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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

If It Works for a Famous Writer, Shouldn’t It Work for Me?


Mark Twain wrote lying in bed

We need to understand how the creative process really works. And since few of us get a decent education in that, we often look to famous authors to be our role models. We assume that whatever works for a famous writer should work for every writer. If Stephen King writes 2,500 words a day, 365 days a year, every writer should write 2,500 words a day, 365 days a year.

The problem is that what famous writers do is often contradictory: Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Gunter Grass all wrote standing up; Mark Twain, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton and William Styron all wrote lying down. Should you write standing up or lying down?

Charles Dickens had to arrange the ornaments on his desk in a special pattern before he could write. Stephen Pressfield has to wear his lucky sweatshirt with his lucky nametag and, among other things, position a toy cannon on a thesaurus (to fire inspiration into him) before he can write. Do you need to buy toy cannon or should you find out what Dickens had on his desk and get those things?

Trying to do what famous writers do is mistaking the specific for the universal. The universal principle in these examples is about having a writing ritual, a routine way of starting the work that eases the writer into writing; the specific is whatever ritual has meaning for you.

Should you have a ritual? It’s a good idea (but not necessary). What should your ritual be? No one can discover that but you. Shouldn’t you know what your writing ritual is by now? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but how on earth will thinking you “should” be helpful?

More about that 2,500 words a day, 365 days a year routine of Stephen King’s and what it means to be productive in the next post

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4 Comments on “If It Works for a Famous Writer, Shouldn’t It Work for Me?”

  1. Robin November 27, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    Thanks for that Roseanne.
    It’s not what they did, not how they did it but the fact that they ‘wrote’. That’s what set them apart as excellent writers.
    In my heart, I want to be like that. So I have to write. Probably not as wry and pithy as Sam Clemens but I ‘want’ to be like that so I have to write.
    Writers write! All the rest are just dreaming; too much, like I do every day, about writing.
    So, write!

    Like

    • rosannebane November 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

      You’re welcome and way to go Robin! You’re right: writers write (and sometimes writing means doing research or playing with ideas or clustering or freewriting or…). Writers show up for writing time and do what needs to be done to take the writing to the next level.

      Like

      • Robin November 28, 2011 at 6:41 am #

        Hi Roseanne, I sent an email at your other address and it has apparently gone through to the catcher. Will you check it out?

        Best…..Robin

        Like

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