The Secret Key to Ursula K. LeGuin’s Enviable Writing Schedule
A few years ago, a snapshot of author Ursula K. LeGuin’s writing schedule surfaced on Twitter after an anthology was published of her collected interviews.
As the tweet went viral, I noticed two recurring themes in people’s reactions. One, a kind of reverent admiration for the late sci-fi master’s endearingly un-precious sketch of her own creative discipline. Two, an appreciation for all the time the writer spent, very purposefully, not writing.
My reaction was somewhere between “wow, I wish I could have the discipline to think at 5:30 in the morning” and “wow, I wish I didn’t have to pay rent.” I probably Googled some articles about how creative genius is all about sticking to one’s routine, and may or may not have read them.
But as we enter year three of pandemic living, many of us white-collar keyboard tappers ostensibly have access to a more flexible workday than we did in 2019. For many, a LeGuinian routine is now within reach—or at least, the most important part of it. The overlooked key: an hour for breakfast, an hour for lunch, and three hours to cook and eat dinner.
I don’t remember the meals being mentioned, save for the cheeky parenthetical. But as I look once again at LeGuin’s viral schedule, the meals are what most stand out. Breakfast and lunch are full refueling stops. Reading, thinking, music: more fuel. And for dinner, she allots adequate time to make a deliberate transition from activity to rest. She prepares a meal, and she eats it.
Sometimes I berate myself for taking an hour and a half to cook. Who has the time for this? I ask myself as I hover over the gas range with the NYT cooking app displayed on my phone in one hand, a wooden spoon in another. The eating only takes a half an hour. Then there’s cleaning up. It all feels like a big waste.
But LeGuin’s routine makes me see things another way. I can imagine what the time might serve: a pause, a preservation. And I’m reminded that creative production is as much a function of channeling your own ebbs and flows as it is about discipline and grind. The refueling is a part of the work.