10 Eye-Opening Writing Rituals from Great Writers

The author should die once he has finished writing. So as not to trouble the path of the text. Umberto Eco

The truth is (social distancing or not), I am still a very disorganised author. How could I publish so many books? 🤨 I don’t know.  That’s why I’m diving in into some rituals of the greatest, in hope to learn a thing or two… or to find the answers. 

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro – 2 desks + 1 month

He keeps two desks: one with a computer not connected to the internet, the other with a writing slope. He produces a first draft in pen by hand on his writing slope, paying no attention at all to coherence or style. He writes the second draft on his computer (with a clearer idea of where the novel is heading). He rewrites individual passages a lot, but his third draft is the final one.

He is usually working four hours a day.

He finished a first draft of The Remains of the Day in four weeks. He did nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm – all day, every day, six days a week – 1 hour off for lunch and 2 hours off for dinner. No letters, no phone calls, no visitors. Well, it worked…

  1. Elizabeth George – self-discipline

She said in her book “Write away”: “If all you possess is talent and/or passion – you will not be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again. Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to sit down and write.”

Remember, writing is work.

She is writing five days a week, every week. She’s usually getting up around 6am – dogs, food, workout, mediation. 9am – reading ten or fifteen minutes. Then – journal entry about writing, day or novel. Five pages of manuscript done by 11am.

  1. Leo Tolstoy – sacrifice, an exceptional human being

He usually worked from 9am to 11am, then two-three hours in the afternoon.

He wrote in 1853, at age 25: “I have not met one man who is morally as good as I am, or ready to sacrifice everything for his ideals, as I am.”

His rules for life, helpful for writing as well:

  • Wake up at five o’clock
  • Go to bed no later than ten o’clock
  • Two hours permissible for sleeping during the day
  • Eat moderately
  • Walk for an hour every day
  • Disregard all public opinion not based on reason
  • Only do one thing at a time
  • Never to show emotion
  • Keep away from women
  • Suppress lust by working hard
  • Help those less fortunate

Keep away from women? Ah, listen the wise advice of the father of 14 children…

I’m going to recommend the book (discovered in the local library) – My confession, my religion, the Gospel in brief.

The book is some kind of diary of Leo Tolstoy (a count/graf). Most of his younger years he was feeling suicidal, but then he finally found God, in his own way… By finding God he found the purpose. The book is aimed at 40+. It is full of typos, missing texts, because it is scanned by publisher without any manual proofreading. 

  1. Patricia Highsmith – make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible

In her own words, she had ideas like rats have orgasms… She wrote daily – max 2000 words. Usually sitting on her bed, surrounded by cigarettes, coffee and doughnuts.

She also bred snails at home (300 or so)… and once arrived at a cocktail party carrying a gigantic handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a 100 snails – her companions for the evening.😜

!! Once she smuggled them across the border (6 or 10 hidden under each breast), but I wouldn’t advice to do that during the time of the covid-19. Or ever. 

  1. Anthony Trollope – no mercy; 250 words every quarter of an hour

He sat at his table every morning at 5:30 am. He was against sitting and nibbling his pen, gazing at the wall, founding words. He worked only three hours, with his watch before him, requiring 250 words every quarter of an hour.

10 pages of an ordinary novel volume a day. 10 months = 3 novels.

Damn! I wanna be this man!

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald – one or three jumps

What does it mean? The three-jump story should be done in three days. Then a day to revise and off it goes. Easy!

Novels are trickier, of course, but gin helps… He preferred straight gin – it worked fast and was difficult to detect on one’s breath. Fitzgerald generally rose 11am, tried to start writing at 5pm, working until 3:30 in the morning. He could manage 7-8k words each time.

I don’t know if this ritual is something to consider… but I have to agree that a short story can be written in one or three jumps.

  1. Arthur Miller and Umberto Eco – I wish I had a routine for writing!

Works for the most of us. We hope that something sticks and at the end we’ll get the result we desire – a novel.

Umberto Eco (published first novel when he was 48 yo) – claims that he follows no set routine. He can write in the train, waiting for the elevator, while swimming, in the bathtub… or while the phone is ringing.

  1. Marcel Proust – devoting the life

To give his full attention to the work, Proust made a conscious decision to withdraw from society, spending almost all his time in the bedroom.

Social distancing at its finest…

Upon waking in the late afternoon – typically 3-4pm – Proust first lit a batch of the opium-based Legras powders that he used to relieve his chronic asthma. “After ten pages I am shattered,” Proust wrote. In general, his every day was the same. As well as the food: coffee and two croissants.

1,5 million words. Applause!

  1. William Gass – write when you are angry

Rise early and get angry. Wouldn’t be that hard… He usually went out and photographed for a couple of hours – filth and decay mostly. Then he got back to write.

It took him twenty-five years to complete The Tunnel (a novel). He said he had to be mad to be working well: “when my work is going well, I’m usually sort of sick.”

  1. Nabokov – flash cards

He composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in a long boxes. Then he pictured an entire novel in his mind… and began writing it. This method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased, by shifting the cards around.

He worked in 2 parts:
1 – after breakfast until 1pm (lunch)
2 – from 2pm to 6:30pm
Bed around 9pm.
Reading – until 11pm

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. W. H. Auden

Recommendation: Daily Rituals. How Artists Work by Mason Currey (the book about daily rituals of the greatest people of XIX-XX century).

P. S. I’m alive and fine. We don’t have any kind of lockdown/quarantine in Sweden, but my routine right now is = minimum shopping + max movies, books, dogs and COOKIES😋. Stay safe! 


Next post – My heroes ‘Sophia von X’ 

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