The Fascinating Work Habits of 18 Famous Writers (Infographic)

Avatar by Brendan Brown | February 11, 2019, 12:52 pm
It’s not uncommon for even the greatest of writers to stare at the blank page in search of how to craft the idea they have in their heads, or even to craft any idea! Every writer, or artist of any sort, spends time trying to identify how to spur their muse.

Inspiration for any type or level of writer can be hard to come by, but some have come up with strategies to spark ideas. Many of the world’s most brilliant and prolific writers engaged in fairly eccentric practices while bringing their incomparable poetry and prose to the page. Some of their habits were born of practicality, others of superstition.

Some of the greatest writers of all time came up with rituals, routines, activities, or superstitions that would help them to access their inspiration. Because of these quirky practices, they nurtured their creativity and ended up writing some of the most well-known words of all time. The writers we profile below had very specific ideas about what writing utensils they could use, what hours of the day they would write, when they would proofread their writing, what they would wear while writing, and even what they wanted their writing spaces to smell like.

Take a look at the “writing hacks” these masters came up with. It is clear that nothing they did was academic, it all just depended on their own unique style and stream of creativity. You may even find some of these practices can help you when you are paralyzed with writers block or just can’t find the inspiration for your next paragraph.

As we can see, great writing comes from the freedom to create without judgment, and if that means typing away in your underwear or scribbling your notes of genius in red crayon, we’re all for it.

Writers can be peculiar people. They spend large periods of time by themselves, creating, writing, immersed in ideas. Writing is a personal process, and what may help the process along for some may not work for others. Everyone has their own peculiarities, and a writer’s creative process and associated rituals say as much about the writer’s own unique personality traits and psyche as it does about how they write. Anything found to avoid the dreaded writer’s block can ultimately be filed away for use later on.

The inability for a writer to produce new work can be detrimental to a professional career. In “The Psychology of Writing”, psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg discusses how creative rituals and writing routines can serve to be psychologically fertile for writing. Kellogg writes that “A person can think in any environment, though some locations become habitual for certain individuals. The key is to find an environment that allows concentrated absorption in the task and maximum exposure to retrieval cues that release relevant knowledge from long-term memory.”

What are the creative rituals of some famous writers? And just how odd can these rituals get? Read on and find out!


Agatha Christie engaged with her creative process while eating apples in her bathtub. When she bought Greenway, her house in Devon, she remarked that she needed a “big bath” and a ledge, because she liked to eat apples. Friedrich Schiller was inspired to write by listening to piano music, but he also used apples; he kept a drawer full of rotting apples in his desk for an inspirational waft.

Numbers Matter

It was important to John Steinbeck to keep 12 well sharpened pencils on his desk all the time. Although he used a typewriter sometimes, pencils were his preferred tool for writing. In fact, he seemed to have fetish for pencils.

Truman Capote was a superstitious person. He refused to write on Fridays, or in hotel rooms with numbers that could be added to the number 13. He also avoided telephoning anyone whose phone numbers totalled an unlucky number. He would not have an ashtray with three burnt out cigarettes in it.

Clothing, or Lack Thereof

While he was writing “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Victor Hugo put away all of his clothes with the exception of one shawl. He would write naked so that he could not be able to leave the house to interrupt his writing. John Cheever often wrote in just his underwear. James Joyce wore a white suit while he wrote on his bed to project more light on his page. As he had vision problems, his pages were large pieces of cardboard, and he used crayons.

Fulfilling a Quota

Stephen King was adamant in writing 2000 words each day, even on his birthday and holidays. He begins around 8:00am or 8:30am. He may write until 1:30pm. The rest of his day may then be free for leisurely activities. In his memoir, “On Writing”, King refers to fiction writing as a “creative sleep”.

If your creative process is to keep writing no matter what, you can focus on your creativity and let professionals do the proofreading and editing.

On the Move

Gertrude Stein wrote in the car while running errands with her wife Alice B. Toklas in the driver’s seat of their Model T Ford, while Sir Walter Scott wrote while on horseback; he composed the lines of his historical romantic poem, “Marmion” while he was out horseback riding. Wallace Stevens wrote his poetry on pieces of paper as he walked about. Stevens liked composing poems in his head as he walked, and once remarked that he enjoyed coordinating the words in his head with the rhythm of his foot steps.

Writing in Unconventional Formats

Jack Kerouac wrote on a giant scroll. “On the Road” was scribed on a 120 foot long manuscript. To ensure that his creative process wasn’t interrupted, Kerouac taped together rolls of architect paper, and put that into the typewriter. This must have worked, because “On the Road” was finished in three weeks.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote on index cards that he kept in a shoebox, which made rearranging of the sections of his stories much easier. Nabokov could then visualize the entire novel and its intricacies only to put them into final order to be typed into a manuscript when he was satisfied. He left an unfinished novel, “The Original of Laura,” which was on a stack of index cards. Upon his death, his instructions were for his family to obliterate the cards, but his son Dmitri published them.

Edgar Allan Poe seemed to have liked scrolls too. He wrote his final drafts on different pieces of paper, and attached these into a scroll with sealing wax.

Green Face Powder?

T.S. Eliot apparently liked to put on green face powder during his writing adventures. He liked cosmetics, and his desire to colour his face a pale, distinct green caused his friends to comment on how contrasting his flair for cosmetics is to his usual desire to not call attention upon himself.

As you can see, some of these writers’ creative rituals can be quite bizarre, but once you find something that works, why not stick with it?

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