Peggy Bechko: Those Weird and Wacky Writers


by Peggy Bechko

Okay, no talk today of how to write, or edit, or sell or any of that ‘important’ stuff we all do. This one’s just for fun.

I was researching something else altogether and ran across some of the weird things very well known writers do, habits and rituals they have. So, I dug a little deeper because I needed a distraction and found out some fun facts.

First, alcohol seems to have a lot to do with writing. I admit it never has for me, but for a lot of writers, it ranks right up there.

Then there are the specific habits. Apparently Mark Twain liked to write lying down. Go figure.

Screenwriters would love Vladimir Nabokov – he loved index cards. Only he didn’t have a computer so he used REAL 3 x 5 inch index cards. He paper clipped them and stored them in boxes. Did someone transcribe those cards? It didn’t say. Oh, and he sometimes liked to write in a parked car.

Flannery O’Connor had some problems. She had lupus apparently and so wrote only about two hours each day due to extreme lack of energy. Near the end of her life things were so taxing for her she sat facing the blank surface of her wooden dresser so as to have no distractions.

From what I saw, Truman Capote was another horizontal author who claimed he couldn’t think unless he was lying down. His favorite places were bed or sofa with coffee and a cigarette. Apparently he transitioned throughout the day from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. (Remember that alcohol thing I mentioned above?)

Their habits were as varied as the writers. They might not have had the web and computers, but they certainly enjoyed plenty of other distractions – or not, depending on the writer.

Ernest Hemingway was unwittingly ahead of his time. Aside from his alcohol consumption, he had a couple of interesting habits. He stopped his writing day when he arrived at a place where he knew what came next in his story. Not a bad idea as it launched the next day’s writing from a springboard. But here’s the interesting thing. He wrote standing up, typewriter at chest height while standing in a pair of oversized loafers. Hey, I can sort of match that. I have an adjustable desk so I can easily stand for long stretches and I love to wear my fleece-lined boots in the winter.

Hmm, it seems there’s a rumor Dan Brown hangs upside down in anti-gravity boots. It’s also said he has an hourglass on his desk and every hour he stops writing to do pushups, sit-ups and stretches. So the antigravity boots thing is a separate issue; at least he apparently doesn’t write in them.

A little more digging brought up the seeming fact that author Friedrich Schiller kept a drawer full of rotten apples at his desk that created an overpowering smell. It was relayed by Schiller’s wife that the aroma inspired her husband and he couldn’t live or work without it. Maybe the methane gas created the decomposing apples just made him tipsy, I don’t know.

Then there’s The Method. Wallace Stevens apparently composed his poetry on bits of paper while walking and then passed them on to his secretary to type up. Edgar Allan Poe wrote final drafts on separate pieces of paper made into a running scroll with sealing wax. Then there was James Joyce, who, due to several physical conditions couldn’t see well and suffered eye pain. H wrote lying on his stomach in bed with a large blue pencil and clad in a white coat. And were you aware he composed most of Finnegan’s Wake with pieces of crayon on pieces of cardboard? Apparently the use of the large pencils and crayons allowed him to see his work better and the white coat reflected more light onto it.

Charles Dickens, OTOH, liked to write with blue ink. Think now, this was a different era. Why? Because it dried faster than other colors and he didn’t have to pause in his fiction writing to blot the ink. Ah, days gone by.

There are many more tales of oddities, habits and superstitions connected with writers famous and otherwise. Bet you have a few of your own ideas. But then again, how much of this is totally accurate? People love to gossip and exaggerate and we all know what can happen when stories are passed from one person to another. For that matter, might not the authors themselves be spinning a few tales to create a persona to go with their writing?

How might my own stand-up Varidesk be interpreted? Or the bulletin board that takes up an entire wall, yet is covered with a calendar, notes and pictures, leaving little room for actual work papers? Or the fact that I still have floppy disks laying around and had to find a reader with a USB drive in order to be able to still use them? Or the cup of green tea that comes up to my office with me each morning as I stand to work?

Oh well, enjoy the experience and please share some of your own idiosyncrasies below.

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

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