Famous Writing Habits?
August 13, 2006 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Famous Writing Habits? I come across sites dealing with a few here and there but there is no great collection I can find. Common examples: Hemingway's habit/belief of 500 words per day, Faulkner drinking whiskey whilst writing, Balzac drinking 10+ espressos a day, Thomas Wolfe's habit of writing standing up and his prolixity (so much so that Max Perkins had to substantially edit his work). Certain writers lived philosophies on first drafts/revisions, words/hours per day, etc etc. I have no problem locating famous quotes, but I'm more interested in info about actual behaviors. Hope that sounds right. Thank You in advance.
posted by Gnostic Novelist to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
The Courage To Write has some anecdotes about the strange and superstitious behaviors of some well-known writers. You'll find many such stories in books dealing with 'how to write a book'; there's far too many titles to list.

Here also is a site you might find useful: The Writing Life - Quirks and Idiosyncrasies
posted by Rubber Soul at 1:54 PM on August 13, 2006

There's a new collection coming out soon of Paris Review literary interviews. I just read an advance copy and most of the writers discuss their work habits in some detail. You should check it out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:13 PM on August 13, 2006

Stephen King famously writes no less than ten pages a day, even on holidays.

The Da Vinci Code's Dan Brown keeps an hourglass on his desk and, on the hour, puts aside his manuscript to perform push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Doesn't King document those writing habits in On Writing?
posted by stevil at 3:10 PM on August 13, 2006

Anthony Trollope's name always comes up when this subject is discussed. This article discusses the rate of several authors, including:
Critics have always marvelled at Trollope's stamina - 250 words per quarter of an hour between 5.30 and 8.30 in the morning - while ignoring the fact that this was just how Trollope worked. A huge advance and instructions to come back in five years - the fate of today's Booker winners - would have had him shaking his head in disbelief.
posted by pracowity at 3:23 PM on August 13, 2006

In either this book or a different biography I read that Salinger uses a cataloging system. He writes character names and other things on cards and tacks them up on the wall together. My memory is a little iffy about specifics, but that's the gist.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:24 PM on August 13, 2006

Michael Ondaatje writes everything longhand and then literally cuts and pastes (with scissors and tape). More here.
posted by meerkatty at 3:27 PM on August 13, 2006

P.G. Wodehouse pinned pages of the current story up on the wall. Here is a quote from a Douglas Adams description of the Wodehouse method:
This is P. G. Wodehouse's last—and unfinished—book. It is unfinished not just in the sense that it suddenly, heartbreakingly for those of us who love this man and his work, stops in mid-flow, but in the more important sense that the text up to that point is also unfinished. A first draft for Wodehouse was a question of getting the essential ingredients of a story organised—its plot structure, its characters and their comings and goings, the mountains they climb and the cliffs they fall off. It is the next stage of writing—the relentless revising, refining, and polishing—that turned his works into the marvels of language we know and love. When he was writing a book, he used to pin the pages in undulating waves around the wall of his workroom. Pages he felt were working well would be pinned up high, and those that still needed work would be lower down the wall. His aim was to get the entire manuscript up to the picture rail before he handed it in. Much of Sunset at Blandings would probably still have been obscured by the chair backs. It was a work in progress. Many of the lines in it are just placeholders for what would come in later revisions—the dazzling images and conceits that would send the pages shooting up the walls.
posted by pracowity at 3:38 PM on August 13, 2006 [4 favorites]

I met Issac Asimov a couple of years before he died, and apparently his writing style was to write straight-out. No revisions, no editting, no turning back a single page. Just let the story unfold as the writing progresses.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:21 PM on August 13, 2006

How We Work. Not just about writers, but a large chunk of the profiles are.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:37 PM on August 13, 2006

An Australian writer, I think it was Blanche D'Alpuget, said in an interview once that she used a computer, printed out a first draft, took a deep breath and deleted the original file from the computer, then she made herself type the whole thing again from the printouts.

I guess the idea was that editing and revising on the computer made it too easy to just accept what was already there, and this way it forced her to justify, or at least really read, every word.

