putting words on paper

As many bloggers think of themselves as writers I though you might enjoy reading about the habits of established authors…

Bennett Cerf got his best ideas while sitting on the toilet. Hemingway had to sharpen a score of pencils before he stood up to write. Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf also worked standing up.

image found here

Poe often perched his Siamese cat on his shoulder before writing a poem. Kipling couldn’t begin unless he had dark ink to work with. “Had I been in my father’s house I would have kept an ink-boy to grind me Indian ink”.

Kipling as a child found here

Hervey Allen said he only had to lie down and the voices of his ancestors dictated to him. Truman Capote called himself a ‘truly horizontal’ writer who could not think or write unless lying down. He also had to have yellow paper but no yellow roses were allowed in the room.

Capote by Warhol found here

Alexandre Dumas wrote his non-fiction on rose-coloured paper, his novels on blue paper and his poetry on yellow paper. Dumas was an insomniac whose doctor ordered him to eat an apple a day at 7:00 am under the Arc de Triomphe in the hope that it would help him form regular rising and sleeping patterns.

Arc de Triomphe 1944 found here

Disraeli dressed in evening clothes while writing his novels. Henrik Ibsen had one of the strangest working habits of all. He was inspired by a picture of August Strindberg that hung over his desk. Said Ibsen “He is my mortal enemy and shall hang there and watch while I write“.

Ibsen found here

Benjamin Franklin wrote in the bathtub. Victor Hugo probably went to the most extreme lengths to get down to work: he gave all his clothes to his servant with orders that they be returned only after he had completed several hours of writing.

Victor Hugo found here

Balzac believed that sex and writing were incompatible and that his writing prowess depended on how much sperm he retained in his body. He once had an uncontrollable nocturnal emission and claimed that it cost him a masterpiece the following day.

Balzac before and after found here

I can’t begin writing a new post until I have visited my “daily reads” and all the blogs of those who have left comments on mine. I have to have silence too, can’t concentrate with music playing. Generally, I do the writing part first, then have dinner and a glass of wine before coming back to do the illustrations. What’s your writing habit?

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76 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for writing to say that you possibly know of someone who has just one arm.

    I know nothing about Nicole. I do enjoy her blog. If she has a husband, and he actually suffered the loss of a limb, I regret that for them, even though I don’t know either of them. However, I’d feel even more sympathetic for them if he were a Democrat with all his limbs intact.

    And, y’see, therein lies the rub. When you attempt humor, it’s almost impossible to avoid the risk of hurting someone’s feelings. Me being me (a sensitive person), I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

    A few years ago, SNL did a skit about a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan. I laughed and laughed. Then I laughed some more, in spite of having a wonderful friend who’d just had a leg amputated. I wonder how many people wrote SNL to say they might possibly know of a man with only one leg. And if people did write SNL, I wonder what the SNL crew thought of those letters, when they read them.

    Thanks for writing. I’ll take it from here.

  2. My posts are all hand-written, also in complete silence. I can’t write easily on the computer, there’s something too impersonal about it. And I can only write when I’m wearing my pink frock and heels and stroking my pet ferret. Or so I tell my legion of worldwide admirers.

  3. I don’t care for the Hugo approach, Personally I prefer to blog wearing my smoking jacket and a smoking cap (with a nice tassel of course). Blogging takes place while drinking first flush darjeeling (in a china cup followed by a sobranie cigarette

    I jest of course… I don’t smoke!

    • But please tell me you do own a tassled smoking cap!

  4. Very interesting!
    Unfortunately my writing skills are non-existent… it takes me half an hour to compose a single (awful) paragraph! Maybe if I try random combinations of the tricks above something might break loose. I’m not holding my breath, though (unless that helps). It’s probably best I stick to images. 🙂

  5. I think one has to separate the thought processes from the writing processes. Personally, I think best whilst lying naked on a sheepskin rug, in front of a blazing log fire, with a glass of Springbank in my hand and an organic carrot in my bottom. But if I try to write down my thoughts whilst in that condition, then I become confused.

    • an organic carrot….. excellent!!!

  6. I cannae plan anything, I merely write, post it, then edit the bejaysus out of it once it’s up there.

    I blame the whisky and the voices in my head. No you don’t! Oh yes I feckin do…

    • Bring your argument over here Jimmy. I’ll supply the whisky.

  7. For blogging, I started out doing my posts on the day they were needed. Then I discovered scheduling which opened up a whole new world. Muscular Dystrophy created another world in which writing my hand became the weapon of choice.

    I’ve been writing out my blog posts by hand for the past two years and usually I don’t need complete silence to do it, although I do need it to jump start it.

    When I wrote my latest book, it was about 80% computer and 20% handwritten transcribed to the computer. And for the most part, I need complete silence to write. Music for editing though.

