
Carol Oates, Off the Page

“I am
not a very disciplined writer, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say. But I guess my
feeling is that somewhere along the way, I seem to get things done. As long as
that keeps working without having to implement a schedule for myself, I’m going
with it. It’s possible that I write in some sort of fugue state that I then
forget. I have very little memory of sitting down to write—it all just happens
along the way. I’m not someone to use an example in terms of discipline.

I feel
like part of the reason that I love writing is that I’ll always feel young when
I start something or when I’m in the middle of something or when I finish
something. There was a point—I recall it very specifically—the point in college
when I had been writing pretty seriously and I had this understanding that this
was something I would never figure out completely and thus would always be a
challenge and a puzzle. And that really is still the way I feel about it. I can’t
imagine that’s going to change anytime soon.”

-Thisbe
Nissen, Off The Page

*

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