Last updated: February 2020
Famous writers attract enormous attention. Sometimes, their daily rituals, good writing habits, and customs seem weird, indeed. But anyway, fans try to copy out their behavior, wardrobe, and even appearance to become a step closer to the “stars.”
Their motivation is clear:
Some just want to have fun, while others do that to get the same results. Thus, Jack London was a big fan of Rudyard Kipling, so he rewrote (by hand, not a typewriter) Kipling’s books.
So, what’s the role of good writing habits in authors’ masterhood? It’s a critical question because a clear understanding of reality helps us predict the future, and the search for a reason is challenging.
Since the human brain processes image 60 000 times faster than text, we’ve designed an infographic to visualize a spectrum of good writing habits of famous writers.
This infographic is a jocoserious attempt to show you how direct-opposite the daily routines and good writing habits of famous authors can be. Sure, we need to consider the circumstances that let writers to those habits: They lived at different times and had a different mentality. But let’s give it a try, and look at their practices from a rational point of view.
Morning vs. Night Writing
“The best time for writing” is a perpetual problem. For example, Tom Wolfe wrote at nights for better inspiration (“Night-time awakens more alert chemistry in me”). At the same time, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote at nights because it was his only free time when he attended an engineering school. But for whatever reason, the results of their night writings were substantive.
So, we can draw valuable insights from this habit:
- According to a circadian rhythm theory, writers could have the peak of their creativity at night.
- The noise pollution is at its lowest level in the night period, which makes it easier to focus on writing.
- A chance of being interrupted is minimal, though 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 the excellent results of authors who wrote after coming back home after work/study.
Based on the above, a morning must be a dead spot of writers’ creativity. But the research shows that many famous writers were extremely productive at this time of a day. Katherine Anne Porter loved writing in the mornings because of “perfect silence,” and Toni Morrison wrote early in the morning before her children woke up.
Most online articles on morning productivity don’t sound persuasive enough, so we’ve come up with own benefits of good writing in the morning:
- 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 positively at the start of a day; positive thinking leads to better results.
Drinking vs. Walking vs. Cats and Dogs
As you can see from the infographic, the habits of famous writers are diverse. But each of them can offer a benefit:
- Tea contains theanine enhancing creativity and helping to stay focused.
- Coffee increases a serotonin level in our brain and helps to think more positively, while caffeine stimulates our memory.
- Long-distance walks increase a brain volume, while travels develop imagination.
- This research proves that a laying position can help with creativity by far.
- Owning both cats and dogs reduces stress, anxiety, and risk of depression.
When Good Writing Habits Work Bad
What could be a more practical writing habit than acquiring an academic writing skill? We all wrote essays and other papers in college, and we all got A+ grades for our grammatically correct, critical or argumentative, MLA-style writings.
But were those writings award-winning? Have you ever thought to whom do you write your essay?
It begs the answer: teachers!
The educational 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, naturally, students write differently for academics:
- trying to sound academically;
- writing long paragraphs;
- not expressing themselves in writings;
- relying on sources, expressing others’ thoughts rather than theirs;
- staying unemotional.
The goal is to please a teacher and write an essay that would look award-winning from the educators’ perspective. The habit of writing like that can play Old Harry with the students who dream of worldwide fame as bestselling authors.
Famous writers have different habits, but none of them learned how to write by reading academic manuals, sitting in courses, listening to educational style guides, or browsing writing blogs to find more books on pencraft.
When students, we write for academics; when writers, we change our good writing habits and take benefits from them. Yes, even if those habits are awkward.
Awkward Habits of Famous Writers
Some writers’ habits are… let’s call them awkward. And yet, they have an entirely rational explanation:
- Friedrich Schiller couldn’t write without a box of rotten apples under his table. Well, that’s 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), collecting all the good writing ideas.
- Victor Hugo wrote naked. But such behavior can be explained: He locked his clothes to resist the temptation of going outdoors. That saved his time and helped him finish his work on time.
- William Faulkner enjoyed typing with his toes, carrying shoes on his hands. We know him as the author of the words, “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 learned something and expanded his imagination all the time.
- Carson McCullers made a lucky sweater from rabbit feet and wrote only when she was wearing it. But despite having a paralyzed left arm, she did not stop writing.
Differentiating Between Benefits and Fables
As we see, famous writers’ habits (even if awkward) couldn’t stop them on the road to success. They chose the most rewarding routines for work and creative life intuitively. And their habits are the result of their attitude to good writing.
As for some writers’ most extraordinary habits, the only tenable explanation here is that they just wanted to attract notice.
For example, Hunter Thompson asked to fire his remains into the sky. Such stories are interesting to tell your friends in a bar, of course. But 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. And it’s 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?
The debate concerning the most useful writing habit is never-ending. But any information is useless without practical insights. Hence, if you’re serious about your writing, here go several suggestions:
- 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 helping your creativity. Try experimenting as much as you can.
- Avoid subjective evaluation of your experiments by asking someone else to judge your work.
- Your useful habits do not need any rational explanations because they are resulting.
It’s not easy to find your way. Sometimes it takes years to succeed. And that’s why good writing masterpieces are so valuable. So, welcome to the world of uncertainty! =)