Writing is a solitary activity. Many writers, over time, develop their own style or ritual of getting down to writing. It’s not particularly easy to describe how you sit down to face a blank page/screen and begin to write. There’s a popular pie chart that crops up occasionally on social media with the percent of time writers spend on getting ready to write – the bulk of which is preparing or wandering around the idea of writing – checking websites, personal e-mails, research – and finally a sliver of a slice spent on actually writing. Obviously an extreme illustration, but funny because writers do some of those things (albeit in smaller sections). This led me to wonder about the writing rituals of well-known writers.
“Anything that keeps you happy and writing is part of my writing ritual,” according to British novelist, Neil Gaiman. “I like music, so I tend to have it playing in the background.”
Ernest Hemingway’s writing habits seem more in tune with the pie chart concept. He is quoted as defining his writing style as, “long periods of thinking, with short periods of writing.” Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games series, shared similar thoughts. “Some days all I do is stare at the wall. That can be productive if you’re working out character and plot problems. The rest of the time, I walk around with the story slipping in and out of my thoughts.” Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild and others, took a decidedly direct approach to his writing, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and freelance journalist, has a unique process related to revising his novels. “My only writing ritual is to shave my head bald between writing the first and second drafts of a book. If I can throw away all my hair, then I have the freedom to trash any part of the book on the next rewrite.” Clearly, he’s on a mission when it comes to revisions.
Victor Hugo preferred to stand at his desk writing; Hemingway wrote standing as well. Interesting, since standing desks have gained popularity and are touted as a ‘new’ office concept. Who knew it was practiced years ago? Hugo also wrote in the nude and at times had his valet hide his clothes so that he could not leave his home. That’s certainly taking goal setting to an extreme.
In contrast to standing writers, James Joyce preferred to write while lying in bed. Truman Capote described himself as a ‘horizontal author’ due to his need to write reclined in bed or on a sofa.
Writing in a solitary space is preferred by many writers. “One constant writing ritual, no matter what I’m writing is that I cannot write if people are around me,” explained young adult novelist Jennifer Armentrout. Mark Twain did not like being disturbed when writing; he typically had breakfast and then wrote all day, uninterrupted, until dinner. Leo Tolstoy took his need for writing solitude seriously; he locked his doors to ensure privacy. Stephenie Meyer, of Twilight fame, is considered a very private person and writes in her home office. Maya Angelou would book a hotel room and request that all artwork be removed to eliminate distractions while she wrote.
Some writers have a word count or a number of hours devoted to writing to achieve each day. Stephen King writes daily and has a personal goal of 2,000 words per day. George Orwell typically wrote about four hours per day. Jack London wrote 1,000 words per day.
Whether a ritual to get started or a daily habit to be followed, writers have their own special ways of getting the words in their heads to print for the rest of us to enjoy. Enjoy your favorite writer’s work and the back-story of their creative process.