by Kris Maze
Have you wondered what other authors have done to be more productive? What unusual methods they used to finish their novels? Read about seventeen famous writers and their quirky hacks to get words on the page.
What limits would you go to in 2021 to get into the writing zone?
Many of us have figured out our best writing routines, honing our schedules and bribing our muses with ceremonious gifts. Even so, I am compelled to study the habits of successful writers and see what lies behind the curtain. Perhaps it is an attempt to reverse engineer their productivity and enhance my writing life. Maybe these tips can make you smile and appreciate your own writing life as it is.
At the closing of this year-that-shall-not-be-spoken, here is a collection of some of the most interesting habits I’ve read about, followed by the famous authors who use(d) them. See for yourself what worked for these well-known scribes. Could these routines help you write more in 2021? You decide.
Using a long sheet of drawing paper, or scroll, is one of my favorite planning tools. I use it during my early drafts to sequence a novel and I know of other writers who spread their manuscripts throughout their dining and living rooms as space dictates. But it seems we did not invent this method.
Writers who used a scrolling system:
Edgar Allan Poe - He attached the pages of his final drafts together with sealing wax. Open with caution.
Jack Kerouac - He envisioned his novel, On the Road, in a burst of inspiration. In order to type the book quickly, he taped pages together, so he wouldn’t have to reload his typewriter. Kerouac would have been a future fan of the dot matrix version of word processing.
Eudora Welty - Poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, she preferred stick-pins to put together her drafts. She wrote to a friend, “I used to use ordinary paste and put the story together in one long strip, that could be seen as a whole and at a glance — helpful and realistic. When the stories got too long for the room I took them up on the bed or table & pinned and that’s when my worst stories were like patchwork quilts, you could almost read them in any direction . . . I like pins.”
The Original Scrivener
Vladimir Nabokov - He wrote Lolita from the back of a car, using a carrying case full of notecards. Having the full novel in place in his mind, he wrote various scenes on the cards, putting them in order in the case which also doubled as his desk. When asked why he wrote in his car, he said, “it's the only place in the country with no noise and no drafts.” I guess that’s important when writing a novel on tiny slips of paper.
Agatha Christie - The quintessential mystery writer ate apples while taking long baths. Not that that isn’t eccentric enough; she examined murder photos for inspiration at the same time. (And I thought adding bubbles and listening to writing podcasts was inspirational.)
Friedrich Schiller - Known for his close friendship with Goethe and his own poetry and philosophical writings, Schiller kept apples in his desk and let them rot. He liked the way they smelled and found it made him more productive. Did Schiller also invent a precursor to potpourri?
Lying, Standing, or Hanging Upside Down
Virginia Woolf - She would compose her prose while standing. She compared this method to painting with an easel and it eased her into her writing mode.
Truman Capote - He lay in bed for his best thoughts. He explained in a 1957 interview with the Paris Review, “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy… No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”
Have a ‘Conversation’
Alice Walker - The American novelist thinks of her writing time as inviting her muse to tea as the guest of honor. She states, "If you are expecting someone to come to tea but you’re not going to be there, they may not come, and if I were them, I wouldn’t come. So, [writing a book is] about receptivity and being home when your guest is expected, or even when you hope that they will come."
Edgar Allen Poe - He argued with the authors of written books... by putting notes in the margins. He wrote about the benefits of writing in books he read: “In the marginalia … we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly — boldly — originally — with abandonment — without conceit.”
Use of Color
Lewis Carroll - The writer of Alice in Wonderland couldn’t overcome his days in academia. As a math teacher at Oxford, he used a colored pen to correct papers. He kept this habit while writing fiction, using purple ink.
Alexandre Dumas - He was an organized writer and used different colored paper for his types of writing. He chose blue for fiction, yellow for poetry, and pink for articles. Once, he was forced to write fiction on cream-colored paper, which he claimed made his writing terrible that day.
James Joyce - The Irish writer used large blue pencils on his drafts and wore a white coat when writing. More than superstition, it helped with his poor eyesight. Some writing habits are simply pragmatic.
A Hat for Every Occasion
Dr. Seuss - The beloved children’s author owned over 300 hats, which he wore for inspiration while writing. Yes, one of his favorites was a tall red and white striped hat, a la the Cat in the Hat.
Victor Hugo - It’s easy to imagine the writer’s success, considering that under a deadline he once wore nothing but a shawl to force him to stay in his house and write. Hugo self-imposed this constraint and asked his friends to steal his clothes in support. How Miserables.
Maya Angelou - She worked out of a hotel room and asked the staff to remove all distractions like artwork and barred anyone from disturbing her during the day. She rented a room on a monthly basis. This is one way to keep from getting interrupted.
Could you relate to any of these writing productivity habits? What extreme measures have you taken to make a deadline? What is your favorite writing hack you use to get into the Writing Zone? Help us celebrate the writer's lifestyle and share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Kris Maze is an author, freelance writer, and teacher. She enjoys writing twisty, speculative fiction with character driven plots. After years of reading classic literature, mysteries, and thrillers, she sought to write and publish her own books.
She is currently working on a futuristic YA trilogy and writing short stories. She also writes for various publications including a regular post at the award winning Writers in the Storm Blog.
When she isn’t spending time with her favorite people and pets, Kris Maze is taking pictures, hiking, or pondering the wisdom of Bob Ross. You can follow her author journey at her website at KMazeAuthor.com