I had every intention of composing a piece entitled ‘ Appropriating the Cosmos’, in fact, I had started the draught, when, procrastination took over. I found myself pulled to the goings on in my garden and then I was lost, the motivation had escaped me.
I began wondering if writers have the same problem of sticking to the job in hand, I mean to write a whole novel. All I was trying to accomplish was a lousy 2000 words or so. Sighing, I drew myself back into the room and began my small ritual of a glass of wine (it is 2 in the afternoon) and loading Dave Brubeck as I always have to listen to jazz and it always has to be ‘Take Five’ first.
I decided as I often do, to go with the flow, my opinions were on how I worked, I now wanted to see how the great writers did the same.
So grab a coffee or even a glass of wine and lets look at the everyday rituals of some of my favorite authors.
I promise to return to the initial blog at a later date.
JANE AUSTEN ( 1775- 1817)
Austen never lived alone and had little expectation of solitude in her life. She wrote in the ‘sitting room’ where she would be constantly interrupted by servants and a steady succession of daily callers. her nephew recalled :
she was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by anyone but close family. She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be out away, or covered by a piece of blotting paper. There was, between the front door and the offices, a swing door which creaked; it gave her notice when anyone was coming
Austen awoke early, before the rest of the household and would play piano until 9am. After breakfast she would write until 3pm, often with her mother and sister sewing nearby. Evenings would be spent reading aloud from her ‘work-in-progress’.
KINGSLEY AMIS ( 1922-1995)
When asked in 1975 if he had a daily routine, he replied :
Yes. I don’t get up early. I linger over breakfast reading the papers, telling myself hypocritically that i’ve got to keep up with what’s going on, but really staving off the dreadful time when I have to go to the typewriter. That’s probably about ten-thirty, still in pyjamas and dressing gown. And the agreement Imhave with myself is that I can stop whenever I like and go and shave and so on. In practice, it’s not till about one or one-fifteen that I do that… I usually try and time it with music on the radio. Then i emerge, and nicotine and alcohol are produced. I work until two-fifteen, have lunch, then if there’s urgency about it, Imhave to writemin the afternoon, which I really hate doing.
As he reached his seventies, Amis’s routine shifted slightly, with the drinking, taking a more prominent role even as he proceeded to write daily. Amis would work at his typewriter, shooting for his minimum 500 word requirement, which he usually managed before lunch. A taxi would take him to the Garrick Club where he would receive his first Macallan with a splash of water.
He would arrive home around 3:15pm for his second stint at his typewriter, picking up where he left off (he constantly made sure he stopped when he was sure what would come next).
KARL MARX (1818-1883)
Marx arrived in London as a political exile in 1849, expecting to stay only a few months, instead he ended up living there until his death in 1883. His first few years were distinguished by great poverty and personal tragedy – his family was forced to live in squalor and by 1855 three of his six children had died. Isaiah Berlin describes Marx’s habits during this time :
His mode of living consisted of daily visits to the British Museum reading room, where he normally remained from nine in the morning until it closed at seven; this was followed by long hours of work at night, accompanied by ceaseless smoking, which from a luxury had become indispensable anodyne; this affected his health permanently and he became liable to frequent attacks of a disease of the liver and inflammation of the eyes, which interfered with his work, exhausted and irritsted him, and interrupted his never certain means of livelihood. “I am plagued like Job, though not so god-fearing,” he wrote in 1858
ARTHUR MILLER (1915-2005)
“I wish I had a routine for writing,” Miller told an interviewer in 1999. ” I get up in the morning and I go out to my studio and I write. And then I tear it up! That’s the routine really. Then, occasionally, something sticks. And then I follow that. The only image I can think of is a man walking around with an iron rod in his hand during a lightening storm.”
