Tag Archives: American

Henry Miller … a routine man

Henry Miller … a routine man

Henry Miller (1891-1980) was an American writer known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic o Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (all of which were banned in the United States until 1961). He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolours.

Miller was born in New York. After holding down various jobs he became employment manager of the messenger department, Western Union in New York. In 1922 he wrote his first book, Clipped Wings. Several years later he decided to devote his entire energy to writing. He travelled to London and then Paris, meeting other writers along the way such as T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. He spent time with Lawrence Durrell on the Greek island of Corfu. He returned to America in 1940 where he continued writing and painting watercolours into his old age.

As a young novelist, Miller frequently wrote from midnight until dawn. While living in Paris during the 1930s, he shifted his writing time, working from breakfast to lunch. Then he would have a nap and write again until late afternoon and maybe into the evening. As he got older, though, he found that anything after noon was unnecessary and even counterproductive. As he told one interviewer, “I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.” Two or three hours in the morning were enough for him, although he stressed the importance of keeping regular hours in order to cultivate a daily creative rhythm.

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments …

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

In addition, he split his day into three parts …

MORNINGS:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.

AFTERNOONS:

Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

EVENINGS:

See friends. Read in cafés.

Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

References:

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John Cheever …

John Cheever …

John Cheever (1912-1982) was an American novelist and short story writer. He is sometimes called “the Chekhov of the suburbs”. His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born, and Italy, especially Rome. He is now recognized as one of the most important short fiction writers of the 20th century. While Cheever is perhaps best remembered for his short stories (including “The Enormous Radio”, “Goodbye, My Brother”, “Th Five-Forty-Eight”, “The Country Husband”, and “The Swimmer”), he also wrote four novels, comprising The Wapshot Chronicle (National Book Award, 1958), The Wapshot Scandal (William Dean Howells Medal, 1965), Bullet Park (1969), Falconer (1977) and a novella Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982).

A compilation of his short stories, The Stories of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its first paperback edition won a 1981 National Book Award.

“When I was younger I used to wake up at eight, work until noon, and then break, hollering with pleasure; then I’d go back to work through to five, get pissed, get laid, go to bed, and do the same thing again the next day.”

Born and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts he moved to Boston in 1932 and then on to New York. He got married in 1941 and enlisted in the Army in 1942. His first collection of short stories, The Way Some People Live, was published in 1943 to mixed reviews. After the war, Cheever moved his family to an apartment building at 400 East 59th Street, near Sutton Place, Manhattan.

During the late 1940s, John Cheever worked to an unconventional routine. In the morning he would put on his business suit, leave his apartment, and catch the lift downstairs with any commuters. Then, when they reached the ground floor, he would keep going, down to the basement, where he’d walk to his favourite storage room, strip down to his boxer shorts and spend the morning writing. At noon he put his suit back on and headed back upstairs. Lunch followed, then a leisurely afternoon.

He continued to write almost every morning for the rest of his life. As his career progressed, the writing sessions grew shorter and shorter, while cocktail hour became longer and longer. By the 1960s, his working day was usually over by 10:30 A.M.

In 1961 his family moved to a stately, stone-ended Dutch Colonal farmhouse in Ossining, on the east bank of the Hudson. He lived and wrote there until his death in 1982.

His daughter recalled where he chose to write …

“My father very purposefully never had a place to write, and he always wrote in the humblest place in the house. Sometimes, like when he was on the cover of Time,_ _he pretended he wrote in the room that we called the Boyfriend Room, because it was where my boyfriend stayed, off the kitchen. But he didn’t always write in the Boyfriend Room at all. He would take his typewriter all over. When my brother went to boarding school, he would work in his room, and when I went to college he would work in my room. I think he felt that if he settled, physically, as a writer, or if he prepared in any way for the ‘visit from the muse,’ it wouldn’t happen. At one point, famously, we were all home, so he pitched a tent on the lawn and wrote in the tent.”

John Cheever and the family’s golden retriever, Maisie, on the porch of his Ossining, New York, house, October 6, 1979. By Paul Hoseifros/The New York Times/Redux.

Dalton Trumbo …

Dalton Trumbo …

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Dalton Trumbo (1905~1976)

Dalton Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist, who scripted films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He was subsequently blacklisted by that industry. He continued working clandestinely, producing work under other authors’ names. His uncredited work won two Academy Awards; the one for Roman Holiday (1953) was given to a front writer, and the one for The Brave One (1956) was awarded to a pseudonym. The public crediting of him as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. His earlier achievements were eventually credited to him by the Writers Guild, 60 years after the fact. 

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Writers often like to work in seemingly bizarre settings, but it must have been pretty amazing to walk in on Trumbo furiously working on a script. For starters, Trumbo liked to bang out his screenplays from the bathtub at night. Working from the tub isn’t so strange, but Trumbo often had company when he wrote: a parrot that Spartacus star Kirk Douglas had given the writer as a gift.

Douglas later wrote of Trumbo in his autobiography The Ragman’s Son, “He worked at night, often in the bathtub, the typewriter in front of him on a tray, a cigarette in his mouth (he smoked six packs a day). On his shoulder perched a parrot I had given him, pecking Dalton’s ear while Dalton pecked at the keys.”

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R. L. Stine … You give me Goosebumps!

R. L. Stine … You give me Goosebumps!

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Robert Lawrence Stine (born October 8, 1943) is an American novelist and short story writer. He has been referred to as the “Stephen King of children’s literature” and is the author of hundreds of horror fiction novels, including the books in the Fear Street, Goosebumps, Rotten School, Mostly Ghostly, and The Nightmare Room series. Stine’s books have sold over 400 million copies worldwide.

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R. L. Stine has a very entertaining website and answers a question about his daily routine in typical fashion …

I wake up. Brush down my werewolf fur. Devour one or two live chickens for breakfast. Then I work on my books. I usually write from 9 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. Then I walk my crocodile and get ready to hunt or fish for my dinner.

He has also explained  how he is able to maintain such a prolific output …

I outline every book first. I do a very complete chapter by chapter outline, and that’ll take four to five days, but then I’ve done all the thinking; I know everything that’s going to happen in the book. It makes the writing so much easier. Kids always ask me about writer’s block and I say if you plan out the whole thing first, then you can’t have writer’s block. You’ve done the hard part. And then I just have fun with the writing. It takes me three to four weeks to write a Fear Street novel. In two weeks I can write a  Goosebumps novel.

It’s like factory work: Every day I get up at like 9:30, 10, I sit down and I write 2,000 words, and then I quit. Five to six days a week I write 2,000 words. It’s fast. I work a lot. I work six or seven days a week. 

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R.L. Stine in his office

 His author website

Bernard Malamud …

Bernard Malamud 

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Bernard Malamud (1914 – 1986)

Bernard Malamud was one of the best known American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984  film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel, The Fixer, about anti-Semitism in Tzarist Russia, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

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Malamud believed that self-disipline and being well organised were vital to writing successfully. He told one interviewer:

There are enormously talented people around but the problem is getting organized to use your talents. A lot of people lose it, they just lose it. Life starts turning somersaults over your back and the next thing you know you’re confronting things that seem to you more important than getting organized to do your writing. And if you can’t get organized, then you can kiss your talent goodbye. It happens in so many cases, it’s almost a loss, as though you have a field of flowers and were never able to collect them. [1]

The novelist and short-story writer was, in the words of his biographer, Philip Davis, a “time-haunted man.” Malamud’s daughter remembers him being “absolutely, compulsively prompt” throughout his life, and notes that he could become extremely agitated when made late. This obsessive punctuality served him well as a writer. Although he made his living as a teacher for most of his life, Malamud always found time to write and apparently never lacked for discipline. “Discipline is an ideal for the self,” he once said. “If you have to discipline yourself to achieve art, you discipline yourself.” 

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Malamud began writing seriously in 1940, when he was twenty-six, and soon after landed a job teaching night school in Brooklyn. His classes were from 6:00 until 10:00 in the evening, so he was able to write for five hours during the day, typically between 10:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. with a break at 12:30 to eat lunch, shave, and read for an hour. After eight years of this schedule, Malamud accepted a university teaching position in Oregon, moving there in 1949 with his wife and their young son. At the time, he had yet even to sell a story. But over the next dozen years he wrote four books, thanks in part to a favorable teaching schedule. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were devoted to classes, office hours, and grading papers; Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays Malamud spent on his novels and short stories (“and I sneak parts of Sundays,” he said).

On writing days in Oregon, Malamud rose at 7:30, exercised for ten minutes, ate breakfast, and arrived at his office by 9:00. A full morning of writing usually amounted to only a page, two at best. After lunch, he revised the morning’s output, then returned home around 4:00. A short nap preceded domestic activities: dinner at 6:15, conversation with the family, help with the children’s homework. After the kids went to sleep, Malamud read for three hours–he usually spent half the time on fiction, half on nonfiction connected to his stories and novels–before going to sleep at midnight.

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Although he was a creature of habit, Malamud was wary of placing too much importance on his particular work rituals. He told an interviewer:

There’s no one way—there’s so much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you. [2]

Sources:
[1] Bernard Malamud, interviewed by Mary Long. Mademoiselle. August 1976
[2] Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Little Woman … Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was an American novelist best known as author of the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys.
Published in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts and is loosely based on Alcott’s childhood experiences with her three sisters.The Alcott family moved into Orchard House in 1858. In 1868, Louisa May wrote Little Women in her room on a special folding “shelf” desk built by her father. She wrote it over a period of about ten weeks.

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Louisa May Alcott’s Bedchamber, where Little Women was written on the small half-moon desk between the two front windows in 1868. Images courtesy/used by permission of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

Louisa May Alcott’s Bedchamber, where Little Women was written on the small half-moon desk between the two front windows in 1868. Images courtesy of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

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