Writers are strange folks. This is known. They labor privately on flights of fancy with zero guarantee of financial (or any other kind) of success. Even the ones that attain the ultimate confirmation of their vision—publication—may see very little reward for their efforts. So it’s no surprise that plenty of authors are a little eccentric, and follow strange rituals when it comes to writing their novels. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that while many books are written in cozy offices or clichéd coffee shops, some authors found truly unique places to write their masterpieces—like these five books, composed in places you’d never imagine.
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
Written in: A power plant
Faulkner was your classic author in many ways, largely incompetent off of the written page, overfond of whiskey, and seemingly incapable of holding a straight job. After being forced to resign from a gig as postmaster at his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, he worked the night shift at a power plant in order to make ends meet—and largely ignored the workings of the plant, instead spending his time much more profitably writing his classic novel As I Lay Dying. Since the power plant didn’t burn down, we can assume Faulkner at least pursued the minimum effort in his job, but next time you’re reading this novel, imagine its author toiling at 3 a.m. while the sparks literally flew.
Justine, by Marquis de Sade
Written in: Prison
The list of novels written in prison is surprisingly lengthy—or not surprisingly, since the whole point of prison is there’s not much to do except think and avoid meeting a violent end. Much of de Sade’s work was written in one prison or another; the man spent 32 of his 74 years behind bars, which did nothing to blunt the extreme vision of personal liberty expressed in his writings. Justine began as an early work, written in a few weeks during one of de Sade’s early (and fairly brief) stints in the pokey; later revisions made it so shocking that no less an authority than Napoleon himself was outraged by it, and ordered de Sade’s imprisonment again—an imprisonment that lasted the final 13 years of his life. Which means Justine is that rare book written in prison that subsequently landed its author back in prison.
Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw
Written in: A custom-made rotating hut
Shaw’s classic play, which served as the inspiration for the musical My Fair Lady, was written, like most of his work, in a custom-made rotating hut on the grounds of his home. Shaw liked to work in the sunlight, and designed the hut so he could rotate it manually from inside in order to keep his work area bathed in light at all times. He also named the hut “London,” specifically so his servants could respond to queries about where the famed playwright was with the honest, deceptive answer, “in London.” You can picture Shaw laughing to himself as he worked, thinking about his little joke and the confusion it no doubt caused.
Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau
Written in: A cabin in the woods
The “writer’s hut” isn’t an uncommon place for great novels to be created, but Thoreau took it one step further, wandering into the woods and literally building his own cabin from scratch, living in it for two years, then writing about the whole experience in a philosophical work that quickly became a classic and a staple of English classes everywhere. The cabin itself was in many ways unremarkable, and if Thoreau had purchased it or hired someone to build it like a normal human being, we wouldn’t be talking about it right now. But when an author builds his writing hut in the middle of nowhere with his bare hands, it’s almost as remarkable as the book he produced there.
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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
Written in: A pub
Rowling didn’t write all of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in pubs, but she definitely wrote a significant portion of it in them, mainly The Elephant House and Nicolson’s Cafe in Edinburgh. As is well known, the first Potter novel was written at a low point of Rowling’s life; she was embroiled in a bitter divorce, raising her daughter alone, and living on government benefits. She found the best way to get her daughter to fall asleep was to take her for a walk, and so she would take the child to a café and sit and work on her novel for a time. The Elephant House’s back room, where Rowling would sit, looked out over Edinburgh Castle, which must have had quite an effect on the author—and the story she wrote.