Updike’s pace

Critical Mass has a post on Updike’s writing regimen:

Q: You’ve written a half-dozen collections of poetry, 22 novels, several volumes of critical writing, a memoir and short stories. Are you a fast writer? Or do you work long hours?

A: Neither. I’m a slow writer who works rather short hours.

I was reading last night about Hawthorne working all day when he was doing “The Scarlet Letter.” Other writers mention 10-hour days. And you read of fantastic word rates that writers achieve — 5,000 words a day.

When I set out, I decided that about 1,000 words a day would be a good quota. … My working day generally goes from about 9 to 1, when I get hungry.

Maintaining this modest demand on myself has produced, as you say, a fair number of books.

The complete interview with the Charlotte Observer, in which he talks about the magic of writing, and addresses writing self doubt, is here.

Could Updike do NaNoWriMo? Curious question. (Maybe Joyce Carol Oates would embrace it). Another writer I have met, Aimee Bender, writes a short amount of hours each day: an hour and a half each morning, and that’s it. She makes herself stop after that hour and a half. Anything beyond that, she said, and the writing doesn’t feel fresh (or something to that effect–my apologies, I’m paraphrasing a memory from years ago).



Filed under Writing

6 responses to “Updike’s pace

  1. My workshop teacher, who keeps winning prizes and is a mom as well as college prof, says she aims for two pages a day.

    I can do about four – a thousand words more or less – but doing it every day is harder. 1,667 words a day for Nanowrimo is daunting. I skipped yesterday. Feeling guilty etc. But I have other work to do (and need to do it!). As we have seen, I am capable of pounding out 2,000 words but a lot of it is filler, genuine time wasting word-count-inflating filler. Or warmup if you want to be very kind.

    Thanks for the Updike interview link.

  2. I think the key is to be consistent. If you write for an hour and a half EVERY day, or even five days a week, over time you’ll have a lot to show for it.

  3. I’m not crazy about Nanowrimo either. I did it once, in 2001, and wrote about 46,000 words of garbage that I’ve never used. I’d rather cut the pace down a little and write something worth while. It’s just not realistic to write a novel in a month, no matter how rough.

  4. bustopher: halfway through yet another attempt at Nanowrimo…i have cut my pace down again. Nanowrimo is awesome, but it’s just not my speed/process (someday i will learn that). but i’m still happy by this major push and the synergy around the movement!

    btw, congrats on the 46K words, that is still a whole lot of work, enough to change your brain chemistry!

  5. I love Aimee Bender’s short stories. It’s cool to hear a little about her writing process.

    I don’t know about time frame, but the most I have ever been able to do (even under deadline, pushing myself until I wanted to drop, or scream, or drop while screaming) was 10 new pages a day. No more than that or my fingers catch fire.

    That’s a good day. Other days I’m lucky if I get out one new sentence.

  6. ah! a very relevant link (mentioning nanowrim0) on writers and their processes here on NPR. i’m curious to read them all!

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