Wednesday, February 29, 2012

At Stake

I'm finishing up my MFA here at NU - indeed, both my readers have approved my thesis. People hearing this news have offered congratulations and suggested I must be relieved. The truth is, however, that I'm worried. I no longer have the deadlines of class or thesis work to motivate me. I no longer have the guaranteed rewards of passing grades or of smart readers giving me helpful feedback.  Instead I have my legal work - the kind that pays the bills - and family, two potential disincentives to writing.

I've turned for inspiration to Louis Auchincloss for his ability to produce work as both a lawyer and a writer. Auchincloss wrote over sixty books, including novels, short story collections, and nonfiction books, most while being an associate then partner at respected New York law firms. The New Yorker noted his unusual method: he wrote his novels on a legal pad in his living room "while his children played cowboys and Indians around him."  He reflected that he never remembered any conflict coming up between his legal work and writing: "I can’t imagine what it would be. I didn’t have a timetable on when a book was to be done. What difference would it make? If something came up for a week or so, I’d just give up writing for a week." During this period that had no deadlines for books, Auchincloss produced one per year. The trick, apparently, was being so productive that it didn't matter if he couldn't be productive for a brief span. The other lesson is that conflicts or obstacles can be in the eye of the beholder. He also had this to say about the writer's space:

"Lots of writers have to have whole days or nights to get ready to write; they like to be by a fire, with absolute quiet, with their slippers on and a pipe or something, and then they’re ready to go. They can’t believe you can use five minutes here, ten minutes there, fifteen minutes at another time. Yet it’s only a question of training to learn that trick. If they had to do it that way, they’d be able to—the real writers, that is. I can pick up in the middle of a sentence and then go on. I wrote at night; sometimes I wrote at the office and then practiced law at home. My wife and I never went away on weekends. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try this method, but it worked for me." 

While I would like slippers and a glass of wine - pipes are out these days - I'll probably have to learn some of Auchincloss's tricks. I'm sure I'm not alone in that regard.