The Many Ways to Get Ready to Write

By Jack Limpert


Ann Beattie: “I really believe in day people and night people.”

A cartoon in the New Yorker, titled “A Visit from the Procrastination Muse,” showed a young woman sitting at a computer. Behind her the muse is saying:

“You look tired. Why don’t you take a nap?”

“You’ll think so much clearer after a run.”

“Don’t forget to call your mother.”

“You need to do the dishes right now.”

When dealing with excuses not to write, it might help to look at Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. The author, Mason Currey, asked writers, mostly novelists, how they dealt with the procrastination muse.

Novelist Ann Beattie said she works best at night. “I really believe in day people and night people.”

Ernest Hemingway: “When 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.”

Coffee is a part of the daily routines of many writers. Balzac was famous for drinking up to 50 cups of black coffee a day as he wrote from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m., took a 90-minute nap, and then wrote from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. He ate a light dinner at 6 p.m., then went to bed until getting up at 1 a.m.

Sugar? The filmmaker David Lynch: “For seven years I ate at Bob’s Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee—with lots of sugar. . . .I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas!”

Novelist John Cheever used alcohol. By age 50 he would write for only a few hours before pouring himself a few “scoops” of gin. In his journal he recorded his struggle with alcoholism and his attempts to “achieve some equilibrium between writing and living.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald thought alcohol was essential to his creative process. He also preferred straight gin–he said it worked fast and was harder to detect on one’s breath. He was 44 when he died.

Graham Greene, while writing his thrillers in the morning and working on what he thought was his masterpiece, The Power and the Glory, in the afternoon, took Benzedrine, an amphetamine, twice daily.

Most writers take healthier approaches, with long walks a good time to think. Woody Allen, the writer and filmmaker: “I’ve found over the years that any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy. . . .If I go up and take a shower, it’s a big help. So I’ll sometimes take an extra shower.”

The physician and author Oliver Sacks: “Swimming gets me going as nothing else can.”

When Jonathan Franzen was having trouble with his 2001 novel, The Corrections, “he would seal himself up in his studio with the blinds drawn and the lights off, sitting before the computer keyboard wearing earplugs, earmuffs, and a blindfold.”

Author Stephen King on unlocking your mind: “Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule. . .exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream.”

The poet W.H. Auden believed that a life of almost military precision was essential to creativity. He said, “The surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time.”




  1. Don Ranard says

    Hemingway’s technique for preventing writer’s block: Don’t write yourself out each day–quit while the juices are still flowing. That way, you can pick up where you left off the next day.

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