Science Fiction Novelists Reveal Their Daily Writing Routines

Isaac Asimov awoke each morning 6 AM and worked well into the night, sometimes churning out entire books in a matter of days. Kingsley Amis’ writing binges were fueled by nicotine, alcohol, and numerous cups of tea, while surrealist Haruki Murakami claims to work himself into a routine-induced trance. Take a gander at how some of science fiction’s most famous writers have organized their days and kept their creative juices flowing.

Kingsley Amis, science fiction editor, critic, and author of The Altering, Russian Hide and Seek, and The Green Man, fills the stereotype of the drunken writer. He once noted that he had a “reputation of being one of the great drinkers, if not one of the great drunks of our time.” Although he claimed his inspiration didn’t come from the bottle, he made room for drinking, as well as writing, in his daily schedule:

I don’t get up very early. I linger over breakfast reading the papers, telling myself hypocritically that I’ve got to keep with what’s going on, but really staving off the dreadful time when I have to go to the typewriter. That’s probably about ten-thirty, still in pajamas and dressing gown. And the agreement I have with myself is that I can stop whenever I like and go and shave and so on. In practice, it’s not till about one or one-fifteen that I do that—I usually try and time it with some music on the radio. Then I emerge, and nicotine and alcohol are produced. I work on until about two or two-fifteen, have lunch, then if there’s urgency about, I have to write in the afternoon, which I really hate doing—I really dislike afternoons, whatever’s happening. But then the agreement is that it doesn’t matter how little gets done in the afternoon. And later on, with luck, a cup of tea turns up, and then it’s only a question of drinking more cups of tea until the bar opens at six o’clock and one can get into second gear. I go on until about eight-thirty and I always hate stopping. It’s not a question of being carried away by one’s creative afflatus, but saying, “Oh dear, next time I do this I shall be feeling tense again.”

- The Paris Review, Winter 1975

Where Amis lazed about until the afternoons, Asimov preferred to devote the entire day to writing, often working all day, seven days a week, and sometimes writing entire books in a matter of days, a work ethic he reportedly developed in childhood:

His usual routine was to awake at 6 A.M., sit down at the typewriter by 7:30 and work until 10 P.M.

In "In Memory Yet Green," the first volume of his autobiography, published in 1979, he explained how he became a compulsive writer. His Russian-born father owned a succession of candy stores in Brooklyn that were open from 6 A.M. to 1 A.M. seven days a week. Young Isaac got up at 6 o'clock every morning to deliver papers and rushed home from school to help out in the store every afternoon. If he was even a few minutes late, his father yelled at him for being a folyack, Yiddish for sluggard. Even more than 50 years later, he wrote: "It is a point of pride with me that though I have an alarm clock, I never set it, but get up at 6 A.M. anyway. I am still showing my father I'm not a folyack."

The New York Times, April 7, 1992

Haruki Murakami, the Japanese surrealist writer who authored such novels as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, takes an approach toward writing and his daily life that is at the same regimented and mystical:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

The Paris Review, Summer 2004

By contrast, Philip Roth, who wrote the alternate history The Plot Against America, works without a schedule, preferring to write as inspiration and insomnia strike him:

When I came to visit, it was a late-winter morning, and the snow was piled high around the studio. Roth was wearing a blue Shetland sweater, green corduroy pants. Often there is tweed. He dresses like a graduate student of the late fifties. He led me to the back room. There was a team photograph of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. There were free weights, a lifting bench, and an exercise mat. He had quintuple-bypass surgery eleven years ago and is determined to keep in shape. He stays out here all day and into the evening: no telephone, no fax. Nothing gets in. In the late afternoons, he takes long walks, often trying to figure out connections and solve problems in the novel that's possessing him.

"I live alone, there's no one else to be responsible for or to, or to spend time with," Roth said. "My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually, I write all day, but if I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don't have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don't have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours. If I wake up at two in the morning—this happens rarely, but it sometimes happens—and something has dawned on me, I turn the light on and I write in the bedroom. I have these little yellow things all over the place. I read till all hours if I want to. If I get up at five and I can't sleep and I want to work, I go out and I go to work. So I work, I'm on a call. I'm like a doctor and it's an emergency room. And I'm the emergency."

David Remnick, Reporting: Writings From The New Yorker

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