Learn from the Greats: 7 Writing Habits of Amazing Writers

    writing habits

    Finding the ideal working habits that will allow me to write as consistently as possible is always something I’m exploring as a writer.

    As I’ve said before, I try to make it a habit to write first thing in the morning. It helps me to focus and ensure that I’m getting my writing done.

    I love reading about my favorite writers and what writing habits led to their success. Below, I share with you some of my favorite writers’ work habits … and it’s obvious that there’s no single way to success. Some like to write a certain number of words or pages every day, others were happy to write a page or a sentence. Some liked to write long-hand, others did it on index cards. Some wrote standing up, others lying down.

    There’s no one way that works. Do what works for you (and share it in the comments!). But maybe you’ll get some inspiration from these greats, as I have.

    1. Stephen King. In his book On Writing, King says that he writes 10 pages a day without fail, even on holidays. That’s a lot of writing each day, and it has led to some incredible results: King is one of the most prolific writers of our time.

    2. Ernest Hemingway. By contrast with King, “Papa” Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. That’s not bad, though. Hemingway, like me, woke early to write to avoid the heat and to write in peace and quiet. Interestingly, though Hemingway is famous for his alcoholism, he said he never wrote while drunk.

    3. Vladimir Nabokov. The author of such great novels as Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada did his writing standing up, and all on index cards. This allowed him to write scenes non-sequentially, as he could re-arrange the cards as he wished. His novel Ada took up more than 2,000 cards.

    4. Truman Capote. The author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” claimed to be a “completely horizontal author.” He said he had to write lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis, as the day wore on. He wrote his first and second drafts in longhand, in pencil. And even his third draft, done on a typewriter, would be done in bed — with the typewriter balanced on his knees.

    5. Philip Roth. One of the greatest living American writers, Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claimed to walk half a mile for every page he writes. He separates his work life from personal life, and doesn’t write where he lives — he has a studio built away from his house. He works at a lectern that doesn’t face the view of his studio window, to avoid distraction.

    6. James Joyce. In the pantheon of great writers of the last century, Joyce looms large. And while more prolific writers set themselves a word or page limit, Joyce prided himself in taking his time with each sentence. A famous story has a friend asking Joyce in the street if he’d had a good day writing. Yes, Joyce replied happily. How much had he written? Three sentences, Joyce told him.

    7. Joyce Carol Oates. This extremely prolific writer (see her bibliography on her Wikipedia page!) has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award. She writes in longhand, and while she doesn’t have a formal schedule, she says she prefers to write in the morning, before breakfast. She’s a creative writing professor, and on the days she teaches, she says she writes for an hour or 45 minutes before leaving for her first class. On other days, when the writing is going well, she can work for hours without a break — and has breakfast at 2 or 3 in the afternoon!

    As you can see there are many different ways to work as a writer.

    The most important thing is to develop a habit of writing that suits you and the rhythm of your life.

    About the author

      Leo Babauta

      Leo Babauta is the blogger behind the superblog, Zen Habits, which is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of life.

    • Laszlo A. Voros says:

      I write best at night, I write sometimes in the morning but I have to wake up first and organize my mind. At night I don’t people walking into the room I write (often without nocking) disturbing me.
      I have a skull on my desk I’ve had for forty one years. I got it from a Salem Massachusetts Witch Hunting Museum. I painted him up for Halloween when he stopped being a bank and he’s quite scary . He’s my Dark Muse. I look at him sometimes when I’m stuck and say “Talk to me Skulliver. talk to me. ”
      Usually he does.
      It’s great that Hemmingway never wrote drunk. But I once was staring at a blank page number six after writing reading and throwing out pages 1-5.
      So I grabbed a glass of Chablis and sipped it, relaxed and placed page number six into the typewriter. I wrote a paragraph, a second one, a third. And then just as I was about to rip the page from the machine yet again, I said, “Wait a minute. This works because two pages ago. ” Suddenly something clicked and FLASH, the light in my head came on and I shot page after page into the typewriter . 8 pages in an hour, I was on fire.
      There was this famous author (his name escapes me) who said, “I’m not saying that all beginning writer’s need to become alcoholics to write but I will tell you I have written stuff drunk that I never would have thought of sober.”

    • Molly says:

      Loved hearing about the very different writing habits of some of the greats. I am working on a few different projects and find that the morning hours are the best to “plan,” though the urge to write can crop up at other times of the day and I try to go with it when it does (if I can).

