L.M. Montgomery: Writing Without Time or Privacy
Who among us time-crunched wordsmiths can’t occasionally relate to L.M. Montgomery’s wistful longing for “enough spare minutes to do some writing,” as she related in her 1910 journal. She wrote this as a reflection of some years earlier when, as a young woman she needed to earn her keep before her novels (chief among them, the Anne of Green Gables series) made her famous.
Montgomery quickly discovered that the equation of spare time plus perfect solitude was neither practical nor feasible for her. So when she learned to snatch writing time in the midst of a hectic newspaper office, she was surprised at what she could accomplish. Not waiting for ideal conditions in which to work was a habit that would serve her in good stead throughout her writing life, in which time and solitude were ever at a premium, and inner peace was nearly nonexistent. Here, from her 1910 journal entry:
There’s no perfect time to write
“I have had a hard time trying to arrange for enough spare minutes to do some writing. As my salary only suffices for board and bed and as it is against the law, not to mention the climate, to go about naked, I have to make enough money to clothe myself in other ways. My first idea was to write in the evenings. Well, I tried it. I couldn’t string two marketable ideas together. Besides, I had to keep my stockings darned and my buttons sewed on!
“Then I determined to get up at six every morning to write before going to work! I did that twice—or maybe it was three times. Then I concluded that was impossible. I could not do good work in a chilly room on an empty stomach, especially if, as was often the case, I had been up late the night before. So I said to myself, very solemnly,
“‘Now, Maud, what are you going to do? Leaving the tenets of the Plymouth Brethren out of the question, you have to choose between two courses. You must either decamp back to the tight little Island or you must hit upon some plan to make possible the production of pot-boilers.’”
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Solitude isn’t necessary, as it turns out
“… Now, it used to be at home, that I thought undisturbed solitude was necessary that the fire of genius might burn. I must be alone and the room must be quiet. It would have been the last thing to enter my imagination to supposed that I could ever write anything at all, much less anything of value, in a newspaper office, with rolls of proof shooting down every few minutes, people coming and going and conversing, telephones ringing and machines thumping and dragging overhead.
“I would have laughed at the idea—yea, I would have laughed it to scorn. But the impossible has happened. I am of one opinion with the Irishman who said you could get used to anything, even to being hanged!
“Every morning here I write and not bad stuff either. I have grown accustomed to stopping in the midst of a paragraph to interview a prowling caller and to pausing in full career after an elusive rhyme to read a batch of proof and snarled-up copy. It’s all in a days’ work—but I don’t like it over and above. It’s trying. However, it has to be done and I won’t grumble, no, not one little bit!”
— from The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, January, 1910
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