Tag Archives: P.D. James

Getting the habit

This article about how novelists, painters, and filmmakers gear up for their work is interesting, but I think it’s chief value for neophyte writers is to get them thinking about methods and routines. I pottered about with fiction from the moment I understood what fiction was all about, but true productivity came when I established a routine and stayed with it. I had my sun-breaking-through-clouds moment while watching a 60 Minutes profile of P.D. James, who didn’t become a writer until her forties. James said she realized one day that nobody else cared about her creative drives, and if she was going to realize them she would have to get up an hour earlier every morning so she could work without being interrupted. That observation did it for me. I pissed away too many years thinking I would wait for inspiration. What I finally understood was that inspiration will find you more easily if you plant yourself in your workspace at a regular time every day. I don’t know if people who’ve read my stuff would consider it inspired. All I know is, I didn’t get anything done until I got tough with myself about establishing a routine. That’s the best lesson any writer — any artist — can learn.

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Making time

Not since my teen years and early twenties, when high school and college left plenty of time for reading, have I been able to knock off a book a day. This NYT profile of Nina Sankovitch, who has undertaken to read a book for every day of the year, makes it clear she enjoys certain advantages that might not be shared by others in a different income bracket or socioeconomic stratum. And there’s no question that with only 24 hours in each day, and certain obligations that cannot be put aside, reading a book a day may be a goal out of reach for many people (though this here feller is making a pretty good go of it).

But the article serves as a necessary reminder that a great deal of time gets sucked away through laziness and inertia, and if Sankovitch’s example leads people to reassess their priorities for the day, more power to her.

What’s true for reading is true for writing as well. My personal coming-to-Gesthemane realization came while watching a 60 Minutes profile of P.D. James, who said she finally got on track as a writer when she realized that her life’s circumstances weren’t going to give her time for writing unless she made some conscious changes — get up an hour earlier, for example, or cut back on television viewing. When your life flashes before your eyes, you want to see you did something a little more real with your time than keep up with every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.

As a survey of her reading blog makes clear, Sankovitch isn’t just coasting through single genres or fast-food books. She’s seeking out an interesting mix with some pretty demanding items. And the blog posts show she is thinking as she reads. All of which makes her blog a happy discovery.

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