It Should be the What, Not the How
As he puts it in the article:
I had, for a long time, a profound vulnerability to hearing about these sorts of routines. Of course I knew that writing was terrifically hard work, and that there was no secret code, as in a video game, that would unlock Tolstoy-mode, enabling me to crank out canon-worthy novellas before lunch. But I persisted in believing that I might one day come upon some technique, some set of tricks, that would vault me irreversibly onto the professional plane. I didn’t have a working printer, but I agreed wholeheartedly with Joan Didion that I needed to be sleeping in the same room as my manuscript, so as never to lose touch with it. It would be years before I’d written so much as a single chapter of a novel, but I knew that when I finished a book, I would, like Anthony Trollope, begin my next one on the very same day.
I confess to seeing a lot of truth, and a lot of myself, in this piece.
The "imaginary author interviews I occasionally conduct with myself while brushing my teeth" that Dolnick mentions bear more than a passing resemblance to my own inner fantasy life (though usually I'm on Letterman or Craig Ferguson, not in the pages of The Paris Review). And I would be lying if I said I haven't been occasionally browsing the prices of stand-up desks since learning that's how Hemingway preferred to work. (I've also taken to drinking mojitos on the same principle).
So I resolved to take Mr. Dolnick's advice: he points out that
the important thing is not the techniques, but the spirit in which you take them up. If you reach out, as I spent all those years doing, like a drowning man for a scrap of wood, then you’ll most likely flail until you and your technique sink together in an unhappy mass. If, though, you can reach out from a position of calm, as a swimmer reaches out for a kickboard before turning to begin his next lap, then you might find yourself feeling what all the tricks and tips are finally pointing toward: freedom.
Naturally, what was the first thing I did after vowing to be more free of concerns about writing, about not worrying so much about how I write and just write more, and not spending so much time investigating how others have done the same work in the past?
I read this article by Austin Grossman about how working on video games taught him how to write.
PS: I really wish Dolnick hadn't pointed out that all those Paris Review interviews are available online...