This article in the New York Review of Books by Michael Dirda on Joyce Carol Oates is well worth reading. It has a great deal on Oates’ work patterns. She is a dirvish:
Between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2005 she published nineteen books. She has written over seven hundred short stories, more than Maupassant, Kipling, and Chekhov combined.
But what’s astonishing is that she is a writer who polishes her work, who rewrites every page over and over. As well, she is a professor and occasional editor of a literary journal. She has a balanced, healthy life and a happy marriage.
I don’t know how all this is done. My time can easily become consummed with minutia. Who checks her galleys? Who answers her mail, the telephone? Who pays her bills?
Her journal tells us that she writes from 8 till 1 every day, then again for two or three hours in the evening. And she revises and polishes and reworks page after page after page.
I found this passage from her diary particularly moving:
I love to wake up early and begin to read. While the house is absolutely silent, Ray still asleep, nothing in motion. And then, after he’s awake, work at my desk. Until 1:30 or 2. Then have breakfast (apple & cottage cheese). Then return to my desk…. Anything, everything, charms me at such times. Working on The Possessed [for an essay] or my own novel; dreamily shuffling through my old notes for stories or for Bellefleur, writing letters, postcards, staring out the window (at the perpetually falling snow, and occasionally cardinals, and often sparrows, in the berry bushes, today it’s snowing so thickly that the river is invisible), thinking about the University, about students, classes, colleagues, things I must do, books I must read, day-dreaming, doodling, rewriting a brief chapter in Evening & Morning, browsing through things that have found their way onto my desk, for some reason, thinking vaguely ahead, as the afternoon darkens, to dinner….
[from The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973-1982, edited by Greg Johnson. Ecco, 509 pp., $29.95]
Such rich “doodling”! It feels rather like a life from another time and I long for it.