Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Writery quirks of the famous - and not-so-famous me

Did you know that Virginia Woolf reportedly wrote all of her books while standing? Apparently, she isn't alone. Lewis Carol and Ernest Hemingway also wrote while hovering over their desk - not a method I could channel.

I prefer the comfort of my office chair, or my living room couch, or even the cushioned seats at Starbucks. I'm not fussy, though I suppose I have a few writerly idiosyncrasies - like a steady stock of Coke Zero and appropriate music loaded on my iPod. (This week, it's still Adam Lambert.)

Stephen King likes his creature comforts as well. As noted in his memoir of the craft On Writing, King sits down to a glass of water or tea, a vitamin pill and music. He writes in the same seat everyday and his papers are arranged in the same place. Perhaps this organization is why he's able to crank out 10 pages a day - even on holidays.

J.G. Baurard has rules as well: 1,000 words a day, even with a hangover. I'd be interested in his elixir of choice...

Edgar Allan Poe always wore black when he wrote; Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain wore white. I like my flannel button-up shirt, though anything comfortable will do. Unlike Sandra Brown, I don't dress for writing as though I'm going into the office - I prefer my sweats baggy and my hair in disarray.

As documented in the book Drood, Charles Dickens walked 20 to 30 miles a day, and Dan Brown keeps an hour glass on his desk and when it empties, he puts aside his manuscript to do push-ups, sit-ups and stretches. Based on how long it took for the follow-up to the DaVinci Code to come out, I bet he has abs of steel! I understand that exercise and creativity go hand in hand - but I'm barely making time to crank out my "x" pages a day (I say "x" to remain non-committal...) so I've had to choose. Working out is winning this month.

But when I do settle in for the long haul, I like writing on my Mac. In addition to sentimental reasons, I like the way the keyboard clicks, the sound of "wonderful" prose making its way from my head onto the screen. Like my addiction to Coke Zero, I consider the perfect "click" the difference between genius and idiot mode. Ok, maybe I do have a few quirks.

Some authors could write on napkins, I'm sure. Nabakov wrote on index cards, at a lectern, in his socks. Ray Bradbury wrote The Fireman, an early version of Farenheit 451 in novella form, on a rented typewritter (at 10 cents per half hour), and Michael Ondaatje writes everything longhand.

I could learn a lot from these famous authors, but perhaps more importantly, I am reminded of Steve Berry's number one rule - the only ritual that should matter is diligence. Write everyday. No exceptions.

Indeed, sensai.

How about you? Any occupational rituals you'd be willing to share?

PS - If you are a writer and you haven't seen Finding Forester, shame on you :-)

PPS - For a list of some R-rated writerly quirks, check out The Quick 10. Um...interesting.

The Book In My Bag Today: Covet, J.R. Ward


  1. Does it count if you have resolved to do one set of one resistance exercise every hour?

    I don't feel like I have any consistent quirks to offer here. I'm still experimenting, and what seems to work on a given day has last its magic by the next.

    Nor have I seen FINDING FORESTER. Oy. #eccentricwriterfail.

  2. cherrytart - I have FINDING FORESTER which I would be willing to lend you if you're interested. I love Sean Connery, but he's just one of the many reasons I like this movie.

  3. So far, no quirks that I've noticed. ButI DO read my stuff outloud, and talk to myself about it if Dan isn't there. :)

  4. And, Donna, have random epiphanies over coffee! xo

  5. Dawn, yes please.

    Donna, ha! What Dawn said. ;)