      As for the writing process itself, I have experience with non-fiction but am currently trying my hand at my first fiction novel, and I notice that on some days, the words flow easily, but on others, I get stuck in this weird perfectionist/judgemental view towards my writing, which really blocks the creative process. This post was helpful for me. I will work to relax and just let it flow (because, hey, it can all be fixed up later).

    • Krishna says:

      Nice blog. Good writing skills. Thanks for the tips. Cheers!

    • thanks for your sharing. it is very usefull for me i think

    • ujala says:

      the better way of writing is diary writing very nice and informative article your writing skills are amazing

    • abu forhad says:

      gathering experiences beyond convention.
      thanks a lot to help get me out of deep water.

    • Jdelic says:

      I tend to write deep in the night, about 3 or 4 am. I find this to be my most creative time. I don’t have a set amount each day. I write passionatly, so it could be 200 words or 10 pages. But writing none the less.

    • thecatzpjs says:

      Good Point Drayton – just so happens some one has given me a bundle of great novels to read – I will start doing that in place of my computer games to get my mind revved up – I also seem to do my best writing when out on a long car ride, or working on a jigsaw puzzle. My biggest trouble is deciding which of several book ideas to follow. When all else fails I put the ideas in a hat or bowl and have my husband pick one at random. If I find myself strongly disappointed w/ the chosen, its because I knew all along that I was being drawn toward one of the other choices lol.

    • Drayton says:

      You can’t write unless you read. I’m a full time student studying creative writing and I work part-time, but if I don’t have time to write I at least make sure I read something every day. The more you read, the more you’ll be inspired. As writers, (especially poets) we all feel like maybe we’re in a different state of consciousness when we’re writing…like we have to wait for some mystical motivation that just inexplicably runs through us. Not so. As writers, we all need to remember what got us writing in the first place: our very own imaginations. And our imaginations are influenced by what we expose ourselves to. Thus, the more you read, the more you imagine, the more you write. And we have far more control over our ‘muses’ than we like to think.

    • jhpoetry says:

      I’m a writer. A woman of few words. I let my ink speak for me. All of these writers are unique in style, delivery such as you and I. Currently, I’m working on my second book of poetry (diverse poems) Do stumble my page, check out my blogs. Get to know JH_Poetry on FB. I wish to make friends with people of the same interest. Sincerely, Jessica

    • I heard a better story about Joyce
      Friend, ‘How much have you written today?’
      Joyce, ‘Seven words.’
      Friend, ‘Well that’s not bad for you.’
      Joyce, ‘Yes, but are they in the right order?’

    • I used to drive 30 miles into the woods of Oregon’s Applegate Valley, in the middle of pitch black night, to write at the bottom of a winter lake bed from the driver’s seat of my small, green, Toyota pickup, with the power cord of my laptop plugged into the cigarette lighter, draining the truck’s battery, shining an eerie light on my shadowless face, and concerning not only the local wildlife, but also humans, such as a local sheriff’s deputy who would frequently peer into the side window of my 4-cylinder rig and watch me from five feet away, and wonder what the hell a man in a glowing pickup truck at 2:30 in the morning was doing at the bottom of a lake bed with a laptop while mysterious eyes read over his shoulder and watched him type words describing the violent murder of a sheriff’s deputy at the bottom of a winter lake bed in Oregon’s Applegate Valley at 2:30 in the morning. Now I write at coffee shops. I’ve never been arrested.

    • What has worked for me is having a set time during the day when I do my writing. Mornings and evenings are the times when I feel inspired to write. Every day, I go to my favorite places where I feel renewed and inspired – the lake, the beach, the local botanical garden, the local forest for a walk. This has helped to be able to write consistently and enjoy every minute of it.

      Wonderful to read about some of my favourite writes: Stephen King, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates.

      Great read – thanks.

    • MandyB says:

      Ideally I would like my own writing studio but I have compromised and have set up a writing desk in the living/dining area. I face the garden with my back to the TV and plug myself into music. I try to write every day, even if it is only a short piece. I have several places I submit to including espressostories.com, Writers Foundation of Strathcona County and Writing.com – each site has a different ‘feel’ to it and gives me the opportunity to experiment with various styles of writing.

    • cmdweb says:

      One of the most valuable pieces of writing advice I was ever given relates to your last example. I was told to understand my own productivity at different times of the day and week and to work with it rather than try to change it. For some reason I write more fluidly in the middle to late afternoons and I’ve learned to try and block some of this time off when I can to allow me to ‘flow’ a bit better.

