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.
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.
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.
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?