Vertical, Horizontal and Other Writing Habits

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Every morning, no matter where I am, I head out to a coffee shop to write. It’s a habit I’ve kept for 30 plus years, one that slips me into the writing zone and jump-starts the writing process.

My routine isn’t for everyone, but I can’t help but think that for serious writers some kind of routine is important.  From what I can tell, the greatest writers of all time had their own well-honed, though sometimes quirky practices, so maybe I am on to something.

Like me, for example, American poet Sylvia Plath started her writing day early, up at 4 a.m. and writing feverishly until her children demanded attention. John O’Hara, on the other hand, wrote between midnight and 7 a.m. and then crawled into bed for the rest of the day.

For others, it was water that beckoned the muse. Benjamin Franklin liked to write while immersed in the bathtub.  So did Ann Landers, the famous columnist, Edmond Rostand, the French playwright, and Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. I am not sure how they kept their pages dry, but for them it worked.

Truman Capote wrote best in motel rooms and called himself ‘a horizontal writer’. Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote lying down, too.  Not so for Lewis Carroll, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway who all wrote standing up.

Virginia Wolfe wrote in a converted basement billiards room, surrounded by old files and stacks of books. J.K.Rowling famously wrote large portions of Harry Potter aboard a train, soothed by clattering wheels and swaying cars.  Stephen King, one of the most prolific of writers, works at the same desk every morning, surrounded by familiar writing tools, keeping butt in the chair until he reaches his target of 10 pages.

It seems to me that one secret to a successful writing career is not that we all have the same habit, but that we have habits of some kind that work for us – a place, a time, a favourite pen, a comfortable chair.  Habit can induce consistency, offset writer’s block and lead to productivity, be it a paragraph a day or Stephen’s King’s enviable 10 pages.

 

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