Tag Archives: routine

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 …

If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.


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.


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.


Ian Fleming … from Goldeneye to Casino Royale

Ian Fleming … from Goldeneye to Casino Royale

In 1946, the author Ian Fleming (1908-1964), creator of spy James Bond, bought a piece of land on Jamaica with a private beach and reef, and got a local contractor to build a simple house with a great view of the Caribbean Sea. He christened the house Goldeneye.


Fleming had mentioned to friends during the war that he wanted to write a spy novel.

Fleming started writing Casino Royale at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica on 17 February 1952. He liked to say that the book wrote itself, but in fact it was the product of hard work and discipline. He started his day with a morning swim in the Caribbean Sea followed by a breakfast in the garden with his wife Ann. The breakfast always consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon and black coffee.

At 9am, he would give Ann a kiss, leave the breakfast table and go inside into the main living room in Goldeneye. He would close the jalousied windows to create a cool and shady room with a hint of a tropical breeze. 

Then he would sit at his desk, take out his old Imperial portable typewriter and type 2000 words during the next three hours. At noon he emerged from the cool of his retreat and stood blinking in the heat of day. After lunch he slept for an hour or so, and then, around five, he returned to his desk to look over what he had typed earlier in the day. When he had made his corrections he placed his manuscript in the bottom left-hand drawer of his desk. 

Keeping to this routine, he finished work on the manuscript in just over a month, completing it on 18 March 1952. It was published a little over a year later in April 1953.

That writing regime, now established, continued for the next dozen years, whenever he was at Goldeneye. Fleming went on to write a total of twelve Bond novels and two short story collections. He died on the morning of 12 August 1964. The last two books—The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy and The Living Daylights—were published posthumously.

In an address to students at Oxford he encapsulated his approach to writing:

“Say whatever you want, research it properly, and write fast. Never look back. If you interrupt the writing of  fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain.”



John Updike …

John Updike

John Updike – 1994. (Picture credit: Jill Krementz)

John Updike (1932-2009) was an American novelist, poet, literary critic, art critic and short story writer. He was one of only three writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. Updike published more than twenty novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children’s books during his career.

Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books. His most famous work is his “Rabbit” series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered), which chronicles the life of the middle-class everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to death. Both Rabbit Is Rich(1982) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize.

In an interview for the Paris Review in 1967 he mentioned his fascination for the whole creative process –

The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.

For much of his career he rented a small office above a restaurant in downtown Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he would write for three or four hours each morning, netting about three pages per day.

In 1978 he spoke more about his routine –

I try to write in the morning and then into the afternoon.
I’m a later riser … I rush into the office around 9:30 and try to put the creative project first. I have a late lunch, and then the rest of the day somehow gets squandered. There is a great deal of busywork to a writer’s life, as to a professor’s life, a great deal of work that matters only in that, if you don’t do it, your desk becomes very full of papers. So, there is a lot of letter answering and a certain amount of speaking, though I try to keep that at a minimum. But I’ve never been a night writer, unlike some of my colleagues, and I’ve never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think that the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. So, I try to be a regular sort of fellow – much like a dentist drilling his teeth every morning – except Sunday, I don’t work on Sunday, and of course some holidays I take. A solid routine saves you from giving up.

In a further interview during 2004 he was again asked about his writing routine and whether he kept to any particular schedule.

“Since I’ve gone through some trouble not to teach and not to have any employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch, so I work three or four hours in the morning. And it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases… I begin by answering a letter or two — there’s a lot of junk in your life as a writer, most people have junk in their lives — but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it steadily that you kind of forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57.”

“It’s a long time to be doing one thing. I don’t know how to retire. I don’t know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type. It’s still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer, but I do think maybe the time has come for me to be a little less compulsive, and maybe (slow down) the book-a-year technique, which has been basically the way I’ve operated.”







Most of life is routine …

Most of life is routine …

I, Writer … # 24

A couple of days ago I reblogged a post from Kate over at 4AM Writer. She’s called 4AM Writer because she does precisely that. Highly recommended.

Anyway, I woke up really early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I looked at the clock. It was a little after 4.AM.
Freaky or what. I lay awake and got to thinking – 4AM Writer lives in America and is 5 hours behind British time which means she’s 9AM Writer as far as I’m concerned, me being over in Scotland and all. So I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Back to my dream about drinking beer on the Moon. Time-zones are for wimps.

A case of Georges Simenon …

A case of Georges Simenon …

The Belgian novelist Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was one of the most productive and popular writers of the twentieth century. Author of more than 500 novels, translated into dozens of languages, he was most famous for his detective novels featuring Inspector Jules Maigret.