    • Josh says:

      I always have to go somewhere outside the home to write. I’ve tried it in coffee shops because I’ve seen others doing it there, looking fashionable and whatnot, but I always got too distracted by what these others were doing to produce anything substantial of my own, and so I’ve since settled on going to a library and finding a quiet table.

    • Marci says:

      I can’t imagine writing standing up or on note cards. I write best at my kitchen table, although it would be nice to have a shack by a lake when the kids are around. And, for me, morning is the best, since my ideas are flowing and energy is highest, yet it’s not practical for me as I’m home with kids. So, for now, I write when their energy is low and it’s movie time!

    • James says:

      Hemingway never said he didn’t write drunk. He said “Write drunk, Edit Sober.”

    • Bq says:

      I write down whatever thought comes to my mind from anything through out the day.
      Morning time is best i vote because dreams can sort reality..(?)
      not sure.
      thank you for sharing!

    • bil says:

      Hemingway was a stand-up typer. In his preseved Cuban studio, the high table his typewriter sits on has two depressions on the floor in front– evidence how a great man’s steps can leave an impresson on this world.

      • Jan P says:

        Wow, telling.

    • I really enjoyed this post because it highlights one key point: consistency. The best writers all seem to have a daily output goal (more or less). Emphasis on daily. I’d read a few similar articles in the past, and borrowing from some other famous writers this is the plan I developed a few years ago:

      (1) Consult my Roadmap from the day before.
      (2) Get to the office early and crank out about 250 words before anybody else arrives.
      (3) After work I go to a coffee shop and plug in the headphones. I begin the session by going over and editing what I wrote earlier that morning. Then I continue writing for no less than an hour. If I’m in the mood, I’ll shut down the coffee shop and skip my workout that day.
      (4) Consult my master outline and draft the next day’s Roadmap. The Roadmap is a treatment of the scenes I plan to write from my master outline. That way I can pick up right where I left off the next day.

      As an outline user, this system works for me. However, being an outline user, in between projects I must be adaptable to if and when the creativity comes. I take a month or so in between projects to plan the next. This can be at bars, on the subway, in the airport…

    • Danise says:

      Interesting habits. The one that impressed me the most was that Hemingway said he never wrote while he was drunk. Wonder if he was drunk when he died?

    • Tamara, you should be proud of yourself! I didn’t start writing until my daughter was grown. I teach all day and struggle to write/or deal with writing at night, but do work on the weekends. Just keep at it and do it when you can. Obviously, from all the great writers you can see different approaches. Some only work a few hours a day, and it’s their only job. Doesn’t that sound heavenly? I also wonder when the great writers deal with the promotional aspects of writing, or if they have their agent deal with that. I’m finding that with my first book having been published this fall, I spend some of my writing time dealing with marketing. Interesting post! Thanks.

    • Dita says:

      Thanks for the great ideas. I enjoyed reading the different comments too.

      My dad was a writer in India- Narayan Sanyal. He wrote 139 books in his life time . Won several awards and had some of his stories into movies too.

      I saw him writing lying on his bed always. He wrote whenever he found time. Once I asked him -where do you find all this time? See my style is more like Charlie Brown’s one.

      He replied – just do it…don’t waist time.

      I like to write in the morning if my muse shows up. If it’s a good day I might keep going and have my morning tea and breakfast at 2 pm.

      But I do have to pray for my muse, I say. Dita.

    • Tedel says:

      As for me, I need to write in pencil and paper. On a computer, my writing is just not the same. Now that I do copywriting, literature and journalism, it is quite important to be relaxed as well.

    • Alain says:

      I am fairly new at the ‘craft’ and was inspired first by reading Kings On Writing. I continue to receive inspiration by other authors and blogs like this one. I too prefer the mornings, and with some discipline have been able to stay on course. thanks
      Seize the Day!

    • Marisa says:

      What are my writing habits?


      I google. Then I pace around. Rubbing my nose, intensely. Then I feel.
      Finally, I write.


      Yes, writing should be done as oppossed to dreaming about it, talking endlessly how you’re aspiring to become one… write and write till you get it right is the secret notwithstinding that there is no set means of doing it: it indivitualistic at best.

    • That’s a nice collection. Thank you.

    • Bill says:

      The quip about James Joyce isn’t surprising. In Ulysses, there are two sentences, one 11,281 words long and one 12,931 words long.

    • Andreabird says:

      I read with great interest about the ‘learning from the greats’ as