How did the famous get it done?

A Facebook friend recently shared an interesting post with me – The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

Apparently, Ray Bradbury could write anywhere and when Joan Didion was nearing the end of a manuscript she had to sleep right next to it. E.B White says, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” My sentiments, exactly. White wrote in the middle of his home with everyone in his family roaming around him. Kerouac had some weird lighting and blowing out of candles ritual. Susan Sontag wrote everything out longhand with felt-tipped pens, then typed her work, scribbled all over the typed copy and then typed it all over again. Henry Miller advised that if groggy in the morning, one should type notes. Afternoons were for serious writing and evenings for hanging out in cafes or sketching. Anais Nin did her best work in the morning and Kurt Vonnegut depends on Scotch and water by about 5:30 in the afternoon to get through his days. Maya Angelou writes in the morning, shops for food in the afternoon and does serious cooking in the evening – if she writes nine pages in a day, she may end up being happy with three. William Gibson, my favorite futurist writer, drinks coffee, does Pilates a couple of times a week and if he gets stuck on the writing he goes out to mow the lawn. Good to know how a guy who can predict the future with such eerie accuracy spends his days.

Ernest Hemingway’s thoughts are my favorite – When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you will do it all again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through. Ya, I guess so Mr. Hemingway  – if every day you’re done writing feels like good sex, no wonder you can’t wait for tomorrow. I mean, even it if was mediocre sex – it might still keep you heading back to the old keyboard. Just read an entertaining blog post on the Brown Road Chronicles  that elaborates on how writing is like sex – check it out.

Reading how other author’s get the writing job done has got me thinking about how I work. The jury is out on whether this is worth sharing or not but here goes. There are four desks in the cabin but I can only work at the kitchen table. I listen to The Beat 92.5 on my laptop very loud – which means a cord running over to the speakers on the window sill; I’m always getting caught up in that cord. The table is usually so full of papers and books I can’t see the top. I have an eighteen inch statue of the Nike of Samothrace that I totally love – it’s on the windowsill, right in my sight line whenever I look up from the keyboard and out to the lake. She’s flanked by two huge pinecones I carted home from a trip to California a couple of years ago. I drink coffee all the time and eat right over the keyboard – I know it’s gross but what the hell – no one is anywhere near enough to see me and I do have a fancy little brush to whisk out the crumbs now and then. I’ll eat anything that is quick to prepare – I almost fell over with joy the other day when I found an old package of dried noodles leftover from Emma’s last visit to the lake – easy and fast – the only criteria that really matters at all.

The old and decrepit dog lies on the bare tile right at my feet and every time I get up I trip over her – she is stone deaf so never hears it coming and I never seem to get used to the fact that she is always right there. So with tripping to the right of me on speaker wire and to the left of me over the dog – I’m quite content to stay put in the chair.

If I’m alone here, I basically work all the time. I’m usually going by 5:00 am. I do force myself to get up from the table at least once every couple of hours to walk around a bit and stretch and do some stay-sane type of task – hang up laundry, put a log on the fire, run to the bathroom, feed said decrepit dog, take said dog outside for a pee, answer the phone, make more coffee. Then it’s back to the grind.

So, that’s how I’m trying to get it done. Let me know a couple of the highlights of how you work.


We saw this little gem on a downtown street in Sacramento and couldn’t resist a picture.


14 comments on “How did the famous get it done?

  1. If ever I’m revising, well, I need silence so I can have thoughts to myself. If ever I’m just doing homework that doesn’t require a train of thought? Well – let the music and showtunes commence! Great post 🙂

  2. starletwild says:

    Wow This is eye opening. I never thought about writers rituals that much, except for maybe the book Misery (and subsequent movie) that highlights the rituals of a writer. I truly haven’t figured out if I have rituals or not. Interesting though! Thanks for sharing!

    • You are very welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment! I hope you can identify a few of your own rituals – I think that knowing what makes us comfortable helps us stay at the writing.

      • starletwild says:

        I think I am the opposite. I feel that getting into a ritual actually would stifle me. I am not a creature of habits and routine, though I am comfortable with stability, I tend to just go with whatever works with the time I have. I think I might have to ask my husband if I have any rituals, really he would pay more attention to that then me… okay so I asked him, the miracle of technology is that you don’t even know the time passed! My husband said yes I have habits “rituals” if you will. He said that when I start a novel I have to have a specific playlist for that novel (which is true.) I have a writing folder on i-tunes and the working titles of my books as folders with playlists named after characters. He also said I have to be comfortable and have a handy snack, hard candy or something similar. For revisions it is just about getting his input. So there you have it!

        • I love this idea of a writing folder on iTunes and working book titles and characters as playlists – you’ve given me a whole new way to capture my ideas. Thank you, so much.

          • starletwild says:

            🙂 Glad I could help, it is just funny that until he said something I didn’t see it as a ritual but I really do have to create what I think will be the perfect playlist and then I only take away songs from there unless I find something epic that must be added to the list- for my steampunk novel the only music I have on the play list (and the only music I’ve listened to for about 2 months) is steampunk and dark cabaret music but I love it so it works!

