Daily Creative Habits of the Rich and Famous

I read recently that there are three things that nudge your creativity to start percolating. Some of you may already do these things without knowing why. When I read them I thought: Wow. I do that!

  1. Unique. There should be some part of your daily routine that you don’t associate with other activities. For some it’s a certain music that you put on just before you sit down at the keyboard. I only drink coffee  when I write.  If you do this special thing at other times, it loses its magic.
  2. Emotional Intensity. This is that wonderful thing called flow that we all experience when we’re so immersed in our work, we forget time and place. As it happens, this intensity is necessary for true creative work. Losing yourself in the endeavor is the result when you give all of yourself.
  3. Repetition. Not to get too analytical here and kill the buzz, but when you can put your finger on the thing or combination of things that helped create magic for you in your work, you need to repeat it.

I read once that Alexander Solzhenitsyn use to sequester himself away in a little writing cabin down the hill from his home 365 days a year—no exceptions. Here are a few successful writers and their routines for your entertainment and information. Afterward, please take a moment and shoot me a comment letting me know how you wind yourself up (or down) to get down to business. A post following this one will be about less famous writers and their methods.

Stephen King: “There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, 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.”

CS Lewis: “We…settled into a routine which has ever since served in my mind as an archetype. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend.”

Joyce Carol Oates “I try to write in the morning very intensely, from 8:30 to 1 p.m. When I’m traveling, I can work from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Alone, I get a lot of work done in hotel rooms. The one solace for loneliness is work. I hand write and then I type. I don’t have a word processor. I write slowly.”

John Grisham said he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, and once there, there were “enormous amounts of wasted time” that would give him the opportunity to write.  He said “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week. I was very disciplined about it. Now I don’t have to.”

Toni Morrison: “Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.”

John Updike: “I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57.  Since I’ve gone to some trouble not to teach, and not to have any other employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So I work three or four hours in the morning, and it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases. You begin by answering a letter or two. There’s a lot of junk in your life. There’s a letter. And most people have junk in their lives but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along.”

Ernest Hemingway: (Tell me you can’t hear the Hemingway of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” in this quote!) “When I am working on a book or 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 you know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

Truman Capote: “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”

When William Styron settled in his Connecticut farmhouse and began a family, his life became every writer’s ideal: productive yet relaxed, sociable yet protected. On the door frame outside his workroom, he tacked a piece of cardboard with a Flaubert quotation: ”Be regular and orderly in your life, like a good bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

So, assuming you have to be creative pretty much daily—whether because you have a daily word count or a day job that doesn’t suck and requires you to use that part of your talents—how do you get your best creative day kick started? Please, leave a comment and let me know your routine to get the juices going. Sometime next year, I’ll put your schedules right up there next to Baryshnikov’s and JK Rowling’s!

14 thoughts on “Daily Creative Habits of the Rich and Famous

  1. Susan: I have thought so often about the topic you discussed here and have marvelled at my own inability to work outside my ritualistic patterns. I have to be in a certain chair on a certain side of a certain room. 50s music must be playing. Lights must be dim inside and it must be dark outside. The fewer people that I am aware of being awake in the world, the better, which means that I’m usually stopping to go to bed at around 2 a.m. I developed this strange little habit out of necessity a few years back and have never been able to jump out of the rut. But if it works…

    • That’s what counts. Good for you to recognize what works for you. As my husband the philosopher quotes to me ad nauseum: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 🙂 Or at least seriously mitigates your work output.

  2. Midnight in Paris? Fascinating movie. …Corey Stoll has ruined my mind’s eye image of Hemingway! Writing routine; personally I do have set times, but often I’ll get an idea and have to get it expressed. I carry a hand-held PC with folding keyboard for the purpose – have done for years. HP made ’em, way before Apple or anybody else. I used to get some really weird looks until a year or two back when everybody else suddenly began carrying something similar.

  3. I don’t need either one or two, so three is pretty irrelevant. I’ve never quite understood people’s need for routine or rituals, but I guess that makes me an outlier.

  4. I’ve had difficulty writing in the past couple of years, and I think you’ve shown me why, Susan! In the 25 years I’ve been a published author, I always had a routine, and I haven’t been able to follow it in recent years. Writers are indeed creatures of habit–even those of us to really dislike schedules of any kind!

    • It’s true. I always thought that when I finally got to write full time at home that I’d call my own schedule and that it would be v flexible (after years of being told where to sit and how long to sit there in an office). But I happily lock into routines of my own devising and am nearly as rigid with them as my ex-employers used to be!

  5. Wow, I can see all of those qualities. I have the schedule now and I have good days and bad writing days. I see the patterns forming. I think I may be transforming into a writer. What is the magic thing that officially makes you a writer/author?

  6. Pingback: Nominated for Seven Things About Me Award « Ellyn Baker

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  8. Dear me I wish I could have a routine to write. Well, I have one but can not follow it as my day job is shift work with no regular pattern and I do not have a “room of ones own” so writing with family around can be difficult. On my days off though I try to follow the one I hope to be able to follow one day when it all works out :-):
    I get up with my partner and have a cup of tea with him before he goes to work (quite often at a quarter to five as he is a baker). Then I switch on the internet and the laptop, see to my twitter accounts, check emails, to get the clutter out of my mind :-). After that I do a bit of dancing to Rhianna, some exercise, meditation, breakfast and then I start writing with a cup of tea :-). I am not a morning person but have realised that early morning is the best time to write. I need that long way to get myself down to writing though as I do not start up easily on a morning.
    Thanks for this interesting post.

  9. I do my best to wield my pencil when I can. Being dad, hubby, teacher, professor…it all keeps me busy. It’s funny. It seems I need a hectic day to write. When I have the time, I don’t write.


    S. Thomas Summers
    Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

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