This interview was some years ago when writers were still being asked if they used these new-fangled word processors and if they felt it affected their writing.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:43 PM on August 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

Isaac Asimov once had the traumatic experience of having his electric typewriter die on him. Never again; from that day on, he made sure to always have a second machine on hand in case the first failed.
posted by SPrintF at 5:14 PM on August 13, 2006

Don DeLillo : "When I was working on The Names I devised a new method--new to me, anyway. When I finished a paragraph, even a three-line paragraph, I automatically went to a fresh page to start the new paragraph. No crowded pages. This enabled me to see a given set of sentences more clearly. It made rewriting easier and more effective. The white space on the page helped me concentrate more deeply on what I'd written."
posted by bobo123 at 5:17 PM on August 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised that Marcel Proust's dunked cookies haven't shown up in this thread yet.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:07 PM on August 13, 2006

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortuantely, no one knows what they are."

-- W. Somerset Maugham
posted by FYKshun at 7:45 PM on August 13, 2006

But one of them, is probably to check the spelling, "unfortunately."
posted by FYKshun at 7:46 PM on August 13, 2006

Nabokov wrote on index cards, at a lectern, in his socks

(Nick Cave: There She Goes, My Beautiful World)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:39 PM on August 13, 2006

CunningLinguist mentioned that the Paris Review was coming out with a book of interviews with literary figures. I don't know what the overlap is, but their DNA of Literature project features a lot of those interviews online. Don't feel cheap if you don't want to buy the book and just read them online, though; part of George Plimpton's perogative in designing the whole thing was that they be available to anyone, anywhere, and at any time.
posted by anjamu at 11:32 PM on August 13, 2006

The new Paris Review collection will be useful, I'm sure, but I think it's just the latest in a series of "Writers at Work" interviews PR has collected over the years, going back to at least to the 1950s and edited by folks like Hemingway, Burroughs and Ginsberg, Malcolm Cowley, etc. Here's a Bookfinder search that pulls up used copies of a bunch of them.
posted by mediareport at 11:47 PM on August 13, 2006

Ah, anjamu's link is a more efficient way of getting the same information.
posted by mediareport at 11:48 PM on August 13, 2006

Kurt Vonnegut would write a page at a time, and rewrite it and rewrite it multiple times until he was happy with it. No rewrites or drafting. Just repetition until it was done
posted by TheOtherGuy at 12:38 AM on August 14, 2006

From a cursory look, yeah, anjamu's excellent link goes to many of the same interviews collected in that book. You should post it as an FPP if it hasn't been one already.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:32 AM on August 14, 2006

Jack Kerouac wrote in what he called spontaneous prose.

The following is a list of 'essentials' for that method from the wikipedia entry on Kerouac.
* 1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
* 2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
* 3. Try never get drunk outside yr [sic] own house
* 4. Be in love with yr [sic] life
* 5. Something that you feel will find its own form
* 6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
* 7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
* 8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
* 9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
* 10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
* 11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
* 12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
* 13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
* 14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
* 15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
* 16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
* 17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
* 18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
* 19. Accept loss forever
* 20. Believe in the holy contour of life
* 21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
* 22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
* 23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
* 24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
* 25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
* 26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
* 27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
* 28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
* 29. You're a Genius all the time
* 30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
posted by o0dano0o at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

You should post it as an FPP if it hasn't been one already.

It's been done.
posted by mediareport at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2006

In a piece he wrote in NYT's Writers on Writing, Kent Haruf lists odd habits of a few famous writers, and his own: "I remove my glasses, pull a stocking cap down over my eyes, and type the first draft single-spaced [on an old manual typewriter]..."
posted by booth at 8:41 AM on August 14, 2006

For FOB: Proust wrote in successive extensively revised drafts. A first draft would be written longhand, and then he would actually use typesetting to get a fair copy-which is a pretty expensive way to go about things. He would then crowd the typeset page with additions, often pasting new pieces of paper to the borders of the pages he already had in order to have enough room to make the additions. Most of his writing was done in bed, at night, in a cork lined room, surrounded by the apparatus of the invalid.
posted by OmieWise at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for your suggestions everyone.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 4:32 AM on February 24, 2007

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