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Norman Mailer and the Discipline of Writing

Posted by Chris Holman on Jan 31, 2011, 7:31:00 AM


Today, January 31st, is the birth anniversary of Norman Mailer… a “towering writer of matching ego” as his NY Times obituary read.

Mailer was prolific as a writer, and other things. Since the 1948 publication of The Naked and the Dead, he published 30 books, wrote untold numbers of short stories, essays, and plays, was married 6 times, had 9 children, received 2 Pulitzers and 1 National Book Award.

His first novel, The Naked and the Dead, was published as a 25-year-old literary novice. The NY Times book critic called it “the most impressive novel about the Second World War that I have ever read.” Mr. Mailer saw little combat in the war and finished his military career as a cook in occupied Japan. But his wartime experience, and in particular a single patrol he made on the island of Leyte, became the raw material for “The Naked and the Dead,” the book that put him on the map. The book sold 200,000 copies in just 3 months…an astonishing amount in those days. It was on the NY Times bestseller list for 11 consecutive weeks.

The Writing Discipline
Mailer said, “Being a real writer means being able to work on a bad day.” Mailer stuck to a strict writing regimen. He said: "Over the years, I've found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write."

He wrote daily from 9 to 5, up until his death at the age of 84. For the last 27 years of his life, he shared a studio with his sixth and last wife, Norris Church Mailer, an artist and writer. They each had their own space. Mailer sat on a wooden chair looking out at the Provincetown Bay — he liked to be near water when he wrote — but he closed the curtains when he really needed to concentrate. Mailer and his wife ate breakfast and lunch on their own schedule, but they would meet up at 6 p.m. to drink wine and eat dinner.

In an interview in 2007, months before his death, Mailer said…“I think the novel is on the way out. I also believe, because it’s natural to take one’s own occupation more seriously than others, that the world may be the less for that.”

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Topics: Writing