Sunday, 27 March 2016

Motivational Tricks of the Writing Greats

Often asked how I manage to keep myself motivated and stuck at the desk to write, I was reminded of the episode of There's No Such Thing As A Fish, the podcast by the QI Elves (and much funnier than QI itself), where they discussed the weird ways authors of yesteryear kept themselves at the desk. I recall one Victor Hugo who only ever wrote in the mornings, often spending the afternoons riding around on buses to ensure he wasn't tempted to return to his desk and write. And if that wasn't enough when set a deadline to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame inside five months, he bought a large bottle of ink then put himself under house arrest by having all his clothes removed save for a large grey shawl knitted specially for the purpose of keeping him warm. History records these tactics worked as he finished weeks ahead of schedule.

Another shaved off just one side of his hair.

James Joyce wrote lying on his stomach in bed using a large blue pencil, wearing a white coat. Much of Finnegans Wake was written in said blue on pieces of cardboard. In truth he was nearly blind, having had severe eye problems as a child and rheumatic fever at the age of 25. He underwent more than two dozen operations on his eyes, none of which helped in the slightest.

Virginia Woolf is held to have always written standing up, purchasing a desk with a sloping top and standing 3.1/2 feet high for this very purpose. Not that it was any help to her writing, this was simply so she could write standing up, just as a sister Vanessa Bell painted standing up (hardly the same thing).

Friedrich Schiller could never write unless his olfactory senses were assailed by the smell from a drawer full of rotten apples.

Eudora Welty edited by an early form of cut and paste - cut with scissors and pin the new write in its place.

Vladimir Nabokov, for reasons best known to him, had to keep his feet wet when writing.

John Steinbeck always wrote in pencil, insisting upon twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk before starting work. Working with traditional hexagonal pencils created calluses on his hands, hence his editor kept him supplied with round pencils to alleviate the problem and maintain his productivity.

Truman Capote never started or finished anything on a Friday, never stayed in a hotel room where the telephone number involved '13', and by tucking any surplus into his pocket ensured no more than three cigarette ends in the ashtray.

Edgar Allen Poe balanced a cat on his shoulder while writing.

Further details can be found in the very funny Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors by Celia Blue Johnson.

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