It’s hard to imagine an author writing thought-provoking, deep, restful prose knowing they lived lives of complete chaos and alcoholism. And it’s odd reading murder mysteries full of unspeakable horrors…written by unassuming stay-at-home wives. What are their methods? What kind of writing habits made it possible for these geniuses to churn out the good stuff? Here are some sneaky writing secrets from famous authors. Maybe one of them will work for you.
Maya Angelou: Ms. Angelou would leave her apartment in the morning around 7 a.m., go to a tiny, bare hotel room, and write until 2 p.m. The only things she brought with her were a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry.
Honoré de Balzac: De Balzac’s daily schedule would make even the hardest working author balk. He’d eat a light dinner and be in bed by 6 p.m., before rising at 1 a.m. for his first seven-hour stretch of writing. At 8 a.m., he took a 90-minute cat nap, then woke up and wrote until 4 p.m. Then he would take a walk, visit with friends, and take a bath, bringing him back to his 6 p.m. bed time. It’s remarkable he could sleep at all, as he was known to drink around 50 cups of coffee a day!
Demosthenes: Feeling seriously unmotivated to write for his many public speaking appearances, this statesman of ancient Greece would shave one side of his head, ensuring that he couldn’t leave his house until the hair grew back, which forced him to use the time to write..
John Milton: Beginning at 4 a.m., Milton used the morning hours for solitary contemplation. After that, an aide read to him out of the Bible for half an hour, then started taking dictation, as Milton was blind and couldn’t keep his thousands of thoughts bottled up in his mind. If his aide was late, Milton would complain that he “needed to be milked.”
Joan Didion: When nearing the end of a book, Didion prefers to sleep with it in the room, saying she feels the book won’t “leave” her if she’s asleep right next to it.
Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway would always stop his day of writing right when he came to a place where he knew exactly what came next in his story. That way he started off the next day fresh, fast, and without writer’s block. He also wrote standing, in a pair of oversized loafers, his typewriter at chest height.
Truman Capote: Capote called himself a “horizontal author” because of his lazy writing method. He would stretch out on a bed or sofa with a coffee and a cigarette, claiming he couldn’t think unless he was lying down. Then he would transition from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis throughout the course of the day.
Dan Brown: Brown likes to hang upside down in antigravity boots, saying the inversion therapy helps him relax and “let go.” He also keeps an hourglass on his desk, and every hour he stops writing to do pushups, sit-ups, and stretches.
Jack Kerouac: Once Kerouac had a ritual of writing by the light of a candle, and blowing it out when he was done for the night. Later in life, he would kneel and pray to Jesus to preserve his mind before writing, since he was “pretty sure” it was going.
What’s your weirdest writing ritual?