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The Habits of Famous Writers

If you want to write more, write more.

Of course, that may seem easier said, than done. But experts believe that developing a daily habit of writing can help you realise that things like writer’s block (you know, that unrepenting, maddening destroyer of daily word goals) is little more than a figment of your imagination.

And that got us curious. We found ourselves wondering, is there a correlation between daily habits (writing-related and otherwise) and the literary productivity of great writers? A quick Google, and a bit of reading, rendered some interesting observations, which we’re excited to share with you!

- When award-winning author, Haruki Murakami, is in the thick of writing a new novel, he goes to sleep every night at 21:00 and gets up at 04:00 in the morning. From the minute he’s awake, he starts writing, putting in a solid five or six hours before going for a run or a swim. His afternoons are then spent exploring creative pursuits like reading or listening to music. He says, “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism... to hold such a repetition for so long – six months to a year – requires a good amount of mental and physical strength.” And no doubt, a good night’s rest.

- In stark contrast, Charles Bukowski, the curious creature of cynicism and self-conscious sensitivity that he was, was known never to have got out bed before lunch. Pressed to provide further details, he’d advise: “I never type in the morning. I don’t get up in the morning. I drink at night. I try to stay in bed until twelve o’clock, that’s noon. Usually, if I get up earlier, I don’t feel good all day. I look, if it says twelve, then I get up and… I eat something, and then I usually run right up to the race track… I bet the horses, then I come back.” On the question of when he fit time in for writing, he disclosed, “… I go upstairs with a couple of bottles and I type – starting around nine-thirty and going until one-thirty, to, two-thirty at night. And that’s it.” Personally, we’re not sure it’s the best method, but we are sure that it worked well for him.

- Reputed to be one of the greatest American novelists and short-story writers of his time, the Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway, was another scribe who preferred to write at first light. When he was working on a book or a story, he would write every morning as close to sunrise as possible. He preferred this because, “There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” On the length of time he’d spend writing, Hemingway would simply say, “You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.”

- Racking up the titles of American author, actress, screenwriter, dance, poet, and civil rights activist, you’d think Maya Angelou found time to write touch to come by. In an interview with The Daily Beast in 2013, she discussed her daily work habits and told them she kept a hotel room in her hometown, which she paid for by the month, and she’d go over every morning at 06:30. She’d have all the painting and decorations removed, and made a special request to the Management that no one was to enter and clean, “… just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded.” Usually, she was out of there by 14:00, after which she’d go home and read what she’d written that morning, in order to edit it and clean it up.

- One of the most recognised and bestselling authors in the world, Khaled Hosseini is known to prefer the element of surprise and spontaneity in his work process, meaning he avoids outlines and preparation entirely. “For this reason,” he’s said, “I find that writing a first draft is very difficult and laborious.” He’s gone so far as to admit that the first draft Is usually a big disappointment. However, this doesn’t stop him: “To be a writer – and this may seem trite, I realise – you have to actually write. You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not. Perhaps most importantly, write for an audience of one – yourself.” To this end, once Hosseini has got the first draft disappointing out, the art of the rewrite comes into it, as the process by which he adds layer, dimension, nuance and colour: “It is during this process that I discover hidden meanings, connections, and possibilities that I missed the first time around. In rewriting, I hope to see the story getting closer to what my original hopes for it were.

These insights into the habits of some of the greats may be specific to writing, but the truth is their lessons can be applied to anything. The crux of the matter is to know what habits and routines (or lack thereof) work best for YOU, because the smallest change in habit can be the very thing you need to reach your dream.

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