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The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

31 December 2012

From Brain Pickings:

Ray Bradbury, a lifelong proponent of working with joy and an avid champion of public libraries, playfully defies the question of routines in this 2010 interview:

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.


I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.

. . . .

E. B. White, in the same fantastic interview that gave us his timeless insight onthe role and responsibility of the writer, notes his relationship with sound and ends on a note echoing Tchaikovsky on work ethic:

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me. A girl pushing a carpet sweeper under my typewriter table has never annoyed me particularly, nor has it taken my mind off my work, unless the girl was unusually pretty or unusually clumsy. My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

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6 Comments to “The Daily Routines of Famous Writers”

  1. My routine varies, but it is beginning to solidify around early in the morning so I can have 2000 words done(in about an hour) and not have it hanging over the rest of my day.

  2. I enjoy writing in my dining room, which is connected to the living room, with all of the normal noise going on (TV, talking, kids playing on the floor or running around). When they are away from the house and I have the place to myself, I find myself turning the TV to NickJr., because it isn’t distracting, and it gives (my brain, I suppose) me the background noise that I need.

    If too quiet, I’ll invent noises or suddenly feel the need to do the dishes, laundry, or otherwise create noises.

    Can’t do music… I’ll start singing or something. And no one wants that; trust me.

  3. Having read about several writers’ routines over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that (a) some of them claim to have a particular habit mainly because it sounds good in interviews and (b) if you want to write, having a routine is more important than any details of what the routine is.

    I’ve done some of my best work on a commuter train, with a lawyer or stockbroker in front of me, yapping on his phone, and a screaming baby behind me. As long as the seat next to me is empty, so I can spread my elbows out and type properly, I’m good to go.

  4. This makes me think of how Isaac Asimov used to ‘playfully defy the question of routines’. When asked if he had any routines to prepare himself for writing, he said that he had to take the cover off his typewriter and sit in a chair within easy reach of the keys. Ba-dum-bump.

    What he didn’t mention on that occasion, but fessed up to at other times, is that he was a round-the-clock, round-the-calendar obsessive writer, who had serious bouts of separation anxiety any time he was away from his office in his Manhattan apartment longer than a day or so. He didn’t even like being able to see out of the window — that was too much intrusion from the outside world.

    Moral: Sometimes, when a writer doesn’t need special preparation to get into ‘the zone’, it’s because ‘the zone’ is his foxhole and he never willingly leaves it.

  5. Moral: Sometimes, when a writer doesn’t need special preparation to get into ‘the zone’, it’s because ‘the zone’ is his foxhole and he never willingly leaves it.

    I like that. I often feel like that since my routine is very mobile; hence my writing is mobile. As long as I have my laptop (or my notebook and pen) and a few moments of peace, I’ll write. My zone is always with me. It’s my safe place. If I wasn’t married, had no family and didn’t bother cultivating friends, I would be like Asimov and become borderline agoraphobic as I lived too much in my head.

    But that’s not good either.

    • It seems to me you’ve found the sweet spot for that particular kind of ‘zone’: Always accessible, but not in a way that chains you to one place.

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