  3. Christine Penhale says:

    I love that you eat over your computer and even have a special whisk to get the crumbs out. It is also fabulous that you subconsciously box yourself in with an electrical cord and a deaf dog. I should try that. Hopefully you have a view of the lake from the kitchen window. It would be such a shame to be somewhere so beautiful and not make the best of the view.

    Interestingly, I dislike talking in front of people and writing. I know, I know, how I ever ended up in a literature PhD program is beyond me as well. But I have to admit I love the finished result of my work – when I actually feel like I have gotten it right. You know what I mean. Every now and then you get those moments when you see a glimmer of what you hope for or what you were really trying to say in your work.

    My writing strategy is painful. It takes me SO long to get started. And I cannot help but edit as I go, which makes the process extraordinarily painful and time consuming. Write a sentence. Write another. Go back and read the first and second sentence. Change the first sentence. Write the third sentence. Go back and read first sentence, second sentence, and third sentence. Change the second sentence . . . and so on. I also need to get up every now and then or I can actually feel myself harden into the shape of my chair. I also eventually feel a pressure start to build up in my head and it feels like it may actually pop right off my body unless I get up and do something. I will do one of many things – eat and watch a PVR’d TV show, sweep the floor, play Scrabble with my friends electronically, lose time on Facebook, clean the toilet, make homemade soup – the list is endless. And then I have to try to coax myself back to the desk. This is not always an easy task. I have a vast quantity of writing to get done over the next week. Undoubtedly I will have a very clean house, vast quantities of homemade food, and nothing left on my PVR when I am done.

    • starletwild says:

      Have you tried NaNoWriMo- national novel writers month. I had an inner editor that would never shut up. After last month’s challenge to write 50,000 words in a month my inner editor took a back seat. As for the procrastination, I believe the majority of writers are procrastinators. I used to never be able to write unless my space around me was clean. Now I learn that the mess is okay at least while I get through the next chapter. Stick with it. I went over 7 years without writing. I had been writing since I was 10 and suddenly it was no longer something I could do. Daily I tried but struggled with too much mental issues, or problems sitting still and concentrating from a head injury. Getting back to writing was a struggle, but in the last 3 years I have produced 3 novels. Have faith in your ability to find a rhythm.

    • Thanks so much Chris, for describing that moment we writers live for – when that glimmer of what you hope you can say is actually coming through. I say – whatever it takes to get the job done – and if homemade soup is one of the byproducts – excellent – think I’ll pop over.

  4. stamfordis says:

    HA! I had no idea we writers were so… ritualistic! Then I had to stop and notice that I am just as insane as the rest of the writing world.

    I spent nearly the entirety of Nanowrimo (meaning ALL of November) on night schedule; sleeping until about 7pm, getting up five hours before midnight, and clacking as much as physically possible in that time. I listened to the same five Taylor Swift songs over three hundred times during the month, putting one on loop blasting through the speakers and just letting it go. If I needed a boost after I woke up, I’d put on the Rizzoli & Isles theme song and try to do Riverdance in my office.

    At midnight every night, after writing furiously for at least an hour and a half, I would emerge with a ‘Happy Midnight’ cheer. I would then slip on my long underwear and lace up my hiking boots, grab my trusty walking stick, and head of for a ‘trek’ through the farm fields somewhere between midnight and 5AM to think about the next portion of my novel.

    Then I’d come home, snuggle under a blanket to warm up, and watch some sort of crime show like Murder, She Wrote to get my juices flowing again.

    Since night schedule, honestly, seems to really annoy my day schedule family, now that November is over and my novel is done, things have been forced to change. I have play with the blinds to keep the sun out of my eyes when I type. Most of the time when I freewrite, I use my phone because it’s extremely hard to edit things! And always somewhere when I’m writing I find time to actually tend to my online store; which is another benefit of staying up really late at night!

    • I love the image of someone doing Riverdance in their office after hours of night writing or going out at midnight for a trek to think about what comes next. I’m finding these writing rituals fascinating and hope more people will weigh-in with their own. Maybe I should promise some sort of prize for the most interesting writing rituals – of course that might just spur my fellow writers and blog followers to indulge their wonderfully active imaginations.

  5. What a joyous post! It’s incredible to imagine how our favourite authors write (or wrote) their works.

    I was surprised I didn’t like (or need) silence. If home alone, I find TV a comforting background noise. Music is too distracting for me as I tend to sing along. I use a lap pillow and laptop and I have written all over the place…the bed, the couch, the car, the soccer field, the park and the beach. The one place I don’t seem to enjoy working is a coffee house. I have a a hard time choosing between pounding out the words or pounding down the coffee before it gets cold.

    I laughed out loud at your ‘quick and easy’ food comment and finding the noodles. I am very much the same way and have experienced the same joy over my own noodle find!

    Your lakeside cabin sounds very cozy.

I would really love to hear what you think about this post . . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s