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God. Life. Spirituality.

Daily Rituals of Famous Authors

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Honore de Balzac

Balzac’s writing schedule was brutal: He ate a light dinner at 6:00 p.m., then went to bed. At 1:00 a.m. he rose and sat down at his writing table for a seven-hour stretch of work. At 8:00 a.m. he allowed himself a 90-minute nap; then, from 9:30 to 4:00, he resumed work, drinking cup after cup of black coffee. (According to one estimate, he drank as many as 50 cups a day.) At 4:00 p.m. Balzac took a walk, had a bath, and received visitors until 6:00, when the cycle started all over again.

William Faulkner

William Faulkner

Faulkner usually wrote best in the morning, although throughout his life he was able to adapt to various schedules as necessary. He wrote As I Lay Dying in the afternoons before clocking in on the night shift as a supervisor at a university power plant. He found the nocturnal schedule easy enough to manage: he would sleep in the morning for a few hours, write all afternoon, visit his mother for coffee on the way to work, and take catnaps throughout his undemanding shift. He did not wait for inspiration to strike. “I write when the spirit moves me,” Faulkner said, “and the spirit moves me every day.”

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

For many years, Angelou worked in hotel or motel rooms, the more anonymous the better. In 1983, she told an interviewer, “I keep a hotel room in which I do my work—a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin. I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon. If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30. If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well. It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous.”

Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller

Heller wrote Catch-22 in the evenings after work, sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. “I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years,” he said. “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.” During the day he worked in the advertising departments of Time, Look, and, finally, McCall’s magazines. He was not miserable at those jobs—he later called his Time colleagues the “most intelligent and well-informed people I worked with in my life,” and said that he put as much creative effort into a McCall’s promotional campaign as he did into his fiction at night.

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

Mann was always awake by 8:00 a.m. After getting out of bed, he drank a cup of coffee, took a bath, dressed, and had breakfast with his wife. Then, at 9:00, Mann closed the door to his study, making himself unavailable for visitors, telephone calls, or family. The children were strictly forbidden to make any noise between 9:00 and noon, Mann’s prime writing hours. It was then that his mind was freshest, and Mann placed tremendous pressure on himself to get things down during that time. Anything that didn’t come by noon would have to wait until the next day, so he forced himself to “clench the teeth and take one slow step at a time.”

John Milton

John Milton

Milton was totally blind for the last 20 years of his life, yet he managed to produce a steady stream of writing, including his magnum opus, the ten-thousand-line epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton devoted the morning to solitary contemplation in bed, beginning at 4:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. in the winter). First he had an aide read to him from the Bible for half an hour. Then Milton was left alone to compose as many lines as his memory could retain. At 7:00, Milton’s aide returned to take dictation—and if the aide happened to be running late, one early biographer noted, Milton “would complain, saying he wanted to be milked.”

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

In 1942, under pressure to finish what would become her breakthrough novel, The Fountainhead, Rand turned to a doctor for help to her overcome her chronic fatigue. He prescribed Benzedrine, still a relatively new drug at the time, to boost her energy levels. It did the trick. Rand had spent years planning and composing the first third of her novel; over the next 12 months, fueled by Benzedrine pills, she averaged a chapter a week. Her writing routine during this period was grueling: she wrote day and night, sometimes neglecting to go to bed for days (she took naps on the couch in her clothes instead).

George Sand

George Sand

 Sand produced a minimum of 20 manuscript pages nearly every night of her adult life. She always worked late at night, a habit she picked up as a teenager caring for her ailing grandmother, when the nighttime hours were her only chance to be alone and think. As an adult, it was not unusual for her to slip out of a sleeping lover’s bed to begin a new novel in the middle of the night. In the mornings, Sand often couldn’t remember what she had written during these nocturnal writing sessions. “If I did not have my works on a shelf, I would even forget their titles,” she claimed.

~ Mason Currey

Written by MattAndJojang

May 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the info. Sort of proves there’s no right way of doing it.

    David Richards

    May 28, 2013 at 11:41 am

  2. You’re welcome, David. To put it in another way: there are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak… 🙂

    ~ Matt


    May 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm

  3. No, proves the only right way is to do it every day, whenever or however! Drat!


    December 6, 2013 at 4:38 am

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