Writers Habits–Who Knew?

Dame Edith Sitwell 

You might have heard Amy Lowell and George Sand both smoked cigars while writing. I thought it would be interesting to investigate the habits of other writers.

Poet and critic Dame Edith Sitwell liked to lie in an open coffin before starting that day’s writing, but it seems she did sit at a desk to actually write.

Others, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Truman Capote, and Mark Twain, all preferred to write lying down. That just seems awfully hard to me, who tries to write in bed with my feet up and a heating pad on my back when it’s out and find that a struggle. I wonder about what method they found that worked.

Lewis Carroll AKA Charles Dodgson

Gertrude Stein and Vladimir Nabokov both wrote sitting in a parked car. Maybe the seat was more comfortable, or liked they were less likely to be disturbed; or maybe the noise of traffic around them acted like white noise and let them concentrate.

But Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf both liked to stand to write.

Perhaps they suffered from the same back pain that challenged Hemingway after a plane accident to write vertically, alongside his obsessively sharpened pencils.


John Steinbeck and pencil

Speaking of pencils, it is said the John Steinbeck favored pencils, and used 300 of them to write East of Eden. He was known to use up to 60 pencils in one day. That’s a lot of sharpening!

At least he didn’t use his lover’s back as a desk, like Voltaire—I wonder what the lady thought of that . . .

Willa Cather read the Bible before plunging into her day’s writing.

Rudyard Kipling would only write in the deepest, blackest of inks.

And Gertrude Stein claimed that watching the drinking patterns of her dog, Basket, taught her the difference between sentences and paragraphs in her writing. I found myself watching Seamus and Fiona drinking and there is a cadence to the long and short slurps.

Benjamin Franklin

But the one of the most interesting things I came across perhaps doesn’t bear thinking about too closely:

Victor Hugo, DH Lawrence, and Benjamin Franklin all liked to write in the nude! Each felt they did their best work that way…

I tried to think what my habit might be for posterity. I always to have a drink on my desk, but it varies from iced or hot tea to water. I use headphones to shut out the house noise around me and often match the music to the mood of what I’m writing, but without singing. When I put on songs I find myself singing along and that’s its own distraction. I don’t smoke and while I do stand at times, I mostly sit. I guess I don’t have any interesting habits to note. Maybe I should develop one? But it won’t be writing in the nude.

Writers, do you have any quirk or habit that you must have in place when writing?


MIss Demeanors


Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. Her story “Quiche Alain” appears in the Anthony-winning Malice Domestic Anthology, Murder Most Edible.  Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press, she’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Triangle SinC, Mavens of Mayhem SinC, the NC Writers Network, and the International Crime Writers Association.


  1. Those historical writing habits are so fun, Marni. Great research. My only writing habit is that I must have a dog in the room, preferably sitting on my feet, but they do their own thing.

  2. I love these stories, Marni. And I love the picture of Dame Edith Sitwell. I like the make up a list of goals before I start each day. Never hit them, but it gives me a way to procrastinate.

  3. It’s just me and my computer sitting in my living room, usually wearing clothes though sometimes pajamas, and no music if I can help it. .Boring. Well, maybe a little weird because of the pillows and stool I use to keep from slumping as I write.

    Interesting post, Marni.

  4. Great post, Marni! Lots of research! As an author with disabilities and having had multiple back and leg surgeries, my bed is my office. If I can help you in any way with finding a better more comfortable position for that, email me! I feel I have all the tricks down pat! As far as headphones, I can’t write with music at all, but have you tried the ‘crackling fire’, ‘storm/wind’, or ‘breezes/birdsong/summer meadows’, etc. avail. on Youtube to shut out your household distractions ? (Also, occasionally on a gorgeous day, I’ll also write a few hours in our vehicle, or my electric golf cart down by our brook, with lots of extra cushions and pillows… Great for fresh air/change of scene.)
    Thanks for this!

  5. What fun writer trivia! Especially interesting to learn about people who wrote in their cars. And who knew the sound of a dog drinking had any rhythm. Goes to show you can find inspiration anywhere!

  6. What fun this post is! I like to write in comfy clothing. Writing in the nude sounds cold if nothing else. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that if you’re serious about writing, you need to be flexible and be able to write anywhere. If you cling to the notion that you need a special pen or to sit at a particular desk, you’ve just added one more obstacle and excuse, and when life intervenes, which it inevitably does, your writing stops.

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