• Dale Thele

Mad, Mad, Mad World of Writers



Writers are often considered quirky, eccentric, weird—you get the idea. No matter how deranged you may think writers are, famous writers had set routines they followed religiously. Can we prove or disprove their bizarre routines? After all, they were famous. There’s the old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Maybe there’s something to these strange habits of famous writers. Isabel Allende began each of her novels on the exact same day: January 8. J.A. Jacobs author of Drop Dead Healthy writes while walking on a treadmill. Walking pales in comparison to Kurt Vonnegut’s preferred fitness habits. The Slaughterhouse-Five writer not only walked and swam every morning but also claimed to do pushups and sit ups all the time. Haruki Murakami takes things a step or three further with his routine, which includes a 10-kilometer run, 1500-meter swim, or both, each day. While Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Philip Roth wrote by standing. In Stephen King’s earlier days he used drugs and alcohol to write better, so much so he doesn’t remember writing Cujo. Maya Angelou rented a hotel room in her hometown on a monthly basis. She’d go in at the crack of dawn, write until the early afternoon, then take her work home to look it over. Angelou asked the management not to enter her room, except to remove the paintings and other decorations. Instead, to occupy herself while she brainstormed, Angelou kept crossword puzzles and a deck of playing cards handy. Thomas Wolfe wrote while leaning over a refrigerator. Some authors prefer to write lying down as standing up, like Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Philip Roth were all known to write while lying down. Truman Capote was, as well, but that’s hardly the strangest thing about his routine.

Capote was certainly a persnickety writer. Not only did he claim to be a horizontal author and could not think unless lying down. Capote had more superstitions than most people could keep up with. He wouldn’t begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, would change hotel rooms if the room phone number involved the number 13, and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket. Both John Cheever and Victor Hugo thought writing in various states of undress was beneficial. Cheever may have written in his underwear as practicality, given he had but one suit at the time, but Hugo had other motives. The Les Misérables author gave himself only a few months to write The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. In order to ensure his success, Hugo had his valet remove all of his clothes from the house. With nothing to wear except a large gray shawl, it forced the author to meet his deadline. James Joyce wrote lying on his stomach in bed, with a large blue pencil, clad in a white coat, and composed most of Finnegans Wake with crayon pieces on cardboard due to failing eyesight. John Steinbeck, who liked to write his drafts in pencil, always kept exactly twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk. He used them so heavily that his editor had to send him round pencils to ease the calluses Steinbeck developed on his hands from the traditional hexagonal ones. Agatha Christie munched on apples in the bathtub while pondering murder plots, and Flannery O’Connor crunched vanilla wafers. As for myself (I’m not a famous author, yet), I have but a few quirks. I compose my rough drafts in fountain pen and cheap Composition Books. I’m not superstitious, but I ring a brass bell before I begin to write, warding off negative vibes. A silver pendant of St. Paul (patron saint of writers and teachers) hangs around my neck. I’m protestant, but why take a chance, right? So, I think we can agree writers are a strange breed of kookie. We hide dead bodies in our attics and kill our darlings, yet we write amazing prose. In my humble opinion, I say do whatever makes you feel more confident when you write. If what you do hurts no one why not? Is it worth tempting fate and possibly pissing off the muse?



Dale Thele

fiction with an lgbt twist

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