This is the story of a writer.
As a little girl, she's quiet and spends a lot of time drawing. When she enters high school, she becomes the art editor for the school paper. She's enthralled by story and art and the depth of human experience.
When she’s 12 years old, her father is diagnosed with lupus and quickly passes away. She turns to art for comfort.
At Georgia State, she draws cartoons for the college newspaper. Art is her entry point to creativity.
After college, the young artist is accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop to study journalism. It's here she learns her forte is writing. Her powerful prose––like an ice pick to the heart––quickly catches the attention of important writers.
In workshop, a mentor advises her to set aside a certain number of hours each day to write. She takes this advice to heart, and it sticks with her for the rest of her life.
Our writer completes numerous short stories and is accepted to the respected Yaddo artist community in New York. At Yaddo, she works hard on her novel––a story about a World War II veteran who’s haunted by a crisis of faith after finding the family farm abandoned without a trace.
The very same year she publishes her first novel, she is diagnosed with lupus––the same disease that ravaged her father. She's told she has only four years to live.
She's 27 years old.
Would you fault her for quitting? Lupus is all consuming. Flu-like symptoms, mental fogginess, body aches, the looming date of death. Who can write under those conditions?
But she persists.
After her diagnosis, she moves home to Georgia. She begins every day with prayer. Then she has coffee and goes to church with her mom. At 9 a.m., she shuts herself away to write for three hours. On a good day, she writes three pages. She later tells a journalist, "I may tear it all to pieces the next day."
By noon, our writer is spent. Lupus takes its toll, but she has three pages DONE. If you think that’s not a lot, just do the math: 3 pages x 365 days = 1095 pages per year.
She spends the rest of her afternoon resting, reading, and seeing friends.
In a letter to a friend, she writes, "Routine is a condition of survival."
You might have guessed by now. The writer in this story is the grandmother of Southern Gothic fiction, Flannery O'Connor.
O'Connor lived for 12 years after her lupus diagnosis––seven years longer than expected. In that time, she published two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as numerous reviews and commentaries. Her posthumously compiled Complete Stories won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.
Despite the greatest odds of chronic illness, O'Connor remained a paragon of internal strength.
After years of researching creative habits and successful writers like O’Connor, this is my thesis on fruitful creativity:
Fruitful and productive writers have an intrinsic muscle set that helps them write with courage, keep the @$$ in the chair, and finish their most cherished projects––even when they feel frozen or overwhelmed with fear. These are…
The 7 Muscles of Highly Effective Writers
O’Connor’s courage, faith, grit, focus, willpower, and drive helped her show up for her work.
Yes, O’Connor had tremendous talent. But that talent meant nothing without the internal strength that supported her consistency. It wasn’t O’Connor’s talent that built her legacy. It was her routine.
Because she showed up, the last years of her life were full. Because she showed up, she left a legacy that influenced every short story writer who came after. Her routine kept those muscles strong.
Her words are a mantra to me: Routine is a condition of survival.
O'Connor is one story of MANY paragons of internal strength. Read the biography of any great writer, and you'll find the common theme of routine (+ the 7 Muscles). THIS is how writers finish their work. Finished work changes literature. It changes the world.
Do you need a coach to tell you to "set aside the hours to write"? I've designed my January workshop to exercise these critical 7 Muscles so you can show up for your work and get the words outta your head and onto the page.