AGATHA CHRISTIE (1890-1976)
In her autobiography, Christie admitted that still after ten novels, she didn’t really consider herself an author. She acknowledged she had little memory of her early novels
” I suppose I was enjoying myself so much in ordinary living that writing was a task I performed in spells and bursts. I never had a definite place which was my room or where I retired specially to write”
This would cause problems with journalists, who inevitably wanted a picture of the author at work.” All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter”
Many friends have said to me “I never know when you write your books, because i’ve never seen you writing,or even seen you go away to write.” I must behave rather as dogs do when they retire with a bone; they depart in a secretive manner and you do not see them again for an hour. I felt slightly embarrassed if I was going to write. Once I could get away, however, shut the door and get people not to interrupt me, then I was able to go full speed ahead, completely lost in what I was doing
TRUMAN CAPOTE (1924-1984)
“I am a completely horizontal author,” Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. ” I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched out on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martini’s.”
Writing in bed was in fact the least of his eccentricities. He couldn’t allow three cigarette butts in the same ashtray at one time, and if he was a houseguest he would shove the excess butts in his pocket rather than overfill the ashtray.
He couldn’t start out or end anything on a Friday.
JOSEPH HELLER (1923-1999)
Heller wrote Catch-22 over an eight year period sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. He would spend two to three hours every night.
” I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drove me back to Catch 22. I couldn’t imagine what Americans did at night when they weren’t writing novels”
Heller wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads and reworked passages carefully, often numerous times. While working he listened to classical music, especially Bach.
“I write very slowly, though if I write a page or two a day, five days a week, that’s 300 pages a year and it adds up”
GEORGE SAND ( 1804-1876)
Sand produced a minimum of twenty pages nearly every night of her adult life. Sand’s persona was larger than life, there’s the famous cross-dressing, the male pen name, her numerous affairs with both human races and women, but her work habits were austere.
She liked to nibble on chocolate at her desk, and needed regular doses of tobacco ( cigars or hand rolled cigarettes) to stay alert. As an adult she was known to slip out of bed to begin a new novel in the middle of the night. In the morning she rarely remembered he nightly sessions.
“If I did not have my works on a shelf, I would even forget their titles,” she claimed
LEO TOLSTOY ( 1828-1910)
I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.
This is one of the few diary entries he made during the mid 1860’s, when he was deep into the writing of War and Peace. His son Sergei later recorded the pattern ofmdaily life at Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate in the Tula region.
From September to May we children and our teachers got up between eight and nine o’clock and went to the hall for breakfast. After nine, in his dressing gown, still unwashed and undressed, with a tousled beard, Father came down from his bedroom to the room under the hall to finish his toilet. If we met him on the way he greeted us hastily and reluctantly. We used to say: “Papa is in a bad temper until he was washed.” Then he, too, came up to have his breakfast, for which he usually had two boiled eggs.
He did not eat anything after until five in the afternoon. Later, at the end of 1880, he began to take lunch at two or three. He was not talkative at breakfast and soon retired to his study with a glass of tea. We hardly saw him after that until dinner
According to Sergei his father wrote in isolation and the doors to the adjoining rooms were locked to allow no entry. Tatyana disagrees, recalling their mother sometimes sat with him quietly sewing.
He would go for a walk or drive around the estate and join the family for dinner in a more sociable mood
CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870)
Dickens was undoubtedly a prolific writer, he produced fifteen novels, ten of which are over 800 pages, numerous stories, essays, letters and plays. Howeverm he needed certain conditions in place to be so productive.
Firstly, he needed absolute quiet, in one of his houses an extra door had to be fitted to block out noise. His work had to be precisely arranged, with his writing desk always to be in front of the window and, on the desk, his goose- quill pens and blue ink laid along side several ornaments: a small vase of fresh flowers, a large pen knife, a gilt leaf with a rabbit sat upon it, and two bronze statuettes.
He was methodical and rose at 7am, had breakfast at 8am and was in his study by 9am. He worked till 2pm and had lunch with his family where they mention he seemed to be in a trance, eating mechanically and barely speaking. On an ordinary day he would manage 2000 words, but when imagination took flight, he could easily write twice that number. Other days, he could hardly write anything and passed the time doodling and staring out of his study window.
Each day at 2pm he left his study for a three hour walk through the countryside or the streets of London, continuing to think of his story.
Dickens would spend his evening with his family and would retire at midnight
Sometimes a subject I am not expecting turns into a wonderful afternoon of research and although not the article of my intention I hope you loved it as much as I did. Enjoy the rest of your week and please check out the SON network below…
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