I enjoy spying on other writers. I like sites that show their offices. Some are little cubby holes, others are beautiful big rooms with views you could sell. I like reading about their daily habits as well and comparing my own. So today, I have brought you some glimpses into the habits of famous authors.
These quotes are from a site:
As a young author taking care of three small children, Munro learned to write in the slivers of time she had, churning out stories during children’s nap times, in between feedings, as dinners baked in the oven. It took her nearly twenty years to put together the stories for her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades
You have said that you begin to write before dawn. Did this habit begin for practical reasons, or was the early morning an especially fruitful time for you?
Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning.
My comment: I’m tired just thinking of this. How did she function throughout the rest of the day.
Continue quote: Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits… I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy.
I was involved in writing Beloved at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.
Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.
My comment: I wish I had a ritual that would signal to my brain that is has to start producing intelligent thoughts RELATED TO THE STORY. Instead, I spring up and head for the fridge. I tell myself there are no ideas there. But there is food. And it’s a good substitute. I return to my computer and beg the ideas to come. I sweat and bleed from ears. Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed for this.
Continue quote: I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?
My comment: At least I know what I like about surroundings. I like being able to see outside. I like my things about me, sometimes in apparent chaos because as I work on a story, bits and pieces of research, lists, books I’m referring to, tend to pile up at my side. As to chaos outside my door…well, there is a level of chaos I can close the door (and my mind) to and then there is unusual chaos that requires I check on it. (Think crashes, hollering, moaning, etc.)
What about your writing routine?
I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn’t have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space–a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can’t beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space and no matter what the filing system or how often you clear it out–life, documents, letters, requests, invitations, invoices just keep going back in. I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that–mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job. I had to write either in between those hours, hurriedly, or spend a lot of weekend and predawn time.
The Paris Review, Issue 128, 1993
My comment: I laughed at her ideal writing routine which she has never experienced. Yup. That’s me. In fact, I think if everything was what I considered ideal I wouldn’t be able to work for being nervous that something dreadful was about to happen.
What are some of your writing habits? Do you use a desk? Do you write on a machine?
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. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.
The Paris Review, Issue 16, 1957
My comment: if I tried writing horizontally I would fall asleep. Besides my arms hurt just thinking about it. But I do some of my best creative thinking while horizontal. I often use a small light to write notes during the night as my ideas begin to sort themselves out.
His usual routine was to awake at 6 A.M., sit down at the typewriter by 7:30 and work until 10 P.M.
In “In Memory Yet Green,” the first volume of his autobiography, published in 1979, he explained how he became a compulsive writer. His Russian-born father owned a succession of candy stores in Brooklyn that were open from 6 A.M. to 1 A.M. seven days a week. Young Isaac got up at 6 o’clock every morning to deliver papers and rushed home from school to help out in the store every afternoon. If he was even a few minutes late, his father yelled at him for being a folyack, Yiddish for sluggard. Even more than 50 years later, he wrote: “It is a point of pride with me that though I have an alarm clock, I never set it, but get up at 6 A.M. anyway. I am still showing my father I’m not a folyack.”
The New York Times, April 7, 1992
My comment: LOL. Sounds like a great work ethic. Sometimes, too many times, authors wait to FEEL like writing. Issac’s comments prove that getting at the work is more important that sitting around waiting for something inspirational to drive us to it.
Morning routine: I usually get up around 7. I make oatmeal in my rice cooker. Then I take an hour-long walk: outside if the weather’s good; on my treadmill if it’s cold. Then I shower, shave and go to the first of three movies I see on many weekdays.
The New York Times Magazine, February 13, 2005
My comment: What? Going to the movies is work? Bring it on. Shaping thoughts and whispy ideas into a story and getting words on the page, now that’s work.
‘Creative work only seems like a magic trick to people who don’t understand that it’s ultimately still work.’