He was an extremely prolific writer, who produced more than 350 works under his real name.  He also published over 1200 stories using over 15 different pseudonyms, such as Georges Sim, G. Sim, Geo Sim, Christian Brulls, Christian Brull’s, Jean du Perry, Jacques Dersonne, Jean Dorsage, Luc Dorsan, Georges Martin-Georges, Gaston Vialis, Germain d’Antibes, Aramis, Bobette, La Deshabilleuse, and Gemis. In 1928, he wrote 44 novels. He produced a diversity of work ranging from several literary genres from novellas and short stories to the serialized novel, the noir genre and some psychological thrillers, erotica, romances, crime, and adventure novellas.

His incredible literary output was also due to him being a notoriously fast writer.  Simenon usually wrote 6,000-8,000 words a day, or anything up to 60 to 80 pages and took approximately 11 days to complete a novel.  He would mark off on a calendar eight days for composition and three for correction.  Though perhaps an urban legend, it seems that Simenon once wrote a novel in public in 24 hours, while sitting in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris, accepting character and plot suggestions from an amazed audience.

Georges Simenon’s extraordinary production was undoubtedly linked to the strict, unvaried routine he followed for producing a book. 

Firstly, Simenon would list the names of his characters, including their descriptions, addresses, and other personal details on a large manila envelope.  The plot line would come later, almost as a revelation, while writing. On the eve of his first writing day, he would meticulously prepare, polish, and change the ink ribbon of his IBM electric typewriter.  He would lay out a selection of pipes, some of his special ‘Coupe Maigret’ tobacco, a coffeepot and a large cup, and two folders — one for typescript, the other for carbons. With the phone disconnected, he would hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door of his study.  The whole household knew that a tomb-like silence had to be observed to avoid distracting Georges Simenon during his creative process.

On the following day, Simenon would be up at dawn, wearing one of his checked Abercrombie & Fitch sports shirts,  ready to work. He wrote quickly, never consulting a dictionary, never going back to edit. He poured his popular novels onto the pages in torrents, at the rate of 92 words a minute, hardly even pausing to ruminate. By about 10:30 a.m. he would be finished for the day, with a complete 80-page installment ready for his secretary and his sweat-drenched shirt ready to be laundered. The ritual demanded that he wear the same shirt until the novel was finished. After eight or 10 days (the Maigret stories took up to a month), another Simenon would be off to the publisher. 

 He kept over 150 telephone books, from different countries, in his study.  When in search for a name for one of his new characters, he would spend hours poring over these telephone books.  He would then copy about 300 names on the famous yellow manila envelope and then read these names out loud, over and over again, until one of them would sounded right for his next character.

Given the number of works he has published, it is difficult to imagine Georges Simenon having time for anything other than writing. Yet, as per his own admission, Simenon is as famous for his Inspector Maigret as he was for his sexual conquests. Simenon claimed to have had 10,000 lovers, of whom 80% were prostitutes.  Josephine Baker, a French-American dancer and actress, was perhaps one of his most famous lovers.  

Georges Simenon once said, ‘I literally suffered from knowing there were millions of women in the world that I would never know.’ For their part, Simenon’s two wives and several ‘official’ mistresses tolerated Georges’ infidelities.  It seemed that servants and other employees in Simenon’s household served a dual function.  In fact, one of his last conquests, Teresa Sburelin, a Venetian woman who became Simenon’s mistress for 23 years, had originally joined the household as his second wife’s maid.

As he approached his 70th birthday, suffering from vertigo and no longer able to bear the strain, Simenon abruptly stopped writing. He unplugged his typewriter, announced he had retired and changed the designation on his passport from homme de lettres to sans profession. 


Standing up for Philip Roth

Standing up for Philip Roth

 Philip Roth (born March 19, 1933) is an American novelist.

He first gained attention with the 1959 novella Goodbye Columbus, an irreverent and humorous portrait of American Jewish life for which he received the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Roth is one of the most awarded American writers of his generation. His books have twice received the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle award, and three times the PEN/Faulkner Award. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel American Pastoral, which featured one of his best-known characters, Nathan Zuckerman, the subject of many other of Roth’s novels. The Human Stain (2000), another Zuckerman novel, was awarded the United Kingdom’s WH Smith Literary Award for the best book of the year. In 2001, in Prague, Roth received the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize. He has married twice. His second wife was the actress Claire Bloom, but since their separation in 1994, he has lived by himself.

In 1972, he moved to a house situated on sixty acres in rural northwest Connecticut. A former two-time guest cottage serves as his studio.

“In most professions there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. With writing, it’s always beginning again. Temperamentally, we need that newness. There is a lot of repetition in the work. In fact, one skill every writer needs is the ability to sit still in this deeply uneventful business. I work all day, morning and afternoon, just about every day. If I sit there like that for two or three years, at the end I have a book.”

Roth wakes early and, seven days a week, walks fifty yards or so to his studio. The front room is outfitted with a fireplace, a desk, and a computer set up on a kind of lectern where he can write standing up, the better to preserve a bad back. He also paces around while he’s thinking and has said he walks half a mile for every page he writes.

