How Writers Write, Chandler-Style

"What do I do with myself from day to day?  I write when I can and I don't write when I can't; always in the morning or the early part of the day.  You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don't stand up.  I found this out long ago...  I'm always seeing little pieces by writers about how they don't ever wait for inspiration; they just sit down at their little desks every morning at eight, rain or shine, hangover and broken arm and all, and bang out their little stint.  However blank their minds or dim their wits, no nonsense about inspiration from them.  I offer them my admiration and take care to avoid their books.  Me, I wait for inspiration, though I don't necessarily call it by that name.  I believe that all writing that has any life in it is done with the solar plexus.  It is hard work in the sense that it may leave you tired, even exhausted.  In the sense of conscious effort it is not work at all.  The important thing is that there should be a space of time, say four hours a day at least, when a professional writer doesn't do anything else but write.  He doesn't have to write, and if he doesn't feel like it, he shouldn't try.  He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor.  But he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks.  Write or nothing.  It's the same principle as keeping order in a school.  If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored.  I find it works.  Two very simple rules, a. you don't have to write. b. you can't do anything else.  The rest comes of itself."

--Raymond Chandler, Letter to Alex Barris, 18 March 1949, in The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909-1959, ed. Tom Hiney and Frank MacShane (New York: Grove Press, 2000).


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