Writing Routines

Ben Fountain’s Writing Routine: “I treated it like a job. I did not procrastinate.”

Ben Fountain is an American author, best-known for his short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories, and his 2012 debut novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Some people are binge writers. They kill themselves for three or four days straight, and then don’t write for three or four days or for weeks or months. I work at it five days a week, sometimes six, sometimes seven, very steadily.

Ben Fountain Talks to Noreen Tomassi | The Center for Fiction

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Ben Fountain’s road to becoming a published author was a long, winding one. At 54 years old, the North Carolina-born, Dallas-based writer published his debut novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which became one of the most acclaimed books of the year; winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize as well as being a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award.

But Fountain hadn’t originally set out to be a writer. In 1988, only a few years after he graduated from the Duke University School of Law and started working as an associate at the real estate law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, he quit his job to pursue full-time fiction writing.

“I was tremendously apprehensive,” Fountain recalled in an interview with The New Yorker. “I felt like I’d stepped off a cliff and I didn’t know if the parachute was going to open. Nobody wants to waste their life, and I was doing well at the practice of law. I could have had a good career. And my parents were very proud of me—my dad was so proud of me. It was crazy.”

Beginning his new life as a writer — on a Monday, no less — Fountain stuck to a structured workday, sitting down at his kitchen table at 7.30 every morning and writing all the way until lunchtime. After that, he’d take a break and lie down on the floor for 20 minutes to rest his mind. Then it was back to writing for a few more hours.

“I figured out very early on that if I didn’t get my writing done I felt terrible,” he told Malcolm Gladwell. “So I always got my writing done. I treated it like a job. I did not procrastinate.”

Ben Fountain’s daily writing routine

Not much had changed in Fountain’s writing routine, now that he is a world-renowned author. He generally starts his novels by writing out the first drafts in longhand on legal pads. He’ll then type it up on the computer, print it out and mark up the changes with a pen or pencil. This process will continue until the end of the project.

For Fountain, he much prefers getting his thoughts down with a pen and paper, rather than on the computer with that “damn cursor always blinking.” In the perfect world, Fountain admitted that it’s the initial drafts and sketches of ideas that he enjoys most in the writing process.

“That’s the fun part, almost the easy part,” he said in an interview with Ecotone. “You would love to be able to sketch those things out and then turn it over to an assistant and say, ‘Okay, you get the general idea. Now write it. And write it just like I would write it. Meanwhile, I’m going to go off and come up with some more plots and interesting characters.’”

In that same interview with Ecotone, the author of Brief Encounters With Che Guevara described a typical writing day in his life.

I do try to write five days a week, Monday through Friday. For years the pattern was to get up, get the kids off to school, come back, work from 7:30 or 8:00 until noon, eat lunch, take a quick twenty-minute nap, and then work until 3:00 or 3:30, whenever I had to start taking care of the kids again. I work pretty slowly and I realized early on that if I was going to get anywhere I really did need to work every day of the week. It takes me a long time to figure things out, and the only way I can do that is by writing. It frustrates me that I don’t figure things out more quickly than I do. I wish I was smarter. I would love to be one of these prolific writers who comes out with a book every two years. But I guess I’m just not that kind of writer. So I have to deal with what I’ve got and try to be diligent about continuing to get better.

A Conversation with Ben Fountain | Ecotone

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