By Leo Babauta
Finding the ideal working habits that will allow me to write as consistently as possible is always something I’m exploring as a writer.
As I’ve said before, I try to make it a habit to write first thing in the morning. It helps me to focus and ensure that I’m getting my writing done.
I love reading about my favorite writers and what writing habits led to their success. Below, I share with you some of my favorite writers’ work habits … and it’s obvious that there’s no single way to success. Some like to write a certain number of words or pages every day, others were happy to write a page or a sentence. Some liked to write long-hand, others did it on index cards. Some wrote standing up, others lying down.
There’s no one way that works. Do what works for you (and share it in the comments!). But maybe you’ll get some inspiration from these greats, as I have.
1. Stephen King. In his book On Writing, King says that he writes 10 pages a day without fail, even on holidays. That’s a lot of writing each day, and it has led to some incredible results: King is one of the most prolific writers of our time.
2. Ernest Hemingway. By contrast with King, “Papa” Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. That’s not bad, though. Hemingway, like me, woke early to write to avoid the heat and to write in peace and quiet. Interestingly, though Hemingway is famous for his alcoholism, he said he never wrote while drunk.
3. Vladimir Nabokov. The author of such great novels as Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada did his writing standing up, and all on index cards. This allowed him to write scenes non-sequentially, as he could re-arrange the cards as he wished. His novel Ada took up more than 2,000 cards.
4. Truman Capote. The author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” claimed to be a “completely horizontal author.” He said he had to write lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis, as the day wore on. He wrote his first and second drafts in longhand, in pencil. And even his third draft, done on a typewriter, would be done in bed — with the typewriter balanced on his knees.
5. Philip Roth. One of the greatest living American writers, Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claimed to walk half a mile for every page he writes. He separates his work life from personal life, and doesn’t write where he lives — he has a studio built away from his house. He works at a lectern that doesn’t face the view of his studio window, to avoid distraction.
6. James Joyce. In the pantheon of great writers of the last century, Joyce looms large. And while more prolific writers set themselves a word or page limit, Joyce prided himself in taking his time with each sentence. A famous story has a friend asking Joyce in the street if he’d had a good day writing. Yes, Joyce replied happily. How much had he written? Three sentences, Joyce told him.
7. Joyce Carol Oates. This extremely prolific writer (see her bibliography on her Wikipedia page!) has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award. She writes in longhand, and while she doesn’t have a formal schedule, she says she prefers to write in the morning, before breakfast. She’s a creative writing professor, and on the days she teaches, she says she writes for an hour or 45 minutes before leaving for her first class. On other days, when the writing is going well, she can work for hours without a break — and has breakfast at 2 or 3 in the afternoon!
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