Writing Habits: What We Can Learn from Famous Authors

Those who manage to write great novels don’t do it without a certain degree of self-discipline. Regardless of which authors you look at, they all seem to maintain certain routines and habits which support them in their creative endeavors. Since all humans are different, the most diverse manifestations of these routines are perceptible.

Either way, the masters of their craft can serve as an inspiration for all those authors not having time for daily writing. Quite often it is the case that exactly those methods work which have been  successfully adapted by others in the past. Let’s see what we can learn from famous authors’ writing habits.

Change the location

Sitting in front of the same white wall in the same room day-to-day can easily deprive authors of their inspiration. No wonder that some authors fight this monotony with a change of scene. In order to work quietly, author Maya Angelou preferred to rent a hotel room. By using it only for writing, she efficiently separated her professional writing from private matters, with the hotel serving as “the office”.

When writing the last Harry Potter book, J. K. Rowling moved into the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. Although stating that she can literally write everywhere, the world-famous author enjoyed residing in the hotel which offers a view on Hogwarts… I mean Edinburgh castle. Changing the location provided her the inspiration to finish the book series.

Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Photo from Wikipedia.

Where do you feel comfortable apart from your local desk? In the library? On a park bench? In front of grandma’s old chimney? Take your notebook and try it. You’re writing a novel that is set in ancient Rome? Consider working on it right next to the Coliseum!

Find your rhythm

Nighthawks don’t crawl out of bed early in the morning and the evening already is too late for early birds. Others fall into a midday fatigue at one o’clock in the afternoon, making themselves comfortable until the evening has arrived. All writers have times in which they can completely devote themselves to their work. The good news: You can use those times for your own advantage.

Ernest Hemingway

Early birds gain their strength from the mornings. Pursuant to this credo, American author Kurt Vonnegut pursued the habit of getting up at 05:30 every morning. He would then write until 10 o’clock with work only being interrupted by breakfast. At midday, he ran some errands and kept track of other obligations. Author Haruki Murakami even gets up at 04:00 every morning to work through 5-6 hours and Ernest Hemingway, seen in the picture, also wrote in the early morning hours – “as soon after first light as possible”. Or maybe writing at night suits the daily routine better? At least Jack Kerouac enjoyed writing from midnight to sunrise, with the paper shone on by candles. Romantic!

Get physically active

To overcome long periods of writing, many authors draw their strength from physical activity. It’s not surprising that Kurt Vonnegut went swimming for a few hours in the afternoon. Or that Haruki Murakami went for a run on this time of the day. Even Jack Kerouac made use of aerobic exercises to provide his head with enough oxygen. So, don’t forget to get physically active occasionally. In doing sports, the blood flow to the brain is improved, which sharpens the perception and brings the necessary focus for writing. This can be achieved through small exercises during the day, like a walk during lunch time or taking the stairs where possible.

Reaching the goal in small steps

„Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day.” (John Steinbeck)

American author John Steinbeck knew that one cannot write the whole book all at once. Instead, the small advances push writers forward with their writing.  By setting small goals like “Everyday I write one single page”, the writing routine can get the necessary drive. Take Stephen King for an example, who has written over 50 novels and sold over 350 million copies. He tries to write six pages per day. Six pages only. Over a few weeks, he has a reached a good number of pages just by sticking to the daily minimum. No wonder there’s a new Stephen King book every other month!

Every author can ask him or herself: What is realistic? One page per day or maybe even 10? Trying it out for a few days and counting the pages can form a reference point. Achieving a single page can already make you feel like you’ve written a hundred.

Odd habits can pay off

There is no limit to fantasy. What helps, helps. From this derives that authors have developed habits that can be described as strange, to say the least. DaVinci-Code author Dan Brown uses inversion therapy for writing and brainstorming. The theory in short: He hangs from ceiling the other way around. Others prefer a horizontal position (Truman Capote) or to write only in their underwear (John Cheever).

Build up your own writing habit

Now all these impressive people have found the right way for themselves. It goes without saying that they don’t offer a template which can be adapted to everyone. The great thing is, that habits can be laid out so that they match the circumstances someone is in. Authors who have the most productive time sitting on the porch early in the mornings and the ones who are only inspired by their muses on the couch in the afternoon are equally capable in establishing an well-fitting writing habit. It is all about giving writing the time it deserves. History shows that famous authors achieved just exactly that with their writing habits.

Feature image by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

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