Have you ever noticed that we writers seem to have talismanic behaviors, oddities that help us in some strange way to achieve our daily writing goals? For example, I have to watch Imus in the Morning, drink 2 cups of coffee, eat a nutri-grain bar, and make a fresh pitcher of iced tea before I can begin to write each day. When any one of these habits is missed, it is difficult for me to get going. My friend Rhette Devane (aka Madhatter) needs nothing more than a good cup of coffee each morning to get her writing day started.
I doubt that any two writers have the same approach to gearing themselves up for a few hours spent in solitude, grinding out a story. One writer I know walks the dog at 5 am, clearing his mind for the day. Another writer friend takes an hour in the hot tub relaxing and giving rise to her imagination. My brother in law, a songwriter has a worry stone he rubs during his compositions. He claims that without it he can’t write a single line.
I remember reading a creative writing self- help book that said if you don’t get up every morning and immediately write for one solid hour, then you ought to pack it in; you aren’t a writer. Desiring to be a writer I began to arise each morning and without benefit of Imus or iced tea, started to scribble away. This lasted about a week. I kept falling back to sleep before the hour had lapsed. Initially I became discouraged, telling myself that I must not be a writer after all. This time of discouragement did not last however, for as we know a writer must write just as we must breathe. I soon returned to my routine and was once again writing away.
The experience caused me to wonder just how other writers, the ones who became famous that is, begin their writing day. What I discovered is that each writer has his or her own specific way of doing it. Some are sensible, while others made me downright uncomfortable. All of them were fascinating however, so I decided it might be fun to share them with you. If you think that rubbing your miniature pigs belly before starting up, or talking to your now dead grandmother is strange, just take a look at these famous writers.
*Gustave Flaubert kept his lover’s slippers and mittens in his desk drawer.
*Alexandre Dumas, the elder, ate an apple at 7 a.m. each morning under the Arc de Triomphe. *Anne Rivers Siddons’ husband reports that she makes a nest of papers, like a mouse getting ready for winter, then she starts walking into walls just before she begins a new novel.
*Elena Castedo, author of Paradise repeats these numbers; 30,53,57. There are 30 years between Homers Odyssey and The Illiad,; 53 between Henry Roths first and second books, and 57 is the age of Cervantes when he wrote his first and greatest piece of literature.
* Alice Hoffman, author of Here on Earth gets up at 4:45 am, drinks lots of strong coffee and writes until someone else wakes up.
*Stephen King goes through these motions when he sits down to write; “I have a glass of water or I have a cup of tea. I have my vitamin pill I have my music; I have my same seat; and the papers are all arranged in the same places.”
*Gertrude Stein scribbled her poems on odd scraps of paper in her Ford, “Godiva,” parked at the curb. She had discovered her lofty position in the driver’s seat was an inspiring spot in which to write.
*It is alleged that Henry David Thoreau could swallow his nose. He also talked with forest animals. “I talked to [the woodchuck] in quasi forest lingo, baby talk, at any rate in a conciliatory tone, and thought that I had some influence on him.”
*Charles Dickens walked twenty to thirty miles a day. He also placed objects on his desk in exactly the same position, always set his bed in north/south directions, and touched certain objects three times for luck.
*Hans Christian Andersen put a sign next to his bed that read “I am not really dead.”
*Saint-Pol-Roux hung the inscription “The Poet Is Working” from his door while he slept. *Emily Dickinson wouldn’t see her dressmaker, go out of the house, or expose her handwriting. Her sister addressed all her letters.
And a few citing of sartorial eccentricities:
Edgar Allen Poe always wore black.
Emily Dickinson only white.
Mark Twain also attired himself in white, with shirts he personally designed that buttoned down the back.
Carl Sandburg sported a green eyeshade when he worked.
E. B. White tied on a surgical mask in public to protect himself from contagious diseases.
John Cheever donned his only suit of clothes when he went to his studio in the morning. He hung it up while he worked in his underwear, then dressed and returned home.
Allan Gurganus said he wears a moving man’s zip-up uniform because “I perspire so freely that I sweat my way through the fiction.”
Forest McDonald is said to write history on his rural Alabama porch - naked.
Unless you live way out in the country I don’t think sitting on your porch naked is such a good idea. But if that is the habit you adopt in order to write the next great American novel, then I say go for it. The point is that creating a ritual is vital for most writers, however strange or alarming these habits may seem to others.
Posted by Speck for Gwanny:--)