This blog was featured on 08/31/2017
6 Strange Writing Habits of Famous Authors

Authors create works of art through their words. But… what about the art of writing? To be sure, penning a compelling story takes practice — but the physical act of writing is also a finely-honed skill. If it was easy, wouldn’t we all be wordsmiths?

When it comes to establishing conducive writing habits, these famous authors were not playing around. Their beloved novels are proof that when it comes to writing, there is a method to the madness.

1) Truman Capote

Truman Capote would not begin or finish a work of writing on a Friday. He wouldn’t work in hotel rooms if the room’s phone number had a 13 in it. He was also insistent that his ashtray should never have more than three cigarette butts in it, to the point where he would tuck any extra ones into his coat pocket. Lastly, Capote was a self-described “horizontal writer,” stating: “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch…”

2) Isabel Allende

Another author with a penchant for extremely specific writing schedules is Isabel Allende, who will only start a new novel on January 8th. This all began with her debut book, The House of the Spirits, which — you guessed it! — she started writing on January 8, 1982. Due to the success of that book, Allende decided to stick with what works, explaining, “At the beginning it was superstition, because the first book had been so lucky. Now it’s just discipline. My life is busy, so I need to save some months of the year to be in a retreat. I need time and silence, or I will never be able to write. Having a start date is good for me and everybody around me. They know that on January 8, I’m not available anymore.”

3) Victor Hugo

Other authors take a more stringent approach to their deadlines, like Victor Hugo did. When Hugo was on a time-crunch and feeling his productivity waning, he would have his valet lock away all of his clothes to remove the temptation of leaving the house. During these times, he would only allow himself to wear a grey shawl that went down to his toes. Just to keep warm, of course.

4) John Steinbeck

Perhaps creative types seek the straightforward logic of numbers while in the midst of their imaginary worlds, because John Steinbeck also had a numerical stipulation to his writing: he always needed to have twelve sharpened pencils on his desk while at work. And not just sharp pencils — they also had to be perfectly round. This was because Steinbeck wrote with such vigour, that ridged pencils would leave him with calluses.

5) Agatha Christie

What do bathtubs, apples, and murder mysteries have in common? Why, Agatha Christie, of course. While drafting the plots to her sinister stories of intrigue, Christie would soak in the tub and munch on apples. Only when the novel’s mystery felt fully formed in her mind would she towel off and get to the task of putting pen to paper.

6) Anthony Burgess

When his way with words failed him or the task of describing something “mundane” left him uninspired, Anthony Burgess would turn to… his dictionary! He would open the dictionary to a random page and try to use words from that page to complete the task at hand. As Burgess says, “I even did it in a novel I wrote called MF. There’s a description of a hotel vestibule whose properties are derived from Page 167 in R.J. Wilkinson’s Malay-English Dictionary. Nobody has noticed… As most things in life are arbitrary anyway, you’re not doing anything naughty, you’re really normally doing what nature does, you’re just making an entity out of the elements.”

Whatever your writing style may be, when it comes to publishing a novel there is one method that has always, and will always, remain tried and true: hiring an editor.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you need to perch on a rooftop beside a pot of honey, don a cowboy hat, and work for exactly 1.4 hours, three days a week starting on October 7th. If that’s what it takes to produces a skillfully written story, go for it! But don’t make the mistake of sending that story out into the world before first having it formally edited by an expert.

Capote said, “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” But running with scissors is dangerous, right? So pick up your pencils (round ones if callouses are not your thing!) and toss the scissors to a professional editor.


Photo by on Unsplash

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