The Extreme Writing Habits of 5 Famous Authors

Written by Caitlin Jans | August 2, 2017

I have long been fascinated by writing habits of authors. In part, because I don’t really have very many habits. I can write anywhere, under most circumstances. I do prefer a computer to paper and a pen, but that is only because I am a much faster typist. Although I have tried setting up ritualized writing routines, I do just as well when I plunk down exhausted on the sofa and type out a poem as when I have carefully set aside time to write.

However, many authors have found strategies specific to them that really help them produce good work. I do think that some of the things that I have tried in the past, such as writing every day in a gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have helped for a short period of time.

I believe you can tap into something deeper by finding the right way to write, for you, which might just be on your sofa with your laptop. But if it isn’t, the following authors’ writing habits may serve as good inspiration for you.

Kevin J. Anderson, best known for his Star Wars novels and co-written Dune books, does most of his writing by dictating to a hand-held digital recorder while he is hiking. He lives in Colorado and spends a great deal of his time hiking/writing. A typist then transcribes it and he goes on to edit it, often five or six times, but the rough draft is composed on the trail. You can read more about his hiking and his other writing habits here.

As an avid hiker I must confess I am jealous of Kevin J. Anderson for finding an effective way to combine two great things, but the one time I tried to dictate while hiking, both the walk and the writing suffered.

On the opposite side of the spectrum from Kevin J. Anderson’s exercise and writing there is Mark Twain, who wrote primarily while lying down in bed.

Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote Lolita, is well known for writing his whole story out on index cards and keeping them in boxes, sometimes connected with paper clips. His wife would help him turn these note cards into the finished product.  You can learn more about his process here.

Francine Prose, who has written a number of wonderful books including How To Read Like A Writer, thinks that writing facing a wall, particularly while in an unfamiliar and potentially distracting space, is very helpful.

I like coffee, but drink no more than two cups a day. Honoré de Balzac allegedly drank up to 50 cups of coffee a day while writing. Although he probably drank a lot less than that (in reality, it might have been closer to 20 cups), it is still a lot of coffee. Particularly since the coffee he drank was exceptionally strong to begin with. You can read more about how much coffee he drank here. 

It can be a compelling experiment to try another author’s habit. While Balzac’s method is not for me, perhaps Nabokov’s is worth attempting. If only I had a wife to help me turn it into the finished product.


Bio: Caitlin Jans is a poet, a novelist, and the editor of Authors Publish Magazine. Her writing can be found in The Conium Review, The Moth, Labletter, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. You can follow her on Facebook.