MICHELLE HUNEVEN — I get up, go out to my office, ding about with email and the news for a bit, then read something—usually fiction I admire—until I get itchy and want to make fiction myself. I work until I get something solid done, sometimes till the early afternoon, often till much later. Sometimes, despite an entire day in the office, I’ll have very little to show for it.
I have blocks. I get stuck. I vow I’m not going to beat my head senselessly against the same scene, but I often forget this vow. Sometimes I’ll be stuck on the same three pages for a month. OY! I’m not sure, though, that deeper work isn’t being done at the same time, a kind of subterranean accumulating and organization. So while I’m trying to get a dialogue straight, an entire novel is taking shape.
T.C. BOYLE — When I sit down in the morning, whatever I’m working on, a short story, I go back to a little before where I left off, depending on how I feel. Some days I go backwards. It’s a way of getting out of the world, of letting the subconscious work. I suspect a lot of writers do that, but I don’t know; I don’t hang out with other writers and don’t talk to other writers.
That’s why I try to work every day; you need that everyday propulsion to get through it. But every novel since Riven Rock has been interrupted at some point, because I tour so much. I’ve learned to live with that. I’ll bring materials with me when I’m on the road, so I don’t lose track and it doesn’t get stale.
ALLAN GURGANUS — My ideal schedule is to go to bed before midnight; I like to be asleep by 11:45, then wake up at 6, have some strong coffee and an apple or… I’m all about oatmeal these days (get that cholesterol down) and by 6:30 I’ll really be working. That gives me three and a half hours before any offices are open. The telephone answering machine is the writer’s best friend; you can hide behind it. To work until 1:30 or 2, that’s a dreamy day, but I get maybe only the central four hours of that — filet of day, that pure protein at the center of all the starting and stopping, where you’re totally concentrated.
GORDON MENNENGA — I think there’s a presumption that all writers work in the same way, the same energy for what they do. That’s not true. Scott Spencer, who wrote Endless Love, was once asked why were there five years between his novels. What happened? And he said, “Well, it takes me five years to write a novel; that’s my pace.” There are no guidelines . . .
Each writer needs to find the way he or she works best. And that’s one of the problems with workshops, I think. If you go at the wrong time in your career, a workshop can get in the way of that process of finding out how you write best, for good or for ill. If you have a lot of promise, and you’re headed toward direction A, and you go to the workshop and you’re told, no, go in direction B, and that doesn’t pay off… can you go back to A? Some people, I think, got terrible advice there.