Writers and Their Habits

‘Les Souffrances du Jeune Kafka’, François Schuiten

While writers are undoubtedly known for their creativity, some of them often make use of unusual ways to realize that creativity. So, in this article, I will guide you through some famous writers’ working habits. Some opt for extreme daily routines, and others go for more low-key, but original habits. Is the knowledge of some of these weird writing habits going to help you? Some of them might, others might merely be inspiring. In the end, it shows you that it’s okay to pick up some weird habits and that whatever works for you, works. Sometimes you need to find an unusual way to reach your goal. I’m still trying to find what writing habits work best for me, so it’s also out of personal interest to compare what others do or have done. 

Ray Bradbury used to go to a place where he had to pay to use a typewriter. He would have to pay a couple of cents for every 30 minutes. [1] This way, any wasted time means paying up. I think this is a pretty smart idea because it’s distraction-free writing, and you’re under a serious time limit with a penalty if you don’t write. In our modern world, it would be a bit difficult to not have anything to write on but a typewriter that you have to rent. A modern-day equivalent of it could be an internet café, although it depends on your location whether they still exist. Besides, just writing on paper or thrifting an actual typewriter and going to a technology-free space also comes close to emulating his habit. You could still work slowly but honestly, this sounds lovely in and of its own. 

Haruki Murakami resorts to exercise during the day besides his daily writing routine. He goes jogging after writing in the morning. [2] He mostly does this to maintain good health, since writing requires sitting down a lot. Putting this one in the list might make it seem like I’m considering this as unusual, which it isn’t,  but doing it as a routine to make the juices flow seems more unusual than what most people do. 

I ride my bicycle or take walks when I need a break, and I can totally get into Murakami’s habit. This sounds like a healthy habit. It also seems to me that having a parallel (physical) daily habit besides your daily writing habit enhances your ‘routine’ feel. Since this is a physical habit and not a mental one, it might give a more encouraging feeling to just go for something. This one is actually useful.

Honoré de Balzac maintained an unusual sleep cycle. He used to go to bed at 6PM and woke up around 1AM, and slept a little more from 8-9AM. [2] He is also known to have drunk crazy amounts of coffee during the day, as he wanted to get the creative juices going as soon as he woke up. You might have heard of other successful people who get up at 5 to do their creative work, but I personally wouldn’t do that. It could work, of course. But I can’t see myself doing it, I think a normal sleep cycle is important and if you can find a time during the day that works well for you, it should be fine as well. 

Franz Kafka maintained an odd sleep schedule, too. He would sleep from 6-8AM and 4-8PM, which amounts to only 6 hours in total. [2] He exhausted himself: he would work during the day and write during the night. This, of course, is not ideal, and far from healthy. The only positive side of this that I can think of, is that when you’re tired, you have less energy to be overly critical of yourself. There are also fewer distractions during the night. However, I don’t see these two slightly positive sides as a good reason to pursue this habit, as there are plenty of other ways to turn off your inner critic and having a distraction-free writing session. A couple of years ago, I would sometimes do the same thing with drawing. During the weekend, I would draw until late into the night, about 2 or 3AM. This made me feel pretty focussed, and my self-judgement was less present. But it was only occasional and I never do this anymore, and even though it might work for you in that exact moment, it’s incredibly unhealthy and in the long run, it will exhaust you. I also never have time to do this anymore and simply refuse to work during the night. Writing in the morning is a good alternative to this unhealthy habit.

Maya Angelou rented a hotel room for a couple of months and would use it as her workplace. She would get there in the morning and work until a set time. [3] That’s not necessarily weird, but more like a luxury. I believe she’s kind of a trendsetter in this, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for instance, uses this writing habit as well. I would love to try this out, even if it’s just once, for an affordable price. 

Mark Twain liked to write while lying in bed. [4] This is actually what I’m doing at this time of writing. I don’t do this very often, and I don’t always feel like doing this, but sometimes it’s nice to work from the comfort of your bed. When you’re still in bed, stress levels are often lower since you’re under a nice and warm blanket. Also, when I’ve just woken up, I often keep daydreaming for a bit before I get up. Daydreaming is a great creative ‘exercise’ before writing I think, and I keep a notepad on my nightstand for moments like these. However, I wouldn’t be able to make writing in bed into a habit, as it’s more a thing for weekends, and I can’t always be sure that I won’t get too comfortable, or fall asleep again.  

Victor Hugo would write in the nude. He would hide all of his clothes so that he could not leave the house and finish what he had to finish. [5] This might give a big boost to your mood since it’s a bit silly. On the other hand, even though this seems like a useful act in his time, I’m afraid nowadays it won’t do because we have the internet to distract us inside our homes and especially during the Covid-19 period, we are used to not leaving the house for long periods of time. 

Dan Brown would hang upside down in his apartment from a special frame. This would help him relax and to get the juices flowing. [6] I can see how this is somewhat similar to going for a run since it makes your blood flow, but it might probably also help to just let things go. I don’t have anything at home that allows me to do this, but it would be funny to try if I could. Who knows? And if it works, it works. 

Now, some of these are pretty extreme and wouldn’t fit in our lives, and I don’t want to give the impression that extreme habits are necessary for good writing. They’re not very healthy, so these are more of an entertaining example and are used to show how far you can go when trying to find what works for you. 

Some of these habits make us wish we could still live a century ago, but luckily there are ways to find equivalents. The fact that these famous authors’ habits are pretty unusual and not very straightforward, could mean that what works for you, could be something that you need to grow into first, and that might take a while before you find out what works for you. Even if it’s not an extremely unusual habit. And besides, I think it’s always enjoying to read about the lives of creatives people, whether you do something with the information or not. Most of all, it’s important to find habits and routines that benefit you in a healthy way.



Sources:

[1]  https://www.writingroutines.com/strange-writing-habits/ 

[2] https://podio.com/site/creative-routines

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/maya-angelou-writing-process-2014-5?international=true&r=US&IR=T

[4] https://webwriterspotlight.com/the-art-of-lying-down-famous-writers-who-wrote-from-bed

[5] https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/09/23/odd-type-writers/ 

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/books/shortcuts/2013/may/13/dan-brown-authors-writers-block#:~:text=Dan%20Brown%2C%20it%20has,to%20relax%20and%20let%20go.


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