The Daily Writing Routines of 20 Famous Authors (Infographic)
Do you write only when the mood strikes, or do you keep a firm writing schedule? Of course, creative inspiration is a wonderful feeling, but many authors find it hard to maintain productivity without at least a little structure.
Consider medieval monks, who copied numerous ancient texts and also wrote down plenty of new texts, scribbling furiously on parchment in candlelit rooms. They knew the productive power of a regular schedule (in fact, the English word “regular” comes from the Latin regula, which can also mean “monastic rule”).
Modern life has brought new conveniences and technologies that ostensibly make it easier than ever to write prolifically—but the human penchant for procrastination persists. Moreover, countless writers juggle their novels, essays, or blogs with 9-to-5 jobs, parenting duties, and other responsibilities. Carving out time just for writing remains imperative.
Hence the importance of a regular writing schedule.
The infographic below introduces you to the routines followed by 20 famous authors. As you read on, you’ll learn how they circumvented distractions, pushed through writer’s block, and put words on the page every day, even when they weren’t feeling particularly inspired.
A few examples? Many authors—from Ernest Hemingway and Emily Post to Kurt Vonnegut and Will Self—formed a habit of waking at dawn to do some writing before the day slipped away. They found the peace and stillness of early morning hours highly conducive to creative productivity.
Other authors swear by a particular location. Edith Wharton, for example, insisted on writing while facing a window, while Karl Marx found inspiration from the British Museum Reading Room. Flannery O’Connor, in contrast, would have found such locations distracting; she wrote facing her plain wooden dresser. Likewise, Maya Angelou required a decoration-free room to allow her to concentrate fully on her craft.
You may have to experiment with different places to discover what works for you—cafés, libraries, home offices, and hotel rooms all have their pros and cons.
Finally, you’ll notice that several famous authors balanced writing with full-time jobs or family commitments. When John Grisham worked as a lawyer, he fit in time for writing by getting up at 5 a.m. and producing at least one page per day. As for E.B. White, he composed his works from home amidst his family. He knew that waiting for perfect, distraction-free conditions would mean waiting a very long time.
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.
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”.
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?