Writing fiction or non-fiction and publishing your work is one of the most satisfying feelings one can have. When I write, I am wholly lost in the process, and every time I read my writing, I always find new things that I haven’t even imagined when I was putting those words down. But writing is also hard work and riddled with self-doubt and fear. So, how do some of the famous writers out there put out amazing works of art? How do they push through those fears and come out unscathed? Well, it turns out that they are scathed nonetheless, but through carefully crafted writing habits and rituals, they can push through the creative process. In this article, I go over ten famous writers’ habits and practices that will inspire you to create such a ritual for your writing process.
Daily Routines of 10 Famous Writers
Maya Angelou’s career spanned over 50 years. With dozens of awards and honorary degrees, she’s regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time.
Maya’s process for producing her work involved renting out a hotel room for several months, leave her house every morning around 6:30 am, and work from that room. As she described it, it was a simple room, and she never used the bed, and, therefore, had no need for room service. Instead, Maya would get immersed in her work from 7 am until around 12:30 pm. After that, she’d return home, re-read everything that she wrote that day, and then put her work away and focus on the rest of her life.
This is how she described her process in an interview with the Paris Review :
“I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty. To write, I lie across the bed, so that this elbow is absolutely encrusted at the end, just so rough with callouses. I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner-proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning.”
Kurt Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction. Also, several of his works were published posthumously after his death in 2007. With no email during the sixties, Kurt was an avid letter writer. In a letter to his wife in 1965, Jane, he wrote:
In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: 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. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.”
As you can see, Kurt’s routine involved early rising, writing for a set time, and then including physical activity and relaxation as part of the process. And, of course, scotch!
Haruki Murakami is a best-selling Japanese author whose works have been translated into over 50 languages. He received multiple awards for his works, including the World Fantasy Award, the Franz Kafka Prize, and the Jerusalem Prize.
In an interview with the Paris Review, Murakami revealed the secret to his writing:
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
But to hold to such repetition for so long – six months to a year – requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
Once again, Murakami is an author who recognizes the importance of physical fitness and its direct link to creativity, warning of the dangers of not taking care of your health.
Best-selling author Stephen King needs no introduction, really, but let me try. With 61 novels to date, five non-fiction books, and about 200 short stories, King is one of the most prolific and loved authors of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy of all time. His book, On Writing, is one of my favorite books on the craft of writing, and I highly recommend it.
Talking about his writing process in an interview with George R. R. Marting, King revealed some of his habits and rituals that made it work for him:
“Martin: How the f@!% do you write so many books so fast? I think, “Oh, I’ve had a really good six months. I’ve finished three chapters.” And you’ve finished three books in that time.
King: Here’s the thing, okay? There are books, and there are books. The way that I work, I try to get out there, and I try to get six pages a day. So, with a book like End of Watch, and … when I’m working, I work every day – three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean. So if the manuscript is, let’s say, 360 pages long, that’s basically two months’ work. … But that’s assuming it goes well.
Martin: And you do hit six pages a day?
King: I usually do.
Martin: You don’t ever have a day where you sit down there, and it’s like constipation? And you write a sentence, and you hate the sentence, and you check your email, and you wonder if you had any talent after all? And maybe you should have been a plumber? (Laughs) Don’t you have days like that?
King: No. I mean, there’s real life, I could be working away, and something comes up, and you have to get up … but mostly I try to get the six pages in.”
In case your wondering, here’s how Stephen King describes his morning routine:
“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.”
Although not the most prolific writer, Ernest Hemingway is one of the greatest writers of our time. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and published seven novels, several short stories, and two non-fiction works.
There are two main habits that Ernest Hemingway incorporated into his writing process. The first one was the habit of writing first thing in the morning. He would rise early, and he’d start typing sometimes, even before he changed his clothes.
About this, Hemingway said, “‘By writing in the mornings, you make sure that writing does get done. 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.”
The second habit Hemingway developed was writing standing up. Because he did most of his writing in his bedroom, he kept his typewriter on a piece of tall furniture to be at his chest height. Hemingway created his first drafts on pen and paper, and then type them sometimes for hours without stopping. When he finished writing for the day, he would count the words and record them in his tracker.
From this perspective, Hemingway was a very diligent writer who understood the power of “eating the frog,” to paraphrase Brian Tracy. In other words, by getting his work done early in the morning, he established a routine of getting the essential part of his day done first.
J.K. Rowling is best known as the author of the bestselling book series in history, Harry Potter. She wrote other books, including crime fiction, under a different pen name. Her story is an immense success and is one of those “rags to riches” stories that we often only see in movies.
But Rowling’s success didn’t happen overnight, nor did it come through sheer luck. As a single mother, she had little to no time, and writing wasn’t her only endeavor at the time. As she said in an interview, “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.”
