Lately I’ve been reading about the writing habits of different authors on Tony Rich’s extremely entertaining blog, The Writing Desk. It’s definitely a fun ‘time killer’ for readers and writers alike, if you’re looking for something like that.
And it’s really a fascinating topic. I have a feeling there’s probably a book to be written on snacking habits alone! I personally know authors who set up their writing table with Twizzlers and Oreos—that’s a little too much sugar for my brain. I tend toward tea or coffee. Daphne Du Maurier stoked her creativity with cigarettes and Fox’s Glacier Mints. Agatha Christie, who grew up in Devon, was so partial to the heavy cream of the region that she kept a cup by her typewriter to sip as she wrote. (I can feel my arteries hardening even as I write that sentence!)
Of course, there’s a lot of strong coffee going down too, but many, Stephen King included, start the day with tea. Michael Crichton, however, was thinking ahead by having a ham and cheese sandwich pre-made and sitting alongside a diet coke in his fridge, ready for lunch. I wonder if he had a certain word count he had to hit before he allowed himself to break for lunch.
Ultimately, no matter the snack, they all had to actually sit still and WRITE, how they get there, and how they actually transferred their thoughts to the written page, has as many variations as snowflakes in a storm.
Hemingway liked to wake early and write before he did anything else-including dressing. He wrote longhand in small notebooks, on paper, in coffee shops or in his bedroom/office, keeping a daily tally of his word count (500 was the goal...I’m assuming they were 500 VERY good words!). Typing was often done standing up, which might become a new norm with some of the pop-up style desk tops that are out there now. I can’t blame any author who sits for hours at a time if they enjoyed standing and stretching their legs now and then while writing too.
Agatha Christie kept voluminous notebooks to catalog multiple ideas...not always in any recognizable order. She’d often go on long walks, particularly when she stayed at her country home, Greenway, which was near the sea. She’d compose aloud, work out dialogue, and then return home to her trusty Remington Victor T portable typewriter.
Naturally, Jane Austen took quill in hand to write. History(and Jane’s relatives) has passed down scant details of her process, but we do know she often wrote at a very small table and in her later years at Chawton Cottage, a home provided by her brother that she shared with her mother and sister, Cassandra, she used a writing box. It had a lid that tilted up to write on and the bottom opened to store her pages. I think Jane was something of a ‘pantser’, to a point. By which I mean she dove right into her stories and wrote ‘by the seat of her pants’, rather than voluminous pre-plotting. As a result, many of the pages that remain are sometimes thickly edited with multiple lines crossed out and new sections inserted.
Despite the advent of the computer age, many authors still love to write longhand. Some, like Stephen King, prefer the feel of the fountain pen-a marvelous instrument I also love...though not for composing fiction. J.K. Rowling wrote longhand because she couldn’t afford a typewriter or computer, and still writes her first drafts that way. It must be a tactile feel, the physical transfer of thought to pen to page, and for many it still works best.
These days, you eventually have to sit at the computer and create the document that will become your book. Like Christie, I’m a lover of notebooks filled with thoughts, scene ideas, research, etc. But when it comes to actually writing I need that keyboard. For me, I just can’t write fast enough to get my words down longhand. I’ve tried dictating...but as Christie found out, the sound of your voice is an odd sensation that doesn’t quite go with the story. For me, the words flow fastest, smoothest, and most creatively when my fingers are on a keyboard.
Of course...there are those days when words just won’t come. But that’s a topic for another blog!