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Conference News

4 Jan 2014

Weird Writing Rituals

Author: Juli Schatz  /  Categories: Mystery News  /  Rate this article:
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Coffee steamHonore de Balzac drank gallons of coffee—possibly as many as 50 cups a day.

Truman Capote said “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”

Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame while nude (so he wouldn’t be tempted to leave the house and do something more enjoyable instead). He did allow himself to wear a large shawl against the cold.

Maya Angelou liked to write in hotel rooms, “a tiny, mean room with just a bed and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin.”

Obviously the answer is to write in a hotel room in the nude while lying down and drinking a lot of coffee. Or maybe not.

And there are a few probably best avoided, like Friedrich Schiller’s trove of rotten apples. His wife said he could write only when stimulated by that smell.

Some writers have a ritual that gets them started. It’s a way of separating everything else in the day from the time to write. This can be moving to a particular location. Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 in the evenings sitting at his kitchen table. Thomas Mann worked in his study between 9am and noon.

The location itself can also become associated with being productive. Vladimir Nabokov liked to write in a parked car.

Another ritual is reading something before you start writing. John Milton, who was blind, had someone read to him from the Bible for 30 minutes before mentally composing lines that a helper later would write down.

Linking writing with another activity also works for some. Wallace Stevens wrote his poetry while walking. He used slips of paper and later had a secretary type what he’d jotted down. Not a bad idea for us mostly sedentary types!

Some writers swear by using a particular kind of pen—probably now supplanted by using a particular software program or specific font.

John Steinbeck always kept a dozen sharpened pencils on his writing desk.

Andre Dumas used different color papers for different types of writing (fiction on blue, and when he ran out he felt his fiction was not as good).

It can also be useful to have a ritual or practice with which to end your writing session.  This can be as simple as recording on a chart the number of words or pages you wrote, or putting away the pen or pencil you write with if you write longhand, or setting a timer for your writing period and stopping when it buzzes, even if you are in mid-sentence (Hemingway advised stopping mid-sentence so that you always had something to start with the next day).

Obviously the best rituals are ones that don’t take much time. You could put on a particular bit of music or read a couple of pages of inspirational prose. Or you could put on a cap or hat that you wear only when writing. If you have a ritual that works for you, feel free to share it here.

(For lots of useful, practical advice from the great writers including Dickens, Twain and Austen, get a copy of my book, Your Creative Writing Masterclass, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)

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