A Brief Analysis of the Writing Habits of Successful Writers
by Cin Que
No two writers are alike. So it was not surprising when I stumbled upon many different quirks, habits and routines that famous writers have, many of which may seem bizarre, irrational or superfluous to newer writers. I tend to hear writers who haven’t formed their own style or aren’t fully committed to writing yet say something along the lines of, ‘I can’t find the time to’ and ‘there’s no good place for me to write’. If this is relatable, maybe that’s how you ended up here - you too were curiously looking into how successful writers and those who have written many published pieces throughout their lifetime write. It might be weird to spell out the components of the writing process, but like other creative forms, the art of writing does have a similar logic underlying the flow of scribbling down words to express and communicate to readers.
“I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space and no matter what the filing system or how often you clear it out–life, documents, letters, requests, invitations, invoices just keep going back in.” ― Toni Morrison
“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism[...] Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
― Haruki Murakami
Waking up at 4am before first light, running 10 kilometers, or having a stash of moldy apples in your desk drawer for its acidic smell; we do these things to carve out a space and time for ourselves to write. But rather than blindly adopting a famous writer’s habit, it would be more effective to identify the controllable factors that are preventing you from writing. For instance, writers with parental and familial responsibilities (in the case of Jodi Picoult, Stephanie Meyer, Barbara Kingsolver, and so on), have learned to get serious writing done during quieter hours of the day (e.g. when the kids hop onto the school bus, at nighttime when the family is asleep, etc.). During this time of day, attention isn’t divided and their presence isn't needed elsewhere. Setting aside time to write could mean waking up earlier before school, designating a time and place that invites solitude or writing when you’re most in tune with yourself. Ultimately, the goal is to gradually build an internalized (intellectual and spiritual) environment you’ve created for yourself to write in, which is encouraged by the external and physical environment (note that this may be different to the editing part of writing, which is a major part of the writing process but is a different and large discussion for another time).
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” ― Ernest Hemingway
“You’re just always finding your way in the secret world and then you’re doing something else in the ‘normal’ world.” ― Alice Munro
Additionally, having a place and object that you associate with writing is really helpful, just like when you enter a library and it is an unspoken rule for you to be quiet. Ray Bradbury always uses a typewriter and so long as he has a typewriter he can write anywhere. Stephen King sits in the exact same seat with surrounding papers in their fixed positions. In both cases it has become hard-wired into them that that is what the act of writing looks like. The self-visualization of yourself writing in an established setting for writing, knowing clearly where and what is involved as a catalyst for your writing process, is highly valuable for easing into and nailing your 'performance'. It may remind you of how some athletes visualize themselves successfully shooting a hoop before the big game, or musicians imagining what notes they’re playing before actually doing so on stage. Taking a similar approach to writing as an art form, turns it into something that doesn’t just happen on a whim, you can learn to mentally and physically anticipate executing it. Eventually, you’ll learn to slip into it like how actors ‘get into character’ when they need to.
Here’s a list of things to consider including in your routine before and while writing to get you started: amount of physical exercise, the food/drinks you are ingesting, time of day, the room (lighting, decoration, temperature, noise level or music choice), access to wifi, and the tool you are using to write with. Adjust and filter these factors that serve as excuses or sources of demotivation, and enforce those that allow you to access a state of being where you feel comfortable enough to let your mind wander freely and an inner voice to emerge.
“[...] sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places…The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.” ― Stephen King
I am convinced that for every story and writer out there, there’s a different way of going about the writing process. Look up your favorite author’s writing tips and habits, but also try to reflect and address the obstacles to your writing, and familiarize yourself with an environment that induces it. Once you’re able to settle into the act of writing, the focus will be on practicing it until it becomes natural and is of the greatest quality you can churn out.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)