Every writer has different habits, a unique ritual that helps them focus on the (sometimes arduous) task of writing. Sometimes even mild sounding habits, like going for inspirational walks, can be taken to extremes in pursuit of a completed manuscript.
Walking before writing is probably a common one. I think lots of writers, including me, enjoy a long walk to mull over plotlines before settling into a writing session. However, I am not sure if we would all be able to match Charles Dickens’ energy; he walked 20 to 30 miles per day.
Coffee is a staple for many writers. But how many of us attain the caffeine-rush brought on by ingesting approximately fifty cups a day, like Honoré de Balzac? I can hardly imagine what that would be like, but I picture it something like this:
Balzac’s intense writing schedule may have necessitated the vats of coffee he knocked back. Apparently he would eat a light dinner at 6 pm, then go to bed until 1 am, at which point he would writing for seven hours. At 8 am, he would have a 90 minute nap, and resume writing from 9:30 am to 4 pm.
Balzac wasn’t the only one who liked to work late at night. George Sand also wrote at least 20 pages every night. She picked up the habit while caring for her ailing grandmother, when the night-time hours were her only chance to be alone. In the mornings, she couldn’t remember what she had written in the dead of the night, and claimed she would even forget the titles of her books if she didn’t have copies of them on the shelf.
Lots of writers like to be comfortable when they work. Some of them probably wear pajamas or comfortable yoga pants while working. (I am definitely not talking about me. Okay, maybe sometimes). But sometimes the opposite of comfort is needed to get the book finished. Chronic procrastinator Victor Hugo found himself struggling to meet the deadline for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he really couldn’t miss this deadline. For every week he was late, he would be fined 1,000 francs. He came up with the clever and surprising scheme of placing himself under house arrest – without clothes. He asked his valet to lock away his clothes, and wore a long shawl while writing, logically thinking that if he had no clothes, he couldn’t go out, and would have to stay home and write. It must have worked, because he finished the book on time.
Some authors, like Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, preferred to write standing up. Truman Capote liked the opposite, and described himself as a “horizontal author.” Since he felt he couldn’t think properly unless he was lying down, he wrote stretched out on the couch with a cigarette and coffee by his hand, and scribbled the manuscript with the other. As the afternoon progressed, he would switch from coffee to mint tea, then to sherry, then to martinis.
While some writers can become absorbed in their work in any setting, from the bath to the kitchen table, others enjoy a well-organized routine. Maya Angelou would check into a hotel every morning, into a room where staff had removed all stimuli from the walls. She would bring legal pads, a bottle of sherry, playing cards, a Bible, and Roget’s Thesaurus with her, and generally write around twelve pages before leaving in afternoon, and spending the evening editing her work. I’m not sure if this is still her routine, since she is in her eighties now, but the dedicated habit must have worked well for her.
Writing can be tough, and especially so for anyone who is struggling with their eyesight. James Joyce wore a white coat while he worked, and write in a blue pencil. The coat apparently reflected light and helped him to see the page. Though his sight faded, his dedication and love of writing did not, and he began to write with coloured crayons on large pieces of cardboard, still managing to compose his signature intricate sentences.
If you have a writing routine you’d like to share, please do leave a comment!
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