“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.”
— Truman Capote
Writers are a curious species. From writing rituals, superstitions, and funny quirks to over-the-top, Mad Hatter-type eccentricities… we immerse ourselves in an environment, and a process from which all creative juices can flow freely.
If my old marketing colleagues could see me now, they would be shocked. I used to sport a coiffed, stylish shoulder-length bob (think Cindy Williams, in her role as Shirley on the TV sitcom “Laverne & Shirley) and always wore chic, professional business attire. I now look like a cross between Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt, but with round, black glasses. My “writing wear” consists of red Stewart plaid pajama bottoms and my favorite black t-shirt, inscribed (in white) with the words: “Drink Ouzo. [Help save Greece].” I sit, always barefoot, at my desk – oblivious to anyone or anything. Sometimes, I mutter out loud.
Unlike Truman Capote, I am a vertical author. When I’m deep in thought, I pace back and forth. Like Capote, however, I am ridiculously obsessed with punctuation and this obsession is annoying – even to me.
At the commencement of each day, my desk must be clear and pristine, before I’m able to start writing. I can’t function if it’s messy.
My daily ritual of libation-while-writing evolves from early morning to late night: from water (with a lemon slice) in the early AM, to black coffee (Gevalia, French Roast) until 1 pm, to tea (Earl Grey, no milk or sugar) in the afternoon, to single malt scotch (Glenlivet) at 6pm-ish, then on to wine (preferably a nice Burgundy) in the evening, and, late at night, back to water (with a lemon slice).
And, I hate phones.
I know that I am not alone in my “madness” … so, ‘fess up writers. What are your writing quirks and eccentricities? I would love to hear about them!
Don’t worry, we’re in good company. Some of the greatest literary minds of yore (and also a few familiar modern authors) have been clouded (or sharpened…. it’s all a matter of perspective) by their writing fetishes.
Victor Hugo, a procrastinator by nature, would remove all of his clothes and give them to his servant, with instructions not to return them until he had completed his writing day.
Charles Dickens had a ritual whereby he would drink a sip of hot water after every 50 lines of writing.
Joyce Carol Oates commences her writing day very early and will not eat breakfast until her day’s work is done. Sometimes her “breakfast” is at dinnertime!
Orhan Pamuk had a quirky ritual. By his own admission, he would leave his house each morning (after saying goodbye to his wife), as if he were going off to work. He would then walk around a few blocks and return home, as if arriving at the office. This put him in the “work zone” frame of mind.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe would retreat like a hermit into a completely sealed room, devoid of fresh air, and stay there until he completed his work.
So, there you have it. We are a loopy bunch.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?
Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography