Habits of Successful Writers

3 01 2013

Writers and Their HabitsWriters are an interesting lot of people.  They often have the strangest habits.  They are all unique and quirky.  I’m fascinated by the stories writers tell about how they ply their trade.

Consider Ralph McInerny, for instance.  McInerny was a philosophy professor at University of Notre Dame for over fifty years.  He emerged from academic obscurity as the writer of the famous Father Dowling mysteries, a series so engaging that it was eventually made into a television series starring Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame.  He wrote other novels with different protagonists and settings, as well as numerous philosophical treatises, an adjunct of his day job.  He was a prolific and multifaceted craftsman.

McInerny became focused on writing in the early 1960’s.  At that time, he was teaching at Notre Dame, had a large family, and had just bought a new home.  As a result, he was financially overextended and needed to earn extra money to make ends meet.  He’d done some writing before, selling stories to magazines, but had never taken the idea of being a writer seriously.

So, facing a recurrent financial squeeze, he set himself up into an apprenticeship in writing.  Each night after the children had gone to bed, he went into his basement and pecked away on a manual typewriter from 10 PM to 2 AM.  Every night for a year.  Though pooped after a long day, he said about going to his subterranean writing desk, “It was as if the sun came up and it was a new day.  I just loved it.”  He tells the story of his writer’s apprenticeship here.

He did this for a year, having determined from the outset that, if he didn’t sell anything by the year’s end, he’d find a different way to moonlight.

He published over fifty books before he died three years ago at age eighty.

I’m inspired by hard work like this.  Here are some curious habits of some well-known writers:

  • Ernest Hemingway wrote every day for six hours.  Sober.  His average output being about 500 words.
  • Truman Capote always wrote reclining on a couch.
  • Stephen King writes ten pages a day.
  • Dan Brown rises at 4 AM and writes.  Seven days a week.
  • George Will writes his editorials with a fountain pen.
  • Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels on index cards.
  • Daniel Silva writes all the first drafts of his novels in longhand on yellow legal pads in pencil.

What writers inspire you in your creative tasks?  What are their habits?

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