10 Bizarre Work Habits of Famous Authors — Do You Share Any of Them?

Spotted by Kristen Lamb at a Writers Conference ~ WANA Commons

Potential writer spotted by Kristen Lamb at a Writers Conference ~ WANA Commons

Someone sent me a post this week called Bizarre Habits of Famous Authors. It details the unusual methods famous authors have used to keep the words flowing.

Holy cowbell, these people make me feel normal!

Below, I’ve shared the ten completely strange habits I found the most interesting:

  1. Victor Hugo wrote both Les Misèrables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in the nude so he wouldn’t be tempted to leave his house. He even had his valet hide his clothes.
  2. Demosthenes shaved half his head so that he would be too embarrassed to leave home until his writing was finished.
  3. Ernest Hemingway stood while he met his 500-word-per-day, self-imposed quota. His writing regimen was to be “done by noon and drunk by three.”
  4. Truman Capote, George Orwell, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and Marcel Proust all preferred to write while lying in bed.
  5. Charles Dickens would go for walks (20 miles or so every day) and try to get lost in order to spark his creativity.
  6. William Wordsworth would recite his poetry to his dog while taking strolls. If the dog barked or was upset as he read, he would rewrite the draft.
  7. Alexandre Dumas could only write poetry on yellow paper, articles on pink paper, and novels on blue paper.
  8. Agatha Christie wrote while taking baths and eating apples.
  9. John Steinbeck insisted on writing exclusively in pencil. He used over 300 of them to create The Grapes of Wrath.
  10. T.S. Eliot would tint his face green with powder to look like he was dead.

Like I said, I’m feeling pretty normal about my kitchen timer, my special candle and my writing mug right now. Yes, I’ve got to have my Scrivener to stay organized, but at least I don’t run around naked or tint my face green.

Still, their dedication is inspiring, even if most of their methods leave a lot to be desired.

What bizarre work habits to you have? Don’t be shy! Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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47 Responses to 10 Bizarre Work Habits of Famous Authors — Do You Share Any of Them?

  1. Michael says:

    I stand a lot when I’m working on anything, if possible, so I guess I share Hemingway’s habit (the standing part, not the getting drunk part). 😉


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I dig those standing desks, Michael. It’s in my future to get one with a treadmill underneath. Perhaps THEN I shall be great enough, eh?


      • Michael says:

        I hadn’t thought of the treadmill underneath the desk, but I like it, it’ll be interesting to see how well I type while walking/running. Maybe a stair-stepper . . .


  2. If the muse is being REALLY kind, I will shave half of my head, tint my face green, eat apples, and hide my clothes. Being naked is the only thing that will keep my son from coming to my office and asking 50 million questions. All right. I lied. I don’t tint my face green. 😀

    For anyone who thinks that was a serious answer, I am almost ALWAYS sleep deprived. Add that to the fact that I have strong smartass tendencies and I’m apt to say just about anything. 🙂

    I suppose my most bizarre habit is that I have a Spotify playlist with Cannon in D added 14 times (literally…14 times). Greensleeves is tacked on at the end…I’m don’t really know why. But when I’m writing, I turn it on very softly and play it over and over for the duration. It helps to keep me from getting stressed. Sometimes I’ll switch it out for a few versions of thundering rainstorms, ocean surf or classical/instrumental music, but mostly it’s Cannon in D on the harp.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That’s a nifty habit. I keep thinking I need to get my iPod set up with a “Writing Section” but of course I’d likely just get up and start dancing. Perhaps I’ll just stick with the voices in my head.

      I’ve seen how little you sleep girlie, and I hope it never catches up to you. You’ll be out for weeks. 😦


  3. I have recently adopted the Pomodoro technique (writing in short, sustainable bursts of 30 minutes) and found it to be helpful along with instrumental music to keep distractions at bay. But before I begin any new short story or novella, I take a shower – and emerge with the first scene as a complete visual reel of film in my head… including dialogue.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I do the same thing, Andrew! But in 15 minute bursts (that sometimes last 30 minutes). And the shower is the best for problem solving and jiggling scenes to the front of the mind, isn’t it?

      I’m kind of jealous though. I don’t get the dialogue as a complete reel. That’s a gift. 🙂


      • Sometimes I wish I knew how and why the dialogue stream worked so well and other times I think ‘Just leave it alone – enjoy it.’ I guess it’s just my inner voices all chatting and it flows out of my fingertips as dialogue.
        ‘Do you think that’s true?’ he said.
        I slid my jaw to one side as I considered his question, then nodded.
        ‘It’s good enough for a comment on WordPress.’
        “Well, if you’re happy with it…’ His tone made me doubt myself.
        ‘Maybe I should change that first part.’
        ‘Leave it!’ he said. ‘Don’t start editing your comments.’ he fixed me with a serious look. ‘That’s the start of a slippery slope.’


  4. zkullis says:

    I write whenever I’m not working. The time most successful with my writing is when I’m commuting or on a Temporary Duty Assignment.
    I do have the habit of listening toufic while I write. It can be a mood setter as well as block out the outside world.

