Guggenheim, all those prizes and grants--you know how they go--most money is given to people who already have money. I know a professor who can't write but wins a prize every year--usually the same one--and he goes off to some island and works on some project, meanwhile still getting paid half salary for doing nothing at the university he's supposed to be teaching at.
I am not so worried about whether I am writing any good or not; I know I write a valley of bad stuff. But what gets me is that nobody is coming on that I can believe in or look up to. It's hell not to have a hero.
Sometimes I don't understand why my arms don't drop from my body with fatigue, why my brain doesn't melt away. I am leading an austere life, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates, I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly.
I never expected any success with To Kill a Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but, at the same time I sort of hoped someone would like it well enough to give me encouragement.
I don't believe in draining the reservoir. I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say. I know that to sustain those true moments of insight one has to be highly disciplined, lead a disciplined life.
I write whenever I am able, for a few days or a week or a month if I can get the time. I sneak away to the country and work on a computer that's not connected to the Internet and count on the world to go away long enough for me to get a few words down on paper, whenever and however I can. When the writing is going well, I can work all day. When it's not, I spend a lot of time gardening and standing in front of the refrigerator.
I really don't adhere to writing schedules at all. The times that I've tried that, when I have been in a slump and I try to get out of it by saying, "Come on, Ann, sit down at the typewriter," I've gotten in a worse slump. It's better if I just let it ride. I've learned I can't force it. I certainly am a moody and, I would say, not very happy person.
I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years. I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drove me back to Catch-22. I couldn't imagine what Americans did at night when they weren't writing novels.
I am a completely horizontal writer. I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched out on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.
Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don't come, when I find I haven't written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, I collapse on my couch and lie their dazed, bogged down in a swamp of despair, hating myself.