Unlike other writers in this list, Rowling started her writing without a specific writing routine. Instead, she had the idea for the story in her head, and she utilized any spare moment to write.
One thing that Rowling did do was create outlines for her stories. She did so manually, creating spreadsheets to track the time and plots of her novels. You can see Rowling’s most popular outline here.
Once Rowling became a full-time writer, she began to define her routines. In an article on writing, Rowling wrote, “Moments of pure inspiration are glorious, but most of a writer’s life is, to adapt the old cliché, about perspiration rather than inspiration. Sometimes you have to write even when the muse isn’t cooperating.”
John Steinbeck is another winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He authored 33 books during his life, out of which 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and two collections of short stories.
In an interview in 1975 for the Paris Review, he gave an account of his best tips for writers. The recommendations were part of Steinbeck’s writing process, and he applied them religiously during his writing career.
“1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day; it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm, which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person-a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you, and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole, you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue-say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.”
The New York Times named Bradbury as “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream.” That title is dully earned by Bradbury who’s writing delighted millions over more than 60 years and well beyond his death in 2012.
Ray Bradbury’s process involved writing a lot—as simple as that. The idea was that the more you practice writing, the more likely you are to write something great eventually. Nothing beats sitting in front of the typewriter or keyboard, pouring words onto the page.
Here is how Bradbury himself put it the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea in 2001:
“The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week-it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year, you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden, a story will come that’s just wonderful.”
Alice Munro is a Canadian writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013 and multiple other awards worldwide. Her short stories focus on social and cultural situations in her native southwestern Ontario. Through exquisite writing, she brings mystery and tension to people’s ordinary lives, taking the readers on exciting journeys.
One of the secrets to her ability to create lots of short stories was to set a daily quota of pages and stick to it day after day.
Here is how she described her process in a Paris Review interview in 1994:
“I write every morning, seven days a week. I write, starting at about eight o’clock and finish around eleven. I am so compulsive that I have a quota of pages. I’m also compulsive now about how much I walk every day.
Three miles every day, so if I know I’m going to miss a day, I have to make it up. I watched my father go through this same thing. You protect yourself by thinking if you have all these rituals and routines, then nothing can get you.”
Writer and painter Henry Miller is best known for his first novel, Tropic of Cancer, and many other works, both fiction and non-fiction. In his book, Henry Miller on Writing, he describes a list of self-imposed “commandments” that he created and abide as a part of his writing process.
- Work on one thing at a time until finished.
- Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
- Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
- Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
- When you can’t create, you can work.
- Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
- Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
- Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
- Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
- Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
- Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterward.
How to Interpret and Apply These Writing Habits
You must agree that it’s quite interesting to observe the habits and routines of authors whose works you’ve read and love. It’s even more interesting to notice not only the differences between them but what is common to them. To take it further, how can you “borrow” some of these ideas and implement them in your own life and apply them to your creative process.
I’ll try to break down my takes on these habits and routines and how I believe you can apply them in your writing process. I know I’ve taken most of this and implemented them in my work over the past several years.
1. Have A Routine
Almost every one of the writers in this list worked off a specific routine. That involves deciding when and how much to write and keeping that schedule day after day without exceptions.
The power of good habits is not new, but it’s great to see how these successful writers could apply them to their creative process.
2. Be an Early Riser
With few exceptions, most successful writers wake up early and get their writing quota out of the way as fast as possible. That is a critical piece because the quicker you put the most crucial task of the day behind you, the more comfortable you can go on with the rest of your day. Therefore, having a morning routine becomes a vital piece.
3. Body & Mind Connection
This is another point made by most writers on the list: you need to take care of your body and your mind. Putting words on paper is essential and vital to producing publishable manuscripts, but you can’t let your body unattended. Taking breaks, walking, exercising, and proper nutrition are essential habits that need to be weaved into the writing process and become a part of it.
4. Set a Timer
Some writers work best when they create a timetable for their writing. If working by time works for you, then make sure to set up a timer and block time on your calendar. In this case, the emphasis is on time you spend writing and not on output quantity.
5. Create a Quota
If working under time pressures is not working for you, then the other alternative is to set a quantity quota. You can set the quota either in words or, more straightforward, in pages. By creating a daily ration of pages, the end game gets clarity. If you know approximately how many pages you’ll have in the end, and you decide how many you’ll write every day, it’s easy to see when you’ll be done.
6. Live Your Life
Finally, all writers in the list above make a point about living your life outside writing. If you have the right habits and work on your self-discipline and diligence at keeping up with those routines, you’ll have time left for leisure, family, friends, and other hobbies.
Other Resources on Famous Writers’ Habits
- The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers
- The Odd Habits and Curious Customs of Famous Writers
- The Daily Writing Habits of Famous Authors
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Which one of these writing habits of famous writers resonated the most with you?
- Do you have a writing ritual that you follow? What is it?
- What is one writing habit you struggle with the most?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!