One huge piece of advice came to me from Bill Whitworth, who was the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and I was so in love with reading the Atlantic at the time. Once or twice I got a chance to work with Bill Whitworth on a piece or two – and I was just kind of struggling to support myself and, you know, life is busy and I wasn’t writing that much. He just said very simply, “Are you writing every day?” and I said, “Ummmm,” and I sort of mumbled because I couldn’t say yes.
It was a horrible feeling, and the day after that, I started writing every day. That would have been 1984 and I tried to write every day since then. It has helped me a lot, so that was probably the most helpful piece of advice I got early on.
It’s very hard to put it in practice if you’re busy doing other things. For a while I was working with old newspapers; we were taking care of them in New Hampshire and people were coming to visit me as I played the role of an amateur librarian and I was asking people to help out with funding, so I had to get up very early in order to write every day. More recently, I have begun to realize that one writes in bursts. When you’re in the middle of writing a book, it’s very exciting and consuming and you think about nothing else, and then there are other periods where you are doing something else — I might be trying to write a song or maybe traveling places, giving readings or something, so I fudge a lot where I think, “OK, did you write anything, did you write a text? Did you write an email? Did you write just notes on a scrap of paper? Did you write something?” So that’s how I get around it sometimes, by stretching the definition.