John Updike – Writing Routine

john_updike-etbscreenwritingOn Friday I wrote about the difficulty of adapting John Updike’s books to the screen. I thought I’d do a little research to find out how this prolific author maintained his workflow.

An interviewer asked Updike, about his writing routine: You’ve said that it was fairly easy to write the Rabbit books. Do you write methodically? Do you have a schedule that you stick to?

John Updike answered: “Since I’ve gone to some trouble not to teach, and not to have any other employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So I work three or four hours in the morning, and it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases. You begin by answering a letter or two. There’s a lot of junk in your life. There’s a letter. And most people have junk in their lives.

“But I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it along steadily that you’re going to forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57.”

“It’s a long time to be doing one thing. I don’t know how to retire. I don’t know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type. It’s still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer, but I do think maybe the time has come for me to be a little less compulsive, and maybe (slow down) the book-a-year technique, which has been basically the way I’ve operated.”

The interviewer commented:  “We’ve spoken to a number of writers who said they wrote a certain number of pages every day. There’s a lot to be said for having a routine you can’t run away from.”

Updike answered: “Right. It saves you from giving up.”

This interview is from the excellent website Daily Routines. I think this interview is incredibly instructive. Updike was a full time writer and only wrote three to four hours a day (including doing what he terms administrative junk). Consistently working, even only one hour day, will make you incredibly productive. It doesn’t seem like much, but over time it adds up.

That’s why my book The One Hour Screenwriter is so useful. It shows you exactly how to structure those writing hours to get the most out of them and move your script along. Like Updike, don’t give up! Just keep writing!

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