Daily Routines is endlessly fascinating for those who work at home sometimes and can’t shake off a guilty feeling that sitting in your pyjamas at noon eating a Lion Bar is not the way to Get Things Done. Nonsense! Winston Churchill got things done and his routine is the best of the lot: 7.30am substantial breakfast and working in bed, followed at 11am by rising, bathing and a weak whisky and soda in the study; 1pm three-course lunch with friends, champagne, brandy and cigars. Then a little light work or possibly backgammon, and “at 5pm, after another weak whisky and soda, he went to bed for an hour and a half.”
We brush aside the up-before-dawn and 10,000 words-a-day types, and embrace those who mastered a more civilised life, such as Nabokov – Scrabble, butterfly hunts and long naps – or Truman Capote: “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.”
I mean, whose work would you rather read, Colette – swimming, sex and regular blood transfusions from an attractive young donor – or film critic Roger Ebert – rise at 7, oatmeal, treadmill, cold shower etc. And Joyce Carol Oates’s comments – “To me, wasting time isn’t in my nature. I find it difficult to understand why people would deliberately waste their time” – make me determined never to read a word she’s written. Most importantly, try never to sit next to the highly self-disciplined J.M. Coetzee: “A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once.”
Some had more idiosyncratic routines. Auden’s method, perhaps not recommended, was to take lots of speed, which he considered a “labor-saving device” in the “mental kitchen”. Maybe Gertrude Stein is the one to emulate: “Miss Stein likes to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing… Miss Stein spends much of her time quarrelling with friends.”
Pictures from LIFE archive.
See also Writers at Work