This was an interesting question posted to the writer John Updike by John Freeman, an interviewer on PBS’s Blank by Blank.
This interview with Updike, who found a way to write with four small children running in and out all day long, intrigued me.
I, too, have four small children currently at home all day long, and as it is summer, I’m also not at the office on a regular basis. How did Updike stay productive? How did he stay focused? What worked for him? Did he find writing addictive (as I can)?
What brings me to my desk every day is this idea that I have a puzzle to solve about Emmett Wilson. The details of this man’s life were, up until about 27 months ago, lost to obscurity. There were tiny bits and pieces, all scattered to the winds, without context or framework.
I told a friend last week that putting Emmett’s story together is similar to assembling one of those 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzles — something I love.
My approach is never to pick a few pieces out that ‘match’ and futz with them; I dump the entire mess of pieces onto a large table, assess what I have, then start organizing.
The more difficult the puzzle, the more intrigued I am to solve it. I’ll stick with it until the image is complete. Once I see a section start to come together, I become energized.
That is what is happening right now — well, over the past 10 days or so — with one small section of Emmett’s story. Bit by bit, the story is coming together, so I’m spending more time writing on that rather than this blog, or work administrivia.
Truthfully, much of the writing life is me staring at my blank screen, or, writing longhand on a quadrille pad, ‘trying on’ the facts of Emmett’s complicated life as they fall into place on the page. Many days are frustratingly unproductive. I feel uninspired or tired of the research. Also, I have to live in the real world where I have do things like schlep kids to and from activities during the day on the Beltway, and then, THEN, does the muse speak. Damn muse.
I come to my desk every morning nowadays because I’m intrigued and on a roll, and like an alcoholic buzz, I live to capture that feeling — that writing buzz — all the time.
It’s a different kind of drunk.
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