  8. Good thing Franklin didn’t do his electricity experiments in the tub too.

  9. Psst… She said Balzac, snicker.

    I know personally I like to keep regular writing hours, I tend to do my best work first thing in the morning when the house is still asleep and I can concentrate on my coffee and forming complete sentences.

    • Maybe you should pop across to my blog. Just sayin’…

  10. Well, obviously, I’m not a proper writer…the blog’s lain idle (geddit?) since my return.
    But, when I do write, either blogging or other writing, I don’t mind instrumental music, but find I have to sing if the music has lyrics.
    And poetry? Always longhand, double-spaced, with much revision.
    And when workmen are nearby I wear industrial ear-muffs. Yes, I do.

  11. i’m a blogger, not a writer. no discipline whatsoever. the stuff that i hoark up that seems to resonate most strongly with both of my readers? the stuff that comes up when i’m angry, drunk, or an angry drunk.

  12. I wrote pretty much all of a novel manuscript at my local Starbucks (over the course of three years). Usually I need to be alone when I write but I guess I just need to be in a place where no one will bother me.

  13. Purple pens. I write all my blog posts in bed, in purple ink. There’s a lot of revision when I actually type them in, but they’re conceived the old fashioned way – on a mattress.

    And I’m the same as you – no new posts until I’ve read all the blogs of the people who commented on the last one! Well, the one before the last one. It makes sense in my head, really!

    • I do my crosswords in a purple pen. It’s supposed to give me an unfair advantage over queenwilly but somehow she still always beats me.

      • Those crosswords — I hope they are cryptic!

      • No, they’re the Guardian or the New York Times. Have you tried those?

      • No, I like to try and second guess the sadistic compiler of the Sunday Times cryptic which appears in the Weekend Australian. As usual, today I have just one clue left unsolved. Fortunately I have a contact in WA who directs me to the proper research :-). Where do you find the two crosswords that you do? Online?

  14. Wouldn’t I love to eat an apple at 7 under the Arc de Triomphe every day …
    I cook and take a photo in the late afternoon. The next morning, around 4.30 am, I write a post about the previous day’s photo.

  15. I have little note pads and a pen, in every room in my house, to jot down ideas, that often only comes to me when i’m off to bed at night. Nowadays, I make use of my i-Phone too, but its not the same.
    When i’m writing features at work, i need to have my favourite over-sized sweater on, otherwise i can’t focus !

  16. My usual pattern is that I’ll get an idea and then jot it down (a phrase or, rarely, a complete sentence) so that I don’t forget it. Then I’ll sort of mentally compose the piece but procrastinate actually writing anything down, often for a week or more. Then eventually I’ll write it, leave it overnight, and then revise it the next day. I might do that a couple times.

    The whole thing seems really inefficient, and I often wonder what my blog would be like if I skipped that procrastination step.

  17. I used to be a copywriter. My art director and I would play JJJ in the office. That was OK most of the time, since it was predominantly a music station. But If I were in the middle of writing something, and it was a talk segment, I had to ask him to change the station to a music-only one. Talk in the background made it almost impossible to write.

    That’s one of the reasons I had to move out of home to write.

    • I miss the old days of JJJ when the morning programming always had interesting discussions. It was the only thing that got me through three years of a really dreary job.

  18. I wish Hugo’s servant hadn’t obeyed him – I had to study his poetry and I will never forget a particularly hateful poem called La Vache. Not liking, not wanting, as my younger daughter used to say about food when about 1 and a half.

  19. Fascinating! A personal request for more posts about writers and their habits, pecadilloes and addictions, even.

    On Thursdays I write in longhand with a friend at WIT (Writers in Training), all other days I try to write in 1000 word blocks on laptop. (There’s a thesis gestating.) As for many many others, silence and solitude are golden.

  20. Ibsen would have fitted in well at my office.

  21. Like Truman Capote, I do some of my best work on my back.

    But most of my ideas come to me when I’m out for long walks.

    • Having only recently discovered your hilarious blog, that is a more pedestrian answer than I would have expected 😉

  22. My dad got all of his best ideas sitting on the toilet as well! At least that’s what I assume, since he used to spend hours in the bathroom. Then again, maybe it was the only place he could escape from all of the estrogen in the house…:)

    I can’t have music on, either. I wish I could, but the moment I turn it on, my mind goes blank.

  23. Chopin was another who felt his sperm was his creative force and it should not be wasted on sex. Oddly enough, this attitude caused a rift between him and his lover, George Sand.

  24. I write all day. It’s what I do. But it’s different for each audience. Normally I document computer software. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking that nothing could be more boring right? But it’s actually not that bad. And I get to do my own illustrations and page layouts. Then there’s the novels. Totally different audience. I’m addicted to writing those. Can’t stop. Have to crank out a dozen pages or so each day. And then there’s the blogging. It’s chaotic and created for the hell of it with no particular attention to content, rhyme or reason. I never set out to have a successful blog, just a place to dump random BS that pops into my head from time to time. So I never know when I’m going to write a blog post. I’ll usually be reading the news and it will slap me in the face, and I’ll realize, “hey, I should write something stupid about this and post it online!”

