Saturday, January 28, 2012

Authorly Habits

In the last few days before the publication of my first novel, I’ve been doing some thinking about how my life will change, now that I stand on tremulous legs, ready to hop the great divide from “unpublished writer” to “published author.” I really want to do it correctly, so I started poking around, seeing what I could find out about the habits of highly effective authors.

Capote claimed: “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.” That sounds pretty good, although I do tend to nod off in the horizontal position, no matter what time of day. Oh, and until my kids get a bit older and can transport themselves to and from school, I’ll probably have to wait on the afternoon martinis. Lots of great writers hit the sauce, actually—Faulkner (mint juleps), Fitzgerald (gin), McCullers (hot tea & sherry). In my research, I found this book, in which you can find out the cocktail of choice for many of your favorite writers, and the recipe!

But I digress. I don’t have the tolerance yet. Once I had a margarita at lunch with a girlfriend and I had to take a nap afterwards. And I don’t get much writing done at night, usually, because there are several loud, shorter people who bounce around the halls here.

Nabokov used index cards when he wrote; Welty used straight pins to tack her stories into one long strip (I’ll bet she wasn’t a drinker because that probably wouldn’t work out, what with all those pins lying around). Really, the most common habit you find when researching famous writers is very unglamorous. Maybe it’s five hundred words a day, maybe it’s a strict six hours, but basically, they all sit down and write most days.

I'm more interested in lifestyle changes. What pretentious and self-satisfied things will I be able to do now? My husband’s an attorney and he gets to sign his name with a comma and “Esquire.” Can I now sign my son’s Social Studies test with “Mary Vensel White, Published Author?” Maybe a little flourish afterwards? When I write the check for the mortgage, can I add it there? Probably not.

Will people add the honorific as a prefix when they’re talking about me, you know, like they do with “Academy Award Winner?” Example: “I saw Published Author Mary Vensel White buying milk the other day.” Not likely.

At dinner parties, will I become the authority on certain topics? Grammar? Publishing? Tweed? Actually, I guess I’d rather not be asked too many questions when I’m trying to enjoy my dinner and (here we go again) drink(s).

My guess is that in as many ways that it will change things, many more will stay the same. They still expect me to do the laundry around here, and I’ll still write most every day.

A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing – Eugene Ionesco


  1. Nice post! I like the idea of an honorific for authors! Sadly, you're right - things change but don't change, unless of course you become a massive bestseller and win the Nobel Prize, which I truly hope you do :-) For most of us, though, life becomes a little better, a little more interesting, more challenging in some ways, and, yes, we do the boring stuff like writing a certain amount each day. Good luck with the publication! Enjoy!!

  2. I came over here from the Blog Carnival - nice post which (a) made me laugh and (b) justified a large G&T in the writerly tradition (ahem!). Here's an honorific for writing - a friend of mine has just completed a PhD, which I think makes her a Doctor of Poetry!


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka