14 Fascinating Daily Rituals of Famous Authors
These famous creative minds all had sacred routines that helped them produce their best-ever writing.
Maya Angelou: Wrote in a hotel room
Maya Angelou kept a hotel room in her hometown and paid for it by the month. She visited it around 6:30 a.m. each day and started writing. Angelou had all the paintings and decorations taken out of the room to simplify and remove distractions. She also requested that the hotel staff never enter the room, to avoid the risk of them throwing out an important paper. Angelou never actually slept in her hotel room. She typically left by 2 in the afternoon and returned home to edit. These Maya Angelou quotes will make you think.
Jane Austen: Played piano first thing in the morning
Jane Austen made a point of rising before any of the other women in her family so that she could play the piano. At 9 a.m., it was Austen’s responsibility to prepare breakfast for the household. Afterward, she spent the duration of the morning writing in a sitting room. If guests came by, she hid her writing papers and instead sewed with her sister for appearance’s sake. Every evening, Austen read aloud from novels and sometimes even the stories she was working on, to gauge her family’s interest and reaction.
Ernest Hemingway: Wrote by hand at a standing desk
When he was working on a novel or story, Hemingway would begin writing with the first light of dawn. He enjoyed working this early so he wouldn’t have to worry about being disturbed. Hemingway always wrote out his plot by hand in pencil at his standing desk, then switched to a typewriter for simple sections, like dialogue. He always stopped for the day at a place in his story that could easily be continued the following morning. He also tracked his daily progress on a large chart, which showed his daily output of words. The average day would result in around 500 words, but sometimes up to 1,500 if he knew he was going to spend the following day fishing, traveling, or going out to the races. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is just one of these great books you can read in one day.
Stephen King: Makes himself write 2,000 words a day
Stephen King writes every single day, including on holidays and his birthday. King has a self-imposed, daily quota of 2,000 words, and never lets himself finish for the day until its met. On good days, King will meet his quota by late morning, but most days he finishes around 1:30 pm. In the evenings, King relaxes by writing letters, spending time with his family, reading, or watching baseball games on TV. Find out which of King’s books made our list of the scariest books of all time.
Simone de Beauvoir: In sync with Jean-Paul Sartre
Beauvoir’s daily scheduled revolved heavily around her lover, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Though his work took priority, their relationship (which lasted from 1929 until his death in 1980) was also one of an intellectual nature, and she relied on it to improve her work. Beauvoir tended to work alone in the morning, then joined Sartre for lunch and intimate activities. The pair then worked together in silence at Sartre’s apartment. After their work was finished for the day, Beauvoir and Sartre attended social and political events, or just listened to the radio and drank scotch together. Find out how you’ve been pronouncing Dr. Seuss and 17 other author names wrong your whole life.
George Orwell: Wrote on the job
At age 31, George Orwell was working part-time as an assistant at Booklovers’ Corner, a secondhand bookshop in London. The job proved a perfect opportunity for Orwell to make progress on his stories. Orwell woke each day at 7 a.m., and went to open the bookshop at 8:45. He spent a total of four and a half hours each day writing from Booklovers’ Corner, and conveniently got paid to be there. Learn about the 10 books everyone lies about reading.
Haruki Murakami: Starts writing at 4 in the morning
Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. and remains in “writing mode” for five or six hours. In the afternoon, he runs 10 kilometers, swims 1,500 meters, or does both. He then likes to read and listen to music. Bedtime is always at 9 p.m. Murakami maintains this routine and never varies, forcing the repetition to become ingrained into his nature. In an interview with The Paris Review, Murakami said, “to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
Franz Kafka: Wrote after his family was sleeping
In the early 1900s, Kafka was working as a doctor in Prague. At the time, he was living in a cramped apartment with his family, so he could focus on his writing only late at night, when everyone was asleep. He was often not able to begin writing until 11:30 p.m. (depending on when his family went to bed), and continued as long as his endurance would allow. He often stayed awake writing until the wee hours of the morning, once even until 6 a.m. These are 20 books you really should have read by now.
Vladimir Nabokov: Wrote first drafts on index cards
Vladimir Nabokov’s daily writing habits were notoriously peculiar. He composed his first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in long file boxes. Nabokov claimed that he wrote this way so that he could shuffle scenes around, by simply pulling out chunks of cards and moving them elsewhere. After finishing his first draft, Nabokov gave the cards to his wife, Vera, who typed them up before Nabokov did further revisions.
Mark Twain: Would skip meals to write all day
Mark Twain woke to eat a hearty breakfast, then immediately retreated to his study. He remained in there writing until around 5 p.m., working straight through the day and even skipping lunch. Twain’s family was taught never to disturb him while he was writing, nor even come near his study, so that he wouldn’t be distracted. If they absolutely needed him, the family was instructed to blow a horn from another part of the house, which would get his attention. On Sundays, Twain did not work, opting instead to spend time with his wife and smoke cigars. Check out 100 of America’s favorite novels.
Victor Hugo: Ate two raw eggs, then started writing
Every morning, Victor Hugo woke to the sound of a gunshot from a nearby fort, and promptly brewed a fresh pot of coffee. He then received his morning letter from his mistress, Juliette Drouet, who lived nine houses down. After reading “Juju’s” daily proclamations of love, Hugo swallowed two raw eggs and locked himself in his lookout. Like many of his fellow novelists, Hugo was extremely particular about his work space. In his lookout, Hugo stood at a small desk placed directly in front of a mirror and wrote until 11 a.m.
Charles Dickens: Needed absolute silence
Charles Dickens required absolute silence in order to work. He even installed an extra door to his study to soundproof the room. Dickens’ study was fastidiously arranged, with his desk in front of a window and a particular assortment of items atop it. His writing utensil was a goose-quill pen with blue ink, but he also needed to have a large paper knife, fresh flowers, a gilt leaf, and two bronze statues on his desk as well.
E.B. White: Wrote while surrounded by his family
E.B. White could not listen to music while writing, yet he could endure all kinds of other ordinary distractions. On writing days, he preferred to work in his home’s living room, which saw endless traffic from his family. It was a bright, cheerful room, despite the constant comings and goings of his wife and kids, who often came in to use the phone. E.B. White realized that it would be futile to try to find a place with perfect conditions, so he made the most of that central spot in his house. Charlotte’s Web is one of those classic children’s books worth re-reading as an adult.
Kurt Vonnegut: Swam a half hour every day
Kurt Vonnegut woke at 5:30 a.m. and worked until 8 a.m. He ate breakfast, worked again until 10 a.m., then went for a walk in town to run errands. Vonnegut also alloted half an hour for swimming, then returned home to eat lunch and read the mail. At the end of each day, Vonnegut numbed himself with several doses of scotch and water. Make sure you’ve read these 50 books you should read before you’re 50.