Strange writing habits

People often believe that writing is all about inspiration, which is a sort of esoteric mambo jumbo. Some writers went as far as to develop strange habits, rituals almost, as if to persuade the muse.

Truman Capote

The author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s would never begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, would change hotel rooms if the room’s phone number included the number 13, and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket. He  would supposedly write supine, with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another. He explained his creative process in an interview:

“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”

John Cheever

“To publish a definitive collection of short stories in one’s late 60s seems to me, as an American writer, a traditional and a dignified occasion, eclipsed in no way by the fact that a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.”

This Pulitzer-Prize winner also walked around the room, talking loudly to himself. But isn’t something we all do? Right? Right?

Ernest Hemingway

Just like Graham Green, Hemingway used to write 500 words a day, mostly in the mornings, to avoid the heat. He also admitted to writing one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.

William Faulkner

He drank a lot of whiskey. Even by the standards of a writer.

Vladimir Nabokov

The author of Lolita wrote his novels on 3 x 5 inch cards, which would be paper-clipped and stored in slim boxes.

Isabel Allende

The Chilean author always begins writing her novels on the same date: January 8.

“At the beginning it was superstition, because the first book had been so lucky. Now it’s just discipline. My life is busy, so I need to save some months of the year to be in a retreat. I need time and silence, or I will never be able to write. Having a start date is good for me and everybody around me. They know that on January 8, I’m not available anymore.”

John Steinbeck

He used to keep exactly twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk.

Victor Hugo

The French author set out to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame against what seemed as an impossible deadline. He bought an entire bottle of ink and pretty much put himself under house arrest, locking away his clothes to avoid being tempted into going outside. He did finish writing the book before the deadline, using up the entire bottle of ink.


Friedrich Schiller

He left apples to spoil in a drawer because he believed the aroma inspired him. Nothing strange at all with that.


23 thoughts on “Strange writing habits

  1. I have my rituals which include walking home everyday taking the same exact path and rarely veering off. Listening to the same radio show and walking around NYC to get inspiration. I usually wear the same outfit or close to it to stay in that same mode. If I were in a monogamous relationship, my girlfriend would hate me because I am so unchanging in my behavior in society. But it keeps me very consistent with my daily writing.

    • I do not think I have a habit. I just sit at my desk and listen to music and write. I don’t got out much when working on a project. And sometimes I listen to the same tune on repeat until I write whatever it is that was inspired by it.

      • I have to have music in my ear as well, it puts me in my writing zone. I often wonder how writers of old wrote with no music easily available to them like we have now with all our modern gadgets. That had to be rough, LOL

    • Oh. And funny thing that you mentioned a girlfriend. One of my favorite painters, Jack Vettriano, said in an interview that he never married because his wife and kids would be required to live in a different house.

      • Living in a different house reminds me of film director Guillermo del Toro. He has a house with his wife and kids, but owns a separate home up the street that’s for him. It has all his belongings so he doesn’t have to give up anything or compromise.

  2. Habits are part of humanity. I would say that the habits of writers and artists are perceived as strange and out of the ordinary because they’re publicly known and popularised by not only the writers and artists themselves, but also those who have interest in their works. All people have weird habits.

  3. What an interesting post! It sounds like a cliché, but I think creativity and behavior outside the social norm/insanity often go hand-in-hand. Some of these practices, especially Isabel Allende’s, sound very restrictive. :/

  4. Didn’t we just do addictions? So here goes again…you said Poe was an alcoholic (I think his drink of choice was absinthe), but does everyone know that he wrote with his cat on his shoulders?
    And Colette said she could only write after she’d picked the fleas from her cats. Perhaps how she found the patience to pen Gigi.
    Funny post. Thanks.

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