The Writing Habit of Flannery O’Connor

“I am a full-time believer in writing habits,” said Flannery O’Connor.

Now, if you have genius, you might be able to do without them, she added. “But most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or else it dries up and blows away.”

Ms. O’Connor wrote for two hours every day. Your habits have to conform to what you and your energy can sustain, she believed. And her energy, which was depleted by lupus, could sustain only so much time. But she let nothing interrupt those two hours. Always the same two hours in the same place.

When she sat down to write, she might have some idea of the story, but often she was following her nose. “I think you discover a good deal more in the process when you don’t have too definite ideas about what you want to do,” she explained.

Ms. O’Connor might work for months on something and have to toss it all in the garbage bin. But she did not see those months as wasted time. There was something going on in us, she believed, though we may not register it on a conscious level, that makes it easier when the work does come well.

And, as she said of her writing habit, “The fact is that if you don’t sit there every day, the day it would come well, you won’t be sitting there.”

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