by Annie Scholl
This is the third in a four-part series of Q & As with authors who believe writing daily isn’t required to be a success. This Q & A is with Abigail Thomas, perhaps best known for her memoir, Three Dog Life. Her latest book is What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir.
Do you believe writers must write daily to be successful?
Nonsense. Every writer has her own practice.
Why do you think so many of us think daily writing practice is the only way to go?
Puritan ethic. Plus it probably works for many writers and at least alleviates whatever guilt they may feel. I write when I’m puzzling something out, trying to figure out why I’m obsessed by one thing or another. I write when something strikes me. I do tend to wait around for those moments.
Have you ever been one to write daily?
Not unless I’m already engaged in something, then I write all the time. I used to keep a diary and wrote almost every day, but found myself rather boring and I’ve pretty much stopped. I do keep a notebook but don’t write every day, not by a long shot.
Describe your writing routine.
Well, let’s see. A dog dies. The two days before the death had weird interesting moments and I figure it all hangs together, so I begin to write to see what happens. It becomes as much about views on mortality as it is grieving her death. Turns out death had been very much on my mind before I wrote about my dog Carolina, but I didn’t realize that until the essay began. Her death was a huge surprise.
Has your writing practice changed over the years?
No. What has always worked still works. I hope.
Why do you take this approach? Do you ever feel anxious when you return to the page after you’ve been away for a while?
Of course. When I finish something there’s always the fear that I’m all done, all dried up, I’ll never be inspired again. I hate that. Once I did write just for the sake of writing, it was kind of a rant, and for some reason it worked. But mostly I’ve no self-discipline unless I’m already in gear. Then it’s all I do. It has nothing to do with discipline then. It’s a hunger.
What advice do you have for creating a non-daily writing practice?
Just be aware of what catches your eye, what keeps sticking in your head and don’t waste any more time, start writing. Try to have faith that something is gestating in the back room of your mind. Do not despair. But be wide awake all the time. If something is interesting, write about it. Notice EVERYTHING.
Anything else you’d like to share that you think is important?
Gosh. Well, I write with a pen on paper. There’s a connection with brain and writing hand that’s different from the keyboard. More organic. When I broke my right wrist and couldn’t write, I also had not a thought in my head.
Image: “Vintage Typewriter” by Memphis CVB via Flickr.