Monday, March 13, 2006

Funny Writing Habits

I really love stories about those little rituals that famous author have to perform each time they start to write, and Zafar has picked up a bumper crop. There's another great list in Judy Reeves The Writer's Book of Days from which I've plucked the following:

The poet Friedrich von Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk, open it, inhale deeply and compose. ... Colette first picked fleas from her cat, then wrote. ... Voltaire used his lover's naked back as a writing desk. ... It's said that Edgar Allen Poe wrote with a cat on his shoulder. ... T.S. Eliot preferred writing when he had a head cold.
Strange how synchronicity works. Yesterday I found myself reading an essay on the subject by novelist Kent Haruf from the New York Times collection, Writers on Writing. (And look, I've tracked the piece down for you online!)

Haruf (who apparently wrote the first draft of his novel Plainsong with a wool stocking cap pulled down over his eyes, typing away blindly in an unheated basement!) is fascinated by the question of the rituals writers use to psyche themselves up to face the blank page. He explains the phonomena like this:
... perhaps because writing fiction — this weird practice of telling artful lies, this peculiar habit of inventing imaginary people who talk and move and sleep and dream and wake up and kick and kiss one another — is so bizarre in itself is the reason why writers have to find bizarre ways to make it possible even to consider doing it. .... So of course they have to write in their underwear and face the backs of dressers. Of course they have to pull stocking caps down over their faces. Otherwise they might as well do something practical and ordinary, become doctors and lawyers and ditch diggers like everyone else.
Like Zafar I don't have any strange writing habits but it might be fun to adopt some. In lieu of fleas to pick off my cats, anyone wanna come over and be my writing desk?


Glenda Larke said...

Hmmm...are you sure you want me? Naked? That would put you off writing forever!

I think probably the most popular habit we writers cultivate is having coffee to hand. Lots of it.

starlight said...

Apparently Mr. Da Vinci Code has confessed to wearing gravity boots, saying: "Hanging upside down seems to help me solve plot challenges by shifting my entire perspective."

Raz of 95% The Writers Academy puts on music that matches the tone of the particular scene she's about to write. Just to put her in the right frame of mind. I tried it once but got completely immersed in a slideshow of memories and before I knew it, a whole precious hour had skipped by.

Anonymous said...

Oh Sharon, you are so kinky. ;)

Interesting comment from starlight about music. I consider it *the* most important thing for inspiring both ideas and rhythmic prose.

Anonymous said...

Oh erm, something odd has happened to the commenting system. That last post was by Walker (

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks Sharon. About music, I guess Vikram Seth has mentioned about the impact of music on his writing.

Many people love having tea/coffe and ciggies while writing. I love this combination.

Yvonne Foong said...

Hie Sharon! I think the best writing habit is to have someone speacial in mind. It may a parent, a relative, a friend, or even a lover. Knowing that they are eager to read what you write and are amazed by the fact that you write, is the biggest encouragement to write even in the most uncomfortable conditons.

Hehe... Okay maybe I'm off-topic.

The Eternal Wanderer said...

Writers come out with all sorts of peculiar and out of the ordinary ways to overcome that treacherous enemy of writers - the writer's block.

I have a whole range of arsenal in my armoury to combat this formidable foe.

One involves cups and cups of blistering hot coffee. Nothing like a few cuppa to "heat" up the mind.

Another involves looking into space for long periods of time...till creative idea storms into my mind.

Yet another involves me lighting vanilla scented candles in my writing room (also my bedroom).

The writer's weapons ranges from person to person but all with a common goal, to triumph over the "block" and it's ally - the white page!

bibliobibuli said...

starlight - dan brown uses gravity boots - just love that!

glenda, eternal wanderer - scalding coffee by the gallon? i understand completely why balzac died of caffiene poisoning ... my favourite writer's tipple is green tea with toasted rice ... it reminds me of the nanowrimo stint a couple of years ago

i know a lot of people need music when they write ... oscar hijuelos says that he played the same piece over and over as he wrote mambo kings ... but i find it a distraction and heaven knows i'm distractable enough already

yvonne - not off topic at all - a great way to start writing by focusing on those who are really important to you

eternal wanderer - i love scented candles too ...

walker - me kinky? okay then you've found me out!

Anonymous said...

Um.. I write when I'm hungry. I can't write when I'm full. So if I want to write I have to starve myself first. Also I go waqlking a lot sometimes in malls and stuff. Then you can walk and think and not worry about accidentally straying across the road. Happened to me once, I was walking across the road, and this incredible story idea just popped up. So I stopped and started thinking about it. Being hit by a car was an interesting experience. It's like living a life in "slow rewind" mode -- everything goes backwards but slowly.