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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 11, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

    Fame, fortune and the nine to five

    Laurence Mackin

    I was reading this very punchy piece in the Guardian about Enda Walsh, but one line in particular nearly stopped me dead in my tracks.

    “An old guy and a younger woman come to my house and sit at my desk and basically do what I do: it’s all the things that go through my head when I climb up to my office at 10 past nine.”

    Jupiter’s beard – this is one of the most inventive and exciting Irish playwrights, and yet he still finds himself strapped into the office shortly after 9am. What an appalling thought.

    Then again, it’s probably naive (and implausibly romantic) to think that playwrights, artists, musicians or the genius who writes this while away their days, waiting for inspiration to strike and scrabbling for the quill when the bon mots comes floating in the window, as they contemplate the pleasant afternoon sun. But surely they can do better than turning a creative job into a nine to five? Even I was 30 minutes late for work this morning and this blog post is probably the most productive thing I’ll manage all day (yes boss, I’ll get my coat).

    Walsh, though, is not alone in keeping regular hours for a highly irregular job. (He doesn’t mention what time he knocks off at, though. It’s highly possible that he quits at 2pm in time for Countdown, cocktails or reruns of Grand Designs. All are quality options.)

    Nick Cave, purveyor of all things gothic and snarling, starts his day in his neat office next to his home in Hove before popping home to the wife and kids. Paul Auster fesses up to a solid six hours a day of writing. Jonathan Safran Foer is much more slack –  he starts at the ubiquitous 9am but usually only lasts until noon. (For much more on various writers’ daily habits, go here.)

    It is a little bit disappointing to learn that your creative heroes are probably tucking into their lunchtime sambo at the same time as you, or desperately willing the hours to fly by a little faster on a Friday afternoon so they can knock off and enjoy the weekend.

    I’ll have what you’re having

    Personally, I approve of the Graham Greene approach, which he detailed in this interview in the New York Times in 1971 with Israel Shenker.

    “ ‘In the old days, at the beginning of a book, I’d set myself 500 words a day, but now I’d put the mark to about 300 words,’ [Greene says.] Did he mean that literally – a mark after every 300 words? Precisely. With an x he marks the first 300 words, 600x comes next, 900x after 900 words.”

    Of course, the idea is to force yourself as a writer to limit the amount of  words you use and make each one count. But it also leaves plenty of time in the day for cocktails. And seeing as I’m tipping up to the 500, my work here is done.

    • John Braine says:

      You were really surprised? Any time I hear an author being interviewed, they talk of a very strict regime, and minimum amount of words per day, without which no book would ever be finished.

      Though I’ve always found I’m much more creative very late at night when I really should be fast asleep.

      Also reminds me of an an amusing tweet from someone I saw a while ago. Something like “Was at a party last night and a woman told me she too had a book idea, but hadn’t written it down yet. ‘I think you’ll find that’s the hard part sweety’ I said, she avoided me after that.”

    • Stan says:

      A self-imposed routine is very helpful to freelancers and artistic types. The crucial difference with a rigid 9–5 regimen is the person’s ability to ignore or rearrange it on a whim.

    • Catherine says:

      that quote from Hemingway on


      Perfect, perfect, perfect!

      (even if he did write everything in some garret in Paris and lived off the his winnings from the horses and partied with Joyce).

      Having said that, I find far more consolation in the daily routines of writers that fit it all in AROUND the nine to five!

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      John – Yes I was surprised, but then I think it’s like when I read all those Day in the Life articles, where actors and the like talk about their daily routine and say “yes I get up at 5.30am in the morning, have a glass of freshly squeezed lime juice and do yoga while reading the papers, before waking my daughter up gently and then educating her on the plight of the third world while making her muesli breakfast” – and all I can think is, you are so lying through your teeth. You struggle out of your bear pit, frazzled and fuzzy like the rest of us.

      Stan – Absolutely. I think we all need to listen to the whims a bit more.

      Catherine – The Hemingway quote is brilliant. Like Christians who think ‘what would Jesus do?”, I like to think ‘what would Ernest do?”. And then I realise how much trouble that will get me into.

    • Cormac says:

      You live in a bear pit?

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