Excerpt from The Way of the Writer
The intellectual world of my time alienated me intellectually. It was a Babel of false principles and blind cravings, a zoological garden of the mind, and I had no desire to be one of the beasts. —George Santayana
My day is the reverse of what a day is for most people. Typically,
I’m up working all night until five or six a.m., the same
kind of schedule kept by Descartes and Balzac. How did I
fall into a lifestyle like this? The happiness and well-being
of my family have always been of greater importance to me
than anything else in the social world; in one way or another,
everything I do is for my family. Forty years ago, I felt reluctant
to work on my creative projects until all the needs of my
wife and children (and now grandson) had been attended to.
It may sound strange for a writer to talk so fervently about
family, but I’ve always taken to heart the advice given by the
spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran in his lovely little pamphlet
Instructions in Meditation. There, he wrote:
Our emphasis on the family context is because it gives
us countless possibilities every day for expanding our
consciousness by reducing our self-will or separateness.
When we are dwelling on ourselves, we are constricting
our consciousness. To the extent that we put the welfare
of others first, we are able to break out of the prison of
our own separateness.... This does not mean following
the wishes of the other person always, but when it seems
necessary to differ, it must be done tenderly and without
the slightest trace of resentment or retaliation.
My kids would finally be in bed by nine or ten p.m. So in
the quiet, wee hours of the morning, when the phone isn’t
ringing and there are no errands to run or other distractions,
I can concentrate fully for hours at a time. I get up at noon
or by one p.m. PST so I can reply to any urgent messages or
e-mails from my agents or editors (or anyone) on the East
Coast before two p.m. (or five p.m. their time, the end of
their business day). Afternoons and evenings are structured
around my workout schedule, which is my priority to maintain
health and fitness, especially now that I’m sixty-two.
On Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, I lift weights (my bench
press is at 280 pounds) for an hour in the early afternoon
and, once a week, I practice my Choy Li Fut empty-hand and
weapons kung fu sets and tai chi chuan sets with old friends
I’ve trained with since 1981 (since my early twenties, I have
believed in the traditional Japanese concept of bunburyodo—
also favored by the writer Yukio Mishima—which literally
means “the pen and the sword in accord,” literary and martial
arts together. For readers interested in more of this, the
Journal of Asian Martial Arts, volume 9, number 4 (2000),
contains the article “Fist of Fantasy: Martial Arts & Prose
Fiction—A Practitioner’s Prejudices” by James Grady, author
of Six Days of the Condor, who examines martial art stories
by me—“China” and “Kwoon”—and David Hunt, Adam
Hall, Jay McInerney, and Peter O’Donnell, and contains two
photos of a younger me practicing Eagle Claw technique on a
partner and doing a traditional Chinese staff set); on Monday
and Wednesday, I get on our treadmill for one hundred minutes.
(No workouts on Friday and Saturday, my rest days.)
With the day’s workout out of the way, my body is completely
relaxed and I’m then free to run errands for my family
and friends, eat a light meal, and settle in to whatever creative
work is in progress while others sleep.
Around eight or nine p.m., I usually take a brief nap to
reboot my brain, then eat a proper “dinner” at ten. Then I’m
leisurely back to work again until dawn—reading, answering
correspondence, writing, studying Sanskrit (I’m in my thirteenth
year now), practicing meditation, with our dogs, Nova
and Biggie, to keep me company in my second-floor study.
Naturally, this schedule goes straight out the window when
I’m on the road for a speaking engagement or have an early
morning meeting. That, of course, never makes me happy.
I’m willing to make sacrifices during the creative process. But
that very process is shored up and strengthened when we do
all we can to have a balanced approach to maintaining fitness
in mind, body, and spirit.
“Excerpted from The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson. Copyright © 2016 by Charles Johnson. Published by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted with permission.”