Updated February 2016
‘There is nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change.’
Famous authors attract enormous attention. Sometimes daily rituals, habits and customs of famous writers are quite weird indeed. Fans are trying to copy out the behavior of their idols, their wardrobe, and even make numerous plastic surgeries to become one step closer to the stars. The motivation behind such behavior can be explained for sure. It might be either irrational (just to have fun) or rational – to get the same results. E.g., Jack London was a huge fan of Rudyard Kipling, and he rewrote (i.e. w/o a typewriter) his books.
So, what’s the role of writers’ customs in their masterhood? It’s an important question because a clear understanding of reality helps with smarter predictions as to the future. Finding a causation is not easy. Human brain processes images 60 000 times faster than text, so we designed an infographic to visualize a spectrum of famous writers’ customs.
This infographic is a jokoserious attempt to show you that daily routines, habits and inspiration of famous writers vary vastly. Furthermore, writers were led to the same rituals by different circumstances. They lived in different times and had a different mentality. Sounds like a dead end, right? But let’s try to look at these habits from a rational point of view.
“The best time for writing” is a popular dilemma. So let’s try to analyze it deeper. For example, Tom Wolfe wrote at nights for better inspiration (“Night-time awakens a more alert chemistry in me”), while Fyodor Dostoyevsky could allow himself to write only at night time when he attended an engineering school. Although the reasons were different, the fact is their night writing was very effective. So, we can extract objective benefits from it:
- According to a circadian rhythm theory, the writers could have the peak of their creativity at night;
- The noise pollution is on its lowest level in night period what makes it easier to focus on writing;
- Chance of being interrupted is minimal (while this point is still controversial);
- According to Alice Flaherty’s model of creative brain activity, we have a better chance of coming up with great ideas when tired. This theory may explain great results of authors who wrote after their jobs/classes.
At the first blush, a morning (as a chronologically opposite time of day) must be a dead spot of writers’ creativity. But our research shows that many famous writers were extremely productive at this time of a day. Katherine Anne Porter loved writing in mornings because of ‘perfect silence’; Toni Morrison wrote early in the morning before her children woke up. Most posts on the Net concerning morning productivity didn’t seem very persuasive for us, that’s why here’s our view on benefits of early writing:
- The morning (natural) light stimulates brain activity;
- The creativity center of our brain (frontal cortex) has a peak activity after waking up ;
- It’s easier to think positive at the start of the a day; positive thinking leads to better results.
In fact, every above-listed custom/habit has its obvious benefits for your writing:
- Tea contains theanine which enhances creativity and helps to stay focused;
- Coffee increases a serotonine level in our brain and helps to think more positive, while caffeine stimulates our memory;
- Long distance walking increases a brain volume, while all kinds of traveling develop imagination;
- This research proves that laying position can help with creativity dramatically;
- Owning both cats and dogs reduces stress, anxiety and risk of depression.
When Writing Habits Work Bad
What could be a more practical writing habit than acquiring a skill of academic writing? We all wrote essays and other papers in college, and we all got A+ grades for our grammatically correct, polite, argumentative, MLA-style writings.
But were those writings award-winning? Have you ever thought whom do you write your essay?
It begs the answer: teachers!
Our academic system teaches a lot of bad habits to students. Yes, it’s natural to create well-meaning and structured academic writing at school, but any best-selling writers would use an essay language to share their stories with readers.
Writing for college professors and writing for thousands of people who will read and love your works are two different things. And it’s natural that students write differently for academics:
- they try to sound academically;
- they write long paragraphs;
- they do not express themselves in writings;
- they rely on sources, expressing others’ thoughts rather than theirs;
- they stay unemotional.
The goal is to please a teacher and write an essay that would look and sound award-winning from educators’ perspective. The habit of writing like that can play Old Harry with those students dreaming of worldwide fame as bestselling authors.
Writers’ habits are different, but none of them learned how to write by reading academic manuals, sitting in courses, listening to academic style guides, or browsing writing blogs to find more books on pencraft.
When students, we write for academics; when writers, we change our writing habits and take other benefits from them. Even if those habits are odd.
About Odd Habits
There are numerous really odd habits of famous writers. But they’re usually complemented with rational explanation or other rational habits:
- Friderich Schiller couldn’t write without a box with rotten apples under his table. Well, that’s really strange but, on the other hand, Schiller wrote at night to avoid interruptions.;
- Edith Sitwell had a habit of laying in an open coffin for a few minutes every morning before writing. On the other hand, Edith had notebooks in every corner of her flat (more than 300): all fresh ideas were collected like a shot.;
- Victor Hugo wrote naked. But such behavior can be explained: he locked his clothes to avoid any chances to go outdoors. That saved his time and helped him finish his work in a timely manner;
- William Faulkner liked to type with his toes having shoes on his hands. But he’s an author of the following quote: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!”. He had a skill of renewing his knowledge and expanding his imagination continuous.
- Carson McCullers made a lucky sweater from rabbit feet and wrote only when she was wearing it. But despite of having a paralyzed left arm and the death of her mother in 1947, she did not stop writing.
Differentiating Between Benefits and Fables
As we can see, differences between writers’ habits couldn’t stop them on the road to success. They chose the most rewarding routines for their work and creative lives intuitively. Their habits are the result of their attitude to writing (but not vice versa).
Speaking about the most extraordinary habits, the only tenable explanation is writers’ attempt to limelight. For example, Hunter Thompson asked his remains to be fired into the sky after his death. Such stories are interesting to tell your friends in a bar; unfortunately, we can not find any other practical use for them.
The black swan theory by Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains why it’s wrong to judge success by who is a winner. This is the reason to opt out ideas to sniff rotten apples or write blindfolded unless you find a rational advantage of this ritual.
What Can We Learn From This Info?
Well, the debate concerning the most useful writing habits is never-ending. But any information is useless without practical insights. Hence, if you’re serious about your writing, here are several suggestions for our readers:
- Take a morningness-eveningness test;
- Improve your daily regime according to your morningness/eveningness;
- Every detail of your interior or writing process is useful if that helps your creativity. Try experimenting as much as you can;
- Avoid subjective evaluation of your experiments by asking someone else to judge your work;
- Your own useful habits do not need any rational explanations because they are proven with results.
It’s not easy to find your way. Sometimes it takes years to succeed. And that’s why writing masterpieces is so valuable. Welcome to the world of uncertainty! =)