We all have a beloved author whose eccentric writing habits make us either love them more or cringe ever so slightly. Honoré de Balzac drank some 50 cups of strong Turkish coffee every day. Edith Wharton wrote in the early morning while still in bed, assembling pages by cutting and pasting scraps of paper. Completed pages dropped on the floor were taken to her secretary to type up. Gertrude Stein wrote in the front seat of her car. Virginia Woolf had a tall desk just like her sister Vanessa, a painter who worked standing at her easel. Readers were curious to know if the authors that regularly contribute to this feature have any such quirks of their own. Here is what they have to say to the question: Do you have any strange writing habits, like writing only at a certain time, following a strict routine, or chanting an inspiring quote or muse invoking verse? Or, alternatively, do you know of any such strange habits?
You know, Sahar, I don’t believe I have any strange writing habits. I don’t line up my pencils, write the story backwards, or draw family trees for all my characters. I don’t write longhand for an hour before opening my files. Nor do I dress up as my characters in order to get ‘into their heads’. I do occasionally write in my pyjamas and dressing gown, but that’s more a perk of the job than a strange habit. Now if you’d asked me about my procrastination habits, I could’ve given you a long list…
I’m a stay at home mother who home-schools three children, so there is very little time in my life for ritual. Which is unfortunate, because I’d love to have something I do before I start work. Basically, whenever I have a spare few minutes I have to switch my writer brain on and get to it!
Maya Angelou is my Favorite Author. She is deceased now, but I read that she wakes at five in the morning and checks into a hotel room, where the staff has been instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She writes on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the Bible, and leaves by the early afternoon. Angelou goes through this process to “enchant” herself, and as she has said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, “relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang.” She places herself back in the time she is writing about, even traumatic experiences like her rape in Caged Bird, in order to “tell the human truth” about her life. Angelou has stated that she plays cards in order to get that place of enchantment, in order to access her memories more effectively. She does not find the process cathartic; rather, she has found relief in “telling the truth”.
I usually write better at night. During the day, my brain will come up with things like “need to vacuum the rug” or “run to the store for x item”. At night, you can’t do all the other errands so it often settles down and focuses.
Aside from that, I really do need some music. I don’t always have it on first thing, but I can tell after a bit because my productivity is lower. I do up song lists for my books and wind up playing them to death. I also like doing writing sprints with other authors. Having a time limit and knowing you have to post some kind of word count helps force you to keep writing when nothing else is working.
I am neurotic by nature…again, refer to aforementioned choice of mouse-dom. I have serious writing rituals. I light my favorite candle, I surround myself with photos and memorabilia from the time period and places from which my stories are set and I close my eyes every time I write dialogue to place myself into a scenario. I also treat it like a job- sit down to the computer at the same time every day, glue my butt to the chair with gorilla glue (metaphorically speaking…sort of) and finish at the same time, no matter what gets written on the paper in between. Even crap can be revisited and revised.
Image courtesy of Chad Mauger.