The following is from a touching remembrance written by Robert Ferrigno at NRO. The occasion was Ferrigno conducting a terrible interview with Leonard for a SoCal paper, and the subject of writer’s work came up – Leonard starts the conversation:
What time you get up? he asked me.
Seven, I told him. I have to be at the office by nine.
It was the same way at the agency, he said. You want to write a novel, you have to get up at 5. That way you have two hours every day to write before your normal day begins.
Five a.m.? I’m a night person, I said.
Mr. L. smiled again. Gave a little shrug.
Okay. I’ll get up at five.
You get up at five and you start work, said Mr. L., no messing around making coffee or buttering toast. You sit down and start writing. At 7 you stop, if you’re in the middle of a sentence, you stop, and then you make coffee, take a shower, have breakfast, whatever you normally do. You’re done working on the novel for the day. You do that every day and at the end of a year, you’ll have a novel. Then you send it out to an agent and you start on the next one.
It’s not only a sweet story – do RTWT – but there is good advice in there. I admit I’ve not read one novel Elmore Leonard wrote, but I’ve enjoyed a couple movies based on his work (Out of Sight, Get Shorty).
I always enjoy reading advice from successful writers – Stephen King wrote a book on the subject, Hunter Thompson – at least according to legend – didn’t start his writing til late at night, but most, like King and Leonard, who grace us with their advice, tend to write in the early morning.
The only time I write in the early morning is a) if I happen to wake up from a dream and start writing something that was on my mind or b) I’ve been up all night and I’m still writing.
My current project, now 34-days old, was inspired by a series of strange coincidences: meeting a woman, at random, and experiencing serendipity at once, followed by a trip to Wisconsin, a pop album and drive along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Those three things have resulted in me spending most of my waking hours not work-working writing, and I have nearly 70,000 words to show for it – the fact that I’m writing this instead of working on that that shameful to me, at least as the craft goes, in as much as writing this is wasting time I could be spending on that.
Whatever you think of Stephen King as a writer, his discipline to said craft isn’t so much inexplicable as it is Herculean. He writes those thousands of words every single day, and his best work – horror, imo – is counterbalanced by other genres. A friend of mine swears by his Western saga, for example.
Although I’m not lazy, I’m lazy as a writer. I don’t – no, not don’t, just won’t – inculcate the discipline to wake at five and write for two hours. At the same rate, I’ll sit there for hours working on the same project between the hours of 1900 and 0300, because that’s how I work. When I have nothing I want to say, I do something else, or I post here.
Do note: King, Leonard, Thompson et al, are successful writers. I am not. There’s wisdom there.