There’s a fascinating piece on a blog site called Study Hacks, which I discovered today because it popped up high in Del.icio.us. It’s aimed at students who need to write papers, but as the article itself points out, the advice applies to just about any form of writing.
The author has dug out a series of interviews with “masters of long form non-fiction” and used the information to create a picture of how professional writers work.
The most striking observations from this study:
The writers work in the morning. They often start very early in the morning.
Five out of ten of the writers described a little ritual before starting their morning writing. A surprising number of these rituals focused on The New York Times.
The writers drink coffee. Lots of coffee.
The writers write in isolation. If they didn’t have families they would push this even farther. Many discussed having no e-mail or phone in their workspace. One purposefully used a “shitty old laptop” to avoid temptations like solitaire. Gay Talese rigged his home office so it could only be entered through a separate outside door.
The whole article, called “How to Schedule Your Writing Like a Professional Writer'” is well worth a read.
Nearly all of the writers questioned said finding a place free of distractions was very important to them. As a professional writer myself, I’d say that is indeed a great idea, but not advice that I’m ever able to follow myself.
There are distractions all around me. I have a phone on my desk because clients might call. There are emails popping up because they might be urgent. Then there’s the dog, the cats, family members, the garden, the sunshine, the internet … you get the idea.
The article points out that magazine writers seem to able to work anywhere. As I started out in an insanely hectic newsroom, perhaps that’s why I’m able to still get at least some writing done.
What do you think of the advice? Is a distraction free writing environment something you have achieved? Do you think it’s even possible?