Ursula K. Le Guin’s Daily Routine: The Discipline That Fueled Her Imagination

ursula k le guin writing advice

Image by Gor­thi­an, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

“Some of us are Nor­man Mail­er,” said Ursu­la K. LeGuin in a 1976 inter­view with sci­ence-fic­tion fanzine Luna Month­ly, “but oth­ers of us are mid­dle-aged Port­land house­wives.” And though Le Guin may have thought of her­self as one of the lat­ter, “mid­dle-aged Port­land house­wife” is hard­ly the way the rest of us would describe her. Over a near­ly 60-year-long career, Le Guin pro­duced an enor­mous body of lit­er­ary work, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to the six books in which she cre­at­ed the world of Earth­sea and oth­er acclaimed sci-fi nov­els like The Left Hand of Dark­nessThe Dis­pos­sessed, and The Lathe of Heav­en. And some­how she man­aged to write all of it between 7:15 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. each day.

Or that’s what her ide­al writ­ing sched­ule dic­tates, any­way. Recent­ly tweet­ed out by writer Michael J. Sei­dlinger as “the ide­al writ­ing rou­tine,” it first appeared in an inter­view she gave in 1988 (and more recent­ly reap­peared in Ursu­la Le Guin: The Last Inter­view and Oth­er Con­ver­sa­tions).

Begin­ning at the ear­ly hour of 5:30 in the morn­ing, the time to “wake up and lie there and think,” it con­tin­ues on to break­fast — and “lots” of it — at 6:15, and the com­mence­ment of the day’s “writ­ing, writ­ing, writ­ing” an hour lat­er, which lasts until lunch at noon. After that, Le Guin con­sid­ered what we con­sid­er her main work to be done, mov­ing on to such pur­suits as read­ing, music, cor­re­spon­dence, “maybe house clean­ing,” and din­ner. Past 8:15, she said, “I tend to be very stu­pid,” a state in which nobody could write the sort of books we remem­ber her for.

But how­ev­er orig­i­nal­ly she wrote, Le Guin was hard­ly excep­tion­al in liv­ing this way while doing it. “Be reg­u­lar and order­ly in your life, so that you may be vio­lent and orig­i­nal in your work,” said Gus­tave Flaubert, a max­im true for enough writ­ers that we also worked it in when we fea­tured an info­graph­ic on the dai­ly rou­tines of famous cre­ative peo­ple. In both Flaubert and Le Guin’s case (or in the case of a writer like Haru­ki Muraka­mi, who ris­es famous­ly ear­ly and runs famous­ly hard when work­ing on a book), their domes­tic lives, well-ordered to the point that an out­side observ­er would find them bor­ing, facil­i­tat­ed the cre­ation of lit­er­a­ture like none that had ever come before. This despite the fact that, on the sur­face, few nov­els could seem more dis­sim­i­lar than Flaubert and Le Guin’s, but each writer would have seen what the oth­er had in com­mon: specif­i­cal­ly, that they knew what it took to get the imag­i­na­tion well and tru­ly fired up.

via Michael J. Sei­dlinger

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

The Dai­ly Rou­tines of Famous Cre­ative Peo­ple, Pre­sent­ed in an Inter­ac­tive Info­graph­ic

Ursu­la Le Guin Gives Insight­ful Writ­ing Advice in Her Free Online Work­shop

Cel­e­brate the Life & Writ­ing of Ursu­la K. Le Guin (R.I.P.) with Clas­sic Radio Drama­ti­za­tions of Her Sto­ries

Ursu­la K. Le Guin Names the Books She Likes and Wants You to Read

Watch the New Trail­er for Worlds of Ursu­la K Le Guin, the First Fea­ture Film on the Pio­neer­ing Sci-Fi Author

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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