If you’ve ever obsessed over an unfinished story or spent hours trying to perfect a poem or English class essay, you know how tricky and tedious the writing process can be. To master the craft, many professional writers develop their own quirky working strategies to help them stay productive and keep their ideas flowing. Readers have always been curious about the physical process behind great works of literature. When it comes to the development of your own unique writing habits, you might want to take some tips from the pros.
Some writers work during very specific hours, and others simply wait until inspiration strikes. Stephen King gives himself a strict daily output requirement—ten pages every day, even on holidays. Then there are writers like James Joyce, author of mind-boggling 20th century novels like Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, who often worked for hours just to complete a sentence or two. John Green (who wrote An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska, and other awesome YA books) has confessed that he ends up deleting about 90% of everything he writes.
Do you sit at a desk when you write? Ernest Hemingway preferred to stand. He perched his typewriter on top of a high shelf and eventually designed a standing desk for himself. Then there was Truman Capote, the eccentric writer of the infamous true crime novel In Cold Blood, who said “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down.” He preferred to work from bed.
Some writers need peace and quiet; others can’t think without music playing. When Junot Diaz is working on a particularly tricky passage, he locks himself in the bathroom and sits on the edge of the bathtub. Author Jonathan Franzen believes the Internet is the most productivity-killing distraction of all, so he writes on an old laptop with no wireless card and has actually destroyed his Ethernet port so he will never be tempted to connect to the web. When J.K. Rowling was finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she checked into a hotel room so she could write for days without distraction.
Nowadays, most writers use a computer, though some still prefer to draft their work on paper, from college-ruled notebooks to multi-colored moleskines. Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels in fragments on index cards, in no. 2 pencil. He liked to shuffle the cards around to decide what order worked best. Legendary Beat generation writer Jack Kerouac glued pages and pages of paper together into long winding scrolls and fed them through his typewriter so he never had to stop writing to change the paper. And don’t forget the necessary refreshments. Coffee, tea, Code Red Mountain Dew, beef jerky…whatever keeps the words flowing.
Maybe you only write between the hours of 4:00 and 5:00 o’clock in the morning, in a special writing fort, on Post-It notes, with your eyes closed, while spinning around in circles. No matter the method, it’s the work that counts! Don’t forget to submit your original poetry, short fiction, or creative blog post to the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest. The deadline is May 7th, so there’s still plenty of time to hone your writing process and get to work. And be sure to check out one of the teen writing workshops happening at various CLP locations this month—you can find all the dates & times here.