Strindberg’s Daily Writing Routine

From Sue Prideaux's wonderful new biography of August Strindberg:

I am up at seven… boil my coffee (for no one else but I can do that, just like Balzac and Swedenborg). Then I go out for a walk.. the morning possesses something that makes one feel young at heart, reborn, a feeling that evaporates with the dew… after an hour and a half I am back home.

By now I am wet with sweat and loosen my clothes all the way down to my belt. And so it begins: on yellow, uncut Lessebo Bikupa paper, with Sir Joshua Mason's 1001 nib and Antoine Fils's violette noir ink it breaks out, accompanied by continual cigarette smoking until 12 o'clock. Then it is over. I am extinguished; I go and lie down to sleep, wake up renewed, read, write letters, sleep, but am too tired to eat… then I eat dinner [at 3] take a good after-dinner nap (which I have done since I was twelve years old); get up at 6 and have to solve the terrible problem of what to do with the evening…

I am a morning writer myself, and the last part of that hit very close to the bone. The trouble with being a morning writer is that when the work is really going well, and you are up at seven and done by lunchtime, the mind is still alert and racing, the euphoria of having written is vividly felt, but the imagination's strength has been used up for the day. I have often failed to solve Strindberg's “terrible problem,” and have ruined many afternoons and evenings either attempting to write on past lunchtime (although some days this works perfectly fine), or by simply being too on edge to return fully to the world of existence. Hence the therapeutic power of teaching: it forces you back into social thinking, forces you back into your practical, calculating front brain. Sleep, too, works wonders. But I can understand why so many writers like to drink. When it's time to stop writing, the mind, somehow, has to be shut off. How do you do it?

 

4 thoughts on “Strindberg’s Daily Writing Routine

  1. I had no idea that writers had such problems. You should be a painter. Then you would paint all day as long as the light was good, knock off for a glass of wine, look at the painting in the evening light, get up at daylight to continue work on it, or, start a new painting, look at old paintings, look at art books, talk to other artists. I am working on a painting now, was not satisfied with part of what I did yesterday, repainted today, have it on an easel where I can see it now, am pondering brush strokes, chroma, size of brushes I used, solvent, etc. You writers agonize too much. I thought U kept writing until it was finished. What about poets? Do they also knock of work at lunch time for a nap? What kind of friends do writers have? We painters fraternize with dancers and musicians. All easy going people. Get out and meet and make friends with painters, musicians, dancers.

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  2. In his interview with Paris Review, James Baldwin discusses his writing process and routine. He mentions that he preferred to write at night; a habit born, in part, from being the oldest child who was called upon to help raise his younger siblings. So he would write at night when his brothers and sisters were asleep, as this was his only real opportunity.

    I, too, am a night writer, however, for reasons much different than Baldwin’s (I happen to be the youngest child). In truth, I simply have never been a morning person, and therefore, by default, not a morning writer. I find that after I have taken in the sights and sounds of my day, and I am in the solitude of night, that I am most creative and productive. I also need to drink tea by the gallon. I tried writing in the morning for a time. I was miserable, and the writing was uninspired. Ultimately, we are creatures of habit.

    As for shutting off the mind, I find that by the time I finish writing in the small hours of the night, I am pretty much exhausted and have no problem whatsoever turning it off.

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