  25. I can only write when I’ve got other more important things to do

    • Ah…. another procrastinator. I have a son like that. the only time he ever tidied his room was when he had an important exam coming up.

  26. Love the info about writers habits…

    I could write under any circumstances once upon a time. There are just too many distractions right now 😦

  27. I come up with most of my best ideas when I’m a couple miles into a speedwalk, and carry a little notebook in my hip pack. It irritates people when I stop cold in the middle of teh sidewalk to write stuff down.

    As for actually composing anything, the only requirement is that I be either alone in the house or dead cert that anyone who is under the same roof is asleep or completely occupied. If I feel even a breath of attention from someone else while I’m writing I can’t stand it. Anyone suicidal enough to wander up and look over my shoulder while I’m writing won’t even have time to squeak.

    • I’m with you on that last sentence.

      • Ditto!

  28. Most cartoon and writing ideas come in dreams while sleeping and I no longer fool myself into thinking I will remember in the morning. So I keep a pad on the bed stand and force myself to wake up. Picture of Ibsen up there proves he discovered electricity not Benjamin Franklin.

  29. I like being drunk./

    • I like you that way too!

      • if nursemyra makes it to NYC this summer, we should fly to see Rassles and get her hammered… i would love that!

      • Well, the NYC trip depends on Dolce. Either that or Dubrovnik. Wanna come to Dubrovnik with us Rassles?

      • I would LOVE to go to Dubrovnik, but your invitation is entirely contingent on having money. Otherwise, YES. I would go.

  30. I often start with an image and then take it from there. Half the time I’m not even sure what I’m going to write until it’s half-way finished. Not routine or discipline, though I do like writing in my pj’s with a glass of wine.

  31. Yeah I don’t consider myself a writer

  32. I have been known to write standing up. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t write like I do if it wasn’t for the keyboard. I learnt to touch type many years ago and find I can express myself when typing but find it a lot harder with pen or pencil.
    As for when I write, usually only when the urge hits. It is either there or not. I hate interruptions and definite no music when I am seriously into it, very rarely come back to it, one off is the norm with minimal editing.

  33. I just write at my desk. I do need quiet, though, no music. And no talking.

  34. I demand that there are no yellow roses in the room! I try to ignore the fact that there are no red, pink, orange or white ones, either. In fact, wait…let me check…yep. No roses whatsoever. Drat.

  35. Though I have a photo blog, I have been known to write. I prefer to compose on a keyboard as I can type faster than I can write. After a big spill of words, I go back and edit, edit, edit.
    Incidentally, I do my photos in a similar fashion except delete, delete, delete comes before the edit, edit, edit.
    Like so many others here, I like silence to write by.
    Actually I like silence most of the time!

  36. i demand yellow roses up my ass, but that still don’t make me a writer.

    i’m barely a typist.

    • Do you want me to dethorn them for you first Miss Norma?

  37. The bit about Poe and the Siamese cat has completely changed my mental image of The Raven.

  38. I have no writing habit. I do it in the nude.

    • Very titillating information Ian

  39. I read all the latest posts on the blogs I follow, conclude nothing I write will be as good, get thoroughly demoralised, and watch TV instead.

    • Oh Nick that is so not true. I’ve discovered many great things over at your blog. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Killing, that amazing video of workmen climbing up towers in the wind to fix stuff…..

      • Just watched episodes 15 and 16. This plot is thicker than a thick thing from Thicksville. Go Sarah!

  40. One thing I have to do is write down an idea or thought whenever it comes to me, because if I don’t I never end up remembering it no matter how convinced I am I will. It must be a matter of losing brain cells as I age. And even when I write it down, sometimes those brilliant ideas make no sense at all when I later reread them.

  41. I love this post, and all the comments, too.

    I toss ideas around for a few days. I try to think of funny bits, a beginning, an end. Sort of like an outline, but the pieces are just rattling around in my head. Then when I suspect I have enough to construct a puzzle, I write during downtime at work, or very late at night when I come home. And sometimes naked, as I don’t have air conditioning …

  42. Interesting that my writing method seems to combine so many of these. I lie down in an empty tub with a Siamese cat on my shoulder while sharpening a score of pencils.

  43. […] room, we’d never have art! We’d never have literature! I don’t care what those asshole male writers demanded of their surroundings, if I have to wait until the kids take a break from mangling each […]

  44. I’ve often wondered about your writing process. Your posts are so stylish and unique with their variegated weave of high-flying whimsy and grounded humanity. Simultaneously weirding me out and inspiring me. Thank you for your work here. I only wish I had more time to spend here …


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