Have you ever wondered how your favorite authors go about writing their masterpieces? Each routine is unique in one way or another: Are they up all night like Hunter S. Thompson or do they wake up with the sun to write, despite their hangover? Here are nine of the greatest writers’ approach to completing their works. Maybe we should take some cues…
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Hemingway was very dedicated to making sure he cranks out some work early in the morning. The Nobel-Prize winner would wake up at 5:30 am every day and write for three hours while standing up. When asked about his routine, Hemingway said:
“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. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. 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.”
Hunter S. Thompson
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E. Jean Carroll wrote a biography about the gonzo journalist’s life, which can be found here. What Carroll discovered from spending time with Thompson is that his style is the exact opposite of Hemingway’s early-rise approach to writing. Hunter woke up at around 3 pm. After spending the day drinking and taking drugs, he would start writing at midnight. The rest of the night continued with drinking, eating, and occasionally writing until he fell asleep at 8:20 am.
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The black humor satirist also woke up with the sun to start his work for the day. In a letter to his wife, Vonnegut wrote his routine as followed:
“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten.”
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Between the long breaks between his story-story collections, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Junot Diaz continues writing and teaching courses at MIT. In an interview with Daily Beast, Diaz stated that he wakes up at 7 am then writes and grades papers until lunch. He also chooses to write in his bed instead of at a desk while listening to movie soundtracks, as songs with words can throw him off.
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Some people are more casual about where, when, and how they write. Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury did not need to follow a schedule but rather wrote whenever the mood struck him.
“I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.”
Whenever he felt the urge to write something, something he often felt since he was twelve, he would head to a typewriter and compose his amazing stories. No need for schedules or alarms, just write when you feel the pull, and don’t leave until you feel spent.
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Kafka was unfortunately not appreciated for his literary merit while alive, so he was forced to work a desk job during the day and write during the night. When he returned from work, he would nap for hours in order to stay awake at night. He believed that the only time he could write was during the deep quiet of the night.
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Angelou spent most of her time editing her own pieces, claiming that the editing one does before sending their work to an editor is the most important part of the process. Large portions of the pages she wrote in the morning would end up being deleted.
“I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work. And to blue pencil it.”
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Another writer who needs absolute silence to complete her work, Didion would isolate herself in order to write and edit. She requires time to herself, her book, and a drink so that there are no distractions from her process.
“I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I’m really working I don’t like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don’t have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I’m in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it.”
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Another drinker and free-spirit, Charles Bukowski definitely did not wake up early in order to write, but instead wrote at night. He usually didn’t start until around 9:30 pm. He felt that most writers give the idea of writing a more painful image than necessary; what he needed was to let the words out, so he could enjoy the process and then get paid after. What’s hard about that?
“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 have to get up earlier, I don’t feel good all day. I look, if it says twelve, then I get up and my day begins. I eat something, and then I usually run right up to the race track after I wake up. I bet the horses, then I come back and Linda cooks something and we talk awhile, we eat, and we have a few drinks, and then 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.”
Each writer suffers with a different aspect of the process, but they power through their struggles to create the art we love. Some, like Diaz, struggle starting the stories; some, like Thompson, struggle finishing before deadlines and others, like Angelou, struggle while editing. Despite the differences in approach, every famous author would always put aside some time every day to write.
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