    I’ll have to give the nude writing angle a stab. It might help spawn some dark stories. 😉

    (Missed the Cowbell Jen!)


  5. susielindau says:

    The original post sounds amazing. I wonder how the writer compiled all these facts. 20 miles of walking doesn’t leave much time in the day. And Hemingway’s write in the morning, be drunk by 3, must have made it hard to wake up the next morning. Whatever works I guess!


  6. Julie Glover says:

    Forget the nude thing. I just want the valet. Seriously, household servants would really help me focus on getting this novel done. 😉


  7. K.B. Owen says:

    Folks send you the coolest stuff, Jenny. So glad you share them with us!

    I’ll bet Dickens didn’t have trouble getting lost in the winding streets of London. And now, something else I learned about him a while back makes sense to me: when Dickens went on a lecture tour across the Atlantic (he needed the money badly, because he was maintaining 3 households – his own, his mistress’s, and his estranged wife/children’s – but that’s another story), and visited Philadelphia among his stops, he complained that the streets were too straight and arranged in a pattern that was too grid-like.

    I don’t know; I’ve never had a problem getting lost in Philly, LOL. 😉

    My weird writing habits? Hmm…well, I have to win a game of Free Cell before I start writing for the day, and I have to have “Rainy Mood” running on my browser. I’ve tried music, even just the instrumental kind – but I find white noise is more effective for my concentration. I write in Scrivener now, too.

    Oh, and I totally have to get back to lighting that scented candle again…


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I had no idea he walked so much either. I can walk for hours when I get to a new city, but not EVERY DAY. Who’s got the time?

      Oh, those are excellent eccentric writing habits, Kathy! And the candle works awesome, not as much for the scent of the candle as for the lighting of the match. For some reason, that smell wakes up my writer.


  8. Laura Drake says:

    Minions! Dammit, I need minions! THAT’S why I’m struggling with this WIP!

    Drinks for all my minions!
    Maybe the nude thing scared them off . . .

    Jenny – I vote that you shave your head. I KNOW you wouldn’t leave home then – and I want to see a completed book from you!


  9. Good Lord! And to think we put those “kooks” up on pedestals as being some of the greatest ever! So our problem is we’re way too normal to be great? Is that it? *sigh* I guess instead of writing today I shall begin to come up with a list of goofy things to begin doing in preparation for my impending greatness. 😉



  10. Sharla Rae says:

    I can’t say that I have any “really” weird writing habits but I can’t write at all unless my office is fairly clean-research books aside. In the twilight hours before I sleep, ideas come so I’ll wallpaper the lamp shade with post-a-notes. Needless to say, reading notes written in the dark the next morning is sometimes a challenge.


  11. I could actually totally see me doing the nekkid writing or the writing in bed. LOL! For me, though, walking my dogs around my neighborhood has proven to be my brainstorming time, especially when a scene isn’t working or needs to be re-sequenced. I’ve also found that blog writing can often be a great warm up/muscle flex. Yeah…I’m boring. LOL!


  12. filbio says:

    I pretty much write all of my best blog posts in the nude. It makes me feel free and creative.

    My coworkers aren’t too enthalled through when I’m actually doing this at work!


  13. tomwisk says:

    Does being depressed count? If I’m in a good mood he story begins drip treacle and I lose my story. Borderline suicidal is great for anything close to a memoir. I’m sorry, I’ve had a really bad day and something (bugs) I thought were taken care of made an appearance during a doctor’s appointment about said creature. I feel like I could start on a short story about what I think my first years were like. Like I said someplace else I’m adopted and that’s been playing on my mind. I was abandoned. I can’t get one wish. Again I’m sorry for bothering you.


    • laramcgill says:

      Sending lots of hugs your way, Tom. As someone who’s been on the other side of that equation, I can tell you personally that often it’s not about abandoning a baby. In my case, my mother wouldn’t let my son inside the house. She said she “didn’t want any baby of mine messing up her furniture.” In a dysfunctional, abusive household like mine, I knew he would be better off elsewhere. He was adopted by a couple who were both teachers, who I’m certain gave him a much better life than I ever could.

      Even so, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of him.

      Perhaps, Tom, you weren’t abandoned, but rescued.



      • tomwisk says:

        Thanks for the thought. Part of the problem was I knew about it as early as I can remember. Since the “writer’s mind” has taken over. There were good times. But after my mother died I was a disappointment to my father. It lasted to his death. Now it still echoes.


  14. I play Free Cell sometimes too, Kathy Owen, but I’m really just stalling (like now, as I’m reading blog posts when I should be editing). I write in by bathrobe a lot but I think even my characters would run screaming from the room if I tried it naked.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I feel the same way, Kassandra. I could NEVER write nekkid. That just would not work for me. But I guess, if I ever get really stalled, that might be a good way to un-stall me. LOL.


  15. angelapeart says:

    I don’t really have any interesting writing habits to share. Maybe I need some in order to write faster, haha! So how about if I write standing naked in my bath top while eating apples. But I won’t shave my head!


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