I am continuously amazed at how many people — including me — are interested in the writing habits of authors. I once drove seven hours just to gaze at the custom-designed writing desk used by Louis Bromfield.* A few years ago a guy named Mason Currey wrote an entire book devoted to the work habits of writers. Naturally, I devoured it.
When I was young I imagined that after I became a famous writer (I’m still waiting) I would only write in the most charming circumstances possible. A drafty garret in Montmartre, perhaps. A wood-paneled library on the 3rd floor of a brownstone in the East 60s in New York. A small farmhouse on a hill in Vermont.
The truth, alas, is far more pedestrian. I write when and where I can, in airports and on airplanes, on trains and in hotel rooms. Because I spend so much time in New York City, I can often be found writing in the wonderful lobby at the Algonquin Hotel, where I sometimes stay. In the morning you can get a cup of coffee there, and in the afternoon you can get a terrific martini, imported from the Blue Bar next door. At any time of the day or night you can imagine that you are exchanging witticisms with Dorothy Parker.
If I’m not at the Algonquin it’s because I’m at the Harvard Club down the street, where I sometimes stay and where I write in the charming library on the second floor. Or, because the library is not only charming but also cramped and crowded, in the Charles River Room. As in the Algonquin lobby you can get coffee and martinis there. When I was finishing my last book, my deadline looming before me like a Texas thunderstorm, I spent so much time in the Charles River Room that the fellow who oversees the place would bring me my coffee, shake his head, and say, “Blogging away again, eh, Mr. Curtis?”
Writing is hard work — it always takes about 10 times as long to write a decent paragraph as it seems like it should. As if things aren’t bad enough, there is before the eyes of every writer the unnerving example of Trollope, who wrote 3,000 words every morning before starting his workday at the British postal service. Trollope notwithstanding, Kafka had it right when he wrote, “Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, [but] one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
I began writing short stories in grade school and switched to poetry in high school. In college I co-founded a literary magazine called Paroles and served as its Poetry Editor. Over the years I won some prize — the Academy of American Poets Prize, for example, and years later I was runner-up for the Eve of St. Agnes Award the year Peter Viereck was the judge. I’ve written articles, essays and op-eds too numerous to mention. I’ve written nearly 50 white papers on various investment topics. I’ve published six books and my seventh is currently with my editor in New York. A few years ago the Family Wealth Alliance gave me its Decade Award for Thought Leadership, probably not so much for the quality of that thought as for its sheer quantity.
In an agreeable week I write the first draft of the blog post on Sunday, polish and fact-check it on Monday and Tuesday, get it to compliance on Wednesday, post it on Thursday, and send it out on Friday. Except that there are almost no agreeable weeks, so more typically I “wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
In other words, the most important single trait a weekly blogger — or, really, any successful writer — needs to master is discipline. If you allow any excuse to keep you from writing — “I still have that headache,” “My wife is threatening to divorce me if I write one more blog” — you’ll simply never get it done.
Despite having published several million words over time, writing is, for me, an avocation, not a profession. I never let it interfere with my day job and I rarely let it interfere with my home time. (As a result, a disheartening volume of my writing ends up getting done at soccer, basketball and lacrosse practices.) Avocation or not, I am as disciplined about it as I can be.
Along this line, of my more than 200 posts there are two I’m proudest of. Overnight on Tuesday-Wednesday, June 24 – 25, 2014, in Lisieux, France, I suffered a massive heart attack. That Friday the blog post went out as usual. The following Thursday, July 3, back in the US, I underwent open heart surgery, a sextuple coronary bypass operation. On Friday morning the blog went out as usual. When I hear people say they would like to write but simply can’t find the time, I’m remarkably unsympathetic.
*If you don’t know who Bromfield is it’s because you suffer from the handicap of being young. From the 1920s to the 1950s Bromfield wrote 30 consecutive best-selling novels. Today, though, he is better known as the father of sustainable agriculture in America and as Humphrey Bogart’s best friend. In 1945 Bogey and Bacall slipped away from the Hollywood media maelstrom to celebrate a quiet wedding at Malabar Farm, Bromfield’s model agricultural operation a few miles outside Mansfield, Ohio. In his spare time Bromfield won the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur while serving in the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.
Next up: Happy 200th Anniversary! Part IV