Vintage desk and typewriter

On Routine

By David Gessner

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Walks and Talks with Dave (and Henry): Nature Writing During the Quarantine

Welcome to week three of Nature Writing during the Quarantine. I must admit my enchantment with video lectures is starting to wane. Where are the human beings? Today’s lecture, which takes place along the eastern bank of the Cape Fear River, is a little deeper discussion of Thoreau than my kayaking intro, and today’s prompt focuses on something I have relied on, like solid rock, my whole writing career: routine.

My routine looks pretty dull from the outside. But, as I say in the video, there is a magic in sameness. You get habitualized to being creative. You become regularly inspired. And you get stuff done. If you put in five hours at the desk a day it adds up. Math isn’t my strong suit, but even I can see that this means 50 hours every ten days, or 150 a month, or 300 in two months. I’ve been called a fast writer but do anything for 300 hours and you’ll get something done. Also, I sat down like this, as much as life would allow it, back when I was younger and a slow writer, and I feel like all that sitting is what has made me fast.

Depending on your own temperament, my schedule may seem like either a) a dream or b) Dullsville. To me it is a little of both. The routine feeds the work in some way I don’t entirely understand. It also enforces boringness—you want to go out and party, sure, but then how do you get up at 4:45 a.m.? And oddly, the whole thing is surprisingly tense. Because you are doing all this stuff, controlling what you can control, going through your rituals like a batter at the plate, but at the same time at the heart of the whole thing is crazy voodoo magic: the fucking words have to come from somewhere! Where do they really come from? Who knows? But if you are smart you don’t spend too much time thinking about it and just keep writing.

Prompt: On Routine



David GessnerDavid Gessner is the author of 11 books that blend a love of nature, humor, memoir, and environmentalism, including the forthcoming Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt’s American Wilderness and the New York Times-bestselling All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West. Gessner currently serves as chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Ecotone. Gessner lives in Wilmington, North Carolina with his wife, the novelist Nina de Gramont, and their daughter Hadley.
Read David Gessner’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press.

Header photo by Jill Wellington, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of David Gessner by Debi Lorenc. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.