The Writing Routines of 5 Famous Authors

Kyle Smith

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We can always learn from others. So, on that note, I want to analyze 5 of the most famous authors: E.B. White, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Jodi Picoult and Toni Morrison.

1. E.B. White, author of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Elements of Style

E.B says, "I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me."

"In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."

The lesson: Don’t wait for perfect conditions to write. We writers like to dream of writing in a beach cabana with the wind softly tussling our hair, with no distractions. But that’s usually the reality where we live.

We have disruptions, stress factors, problems, and all manner of things to distract us. But we have to get the work done anyway.

2. Stephen King, author of countless horror novels (my personal favorite being his collection of short stories, Night Shift)

Stephen says, "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. It’s not any different than a bedtime routine. Do you go to bed a different way every night?”

The lesson: Establish some anchor rituals to help develop your routine. These can be rituals such as making coffee, playing specific music, or other things that are a signal to your brain that it’s time to write.

What are some anchor rituals you already use, or would like to use? I challenge you to decide on one and adopt it for 2 weeks

3. Ernest Hemingway, author of classic novels such as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and many others

Ernest says, "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."

The lesson: Figure out your most productive time of day. You can experiment with this. I don’t believe that writing in the morning is the only way to go. Many people swear by this, but it really depends on your biology and schedule. Not everybody is a morning person.

What is your ideal time of day to write? For me, I would love to do early mornings, but it ends up being in the afternoons when I’m done with other work, or sometimes around 9-10 p.m.

4. Jodi Picoult, best-selling novelist of My Sister's Keeper, The Pact and Nineteen Minutes

Jodi says, "I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page."

The lesson: Keep writing even if you think it’s bad. Maybe this has happened to you: you write a piece (blog post, social media post, podcast, article, email) and you don’t think it’s that great. However, somebody else loves it.

When we’re writing, we tend to judge it, but it’s important that we realize we don’t always know when something will resonate with someone. In other words, it’s almost impossible to be objective about our own work. So keep on writing even when you don’t think it’s very good.

5. Toni Morrison, author of novels such as Song of Solomon and Beloved

Toni says, "But the important thing is that I don't do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I don't go to the cocktail parties, I don't go or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then. And I can concentrate. When I sit down to write I never brood. I have so many other things to do, with my children and teaching, that I can't afford it. I brood, thinking of ideas, in the automobile when I'm driving to work or in the subway or when I'm mowing the lawn. By the time I get to the paper something's there--I can produce."

The lesson: You can't have it all. That's just the honest truth. You will need to sacrifice some things in order to write. It might be TV shows, some of your social life, leisure time, or something else. But you only have so much time and energy.

I hope these words from these authors inspire you and motivate you as you write as well. Happy writing!

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St. Louis, MO
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