In 2000 he was interviewed by David Remnick for the New Yorker:

“I live alone, there’s no one else to be responsible for or to, or to spend time with. My schedule is absolutely my own. I write from about 10 till six every day, with an hour out for lunch and the newspaper. If I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don’t have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don’t have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours. If I wake up at two in the morning–this happens rarely, but it sometimes happens–and something has dawned on me, I turn the light on and I write in the bedroom. I have these little yellow things all over the place. I read till all hours if I want to. If I get up at five and I can’t sleep and I want to work, I go out and I go to work. So I work, I’m on call. I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.”










Elizabeth Jane Howard …

Elizabeth Jane Howard 

Elizabeth Jane Howard in her Bungay home in 2008. Photo: Andy Darnell

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923 ~ 2014) was an English novelist.

She married ornithologist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott when she was aged just 19 and later married novelist Kingsley Amis. A former Vogue model and actress, she also had relationships with a long list of famous men including Cecil Day-Lewis, Laurie Lee and Kenneth Tynan.

With first husband Sir Peter Scott

In 1951, she won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her first novel, The Beautiful Visit (1950). Six further novels followed, before she embarked on her best known work, The Cazalet Chronicle (published in 5 volumes), a family saga about the ways in which English life changed during the war years, particularly for women. This was adapted for both TV and radio.

Elizabeth Jane Howard in 1965 with husband Kingsley Amis.

In 2008, aged 85, she was interviewed by the Guardian for their Writers Rooms series.

I moved into this room 20 years ago and spent the first five years fighting desks that weren’t right in some way. Eventually I had this one made – right size, filing cabinets and drawers in the right place – and it’s made such a difference. I write on an Apple Mac, but still can’t help thinking of technology as something of an enemy. I’m much fonder of things like the meat skewer paper knife given to me by my old and beloved agent AD Peters. He sent them to all his clients, but I’m probably one of the last to still use it.

My chair is one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. But it is comfortable and moves around. I’ve long looked for a graceful chair that was any use and did once try one of those Swedish designs where you half kneel. But all that happened was my knees got exhausted and I couldn’t stop thinking “I am in this extraordinary chair” when I should have been concentrating on writing.

I work from about 10 in the morning to 1.30. I used to have another stint in the late afternoon, but I’m now 85 and one session a day seems enough. I’m not a quick writer, but I don’t have to rewrite much. Anything writers ever say about writing can only apply to them, as you have to find your own way of doing things. And it’s a strange business. Years ago Kingsley [Amis] and I tried to write a section of each other’s novel. He’d usually write quite quickly with lots of laughing at his own jokes. I’d write slowly and would bite my nails a lot. But when we swapped over, I started laughing and he started biting his nails.

I still find writing hard and anxious work, and have had a tremendous battle with smoking that has reached the point where I don’t smoke except when I write. The next stage is to face up to whether I can write and not smoke. We’ll see. But you might have noticed that there’s still an ashtray on the bookshelf within reach of my chair.

She lived in Bungay, Suffolk, and was appointed CBE in 2000. Her autobiography, Slipstream, was published in 2002. She died, aged 90, at home on 2 January 2014.

Biography by Artemis Cooper


Ernest Hemingway …

Ernest Hemingway …

Ernest Hemingway (1899~1961) was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature. These include A Farewell to Arms (1929), To Have and Have Not (1937), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

The widely travelled Hemingway maintained permanent residences in Key West, Florida, (1930s) and Cuba (1940s and 1950s), and in 1959, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he died in mid-1961.

Throughout his adult life Hemingway rose early, at 5:30 or 6:00, woken by the first light of day. In a 1958 interview with The Paris Review, he explained the importance of those early-morning hours:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Hemingway’s house in Key West, Florida, where he wrote To Have and Have Not.

In the same interview he was asked about rewriting his work:


Can you dismiss from your mind whatever project you’re on when you’re away from the typewriter?


Of course. But it takes discipline to do it and this discipline is acquired. It has to be.


Do you do any rewriting as you read up to the place you left off the day before? Or does that come later, when the whole is finished?


I always rewrite each day up to the point where I stopped. When it is all finished, naturally you go over it. You get another chance to correct and rewrite when someone else types it, and you see it clean in type. The last chance is in the proofs. You’re grateful for these different chances.


How much rewriting do you do?


It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.


Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?


Getting the words right.

He wrote standing up, facing a chest-high bookshelf with a typewriter on the top, and on top of that a wooden reading board. First drafts were composed in pencil on onionskin typewriter paper laid slantwise across the board; when the work was going well, Hemingway would remove the board and shift to the typewriter. He tracked his daily word output on a chart — “so as not to kid myself,” he said. When the writing wasn’t going well, he would often knock off the fiction and answer letters, which gave him a welcome break from “the awful responsibility of writing” — or, as he sometimes called it, “the responsibility of awful writing.”
(Mason Currey, Daily Rituals) 


Books aren’t written …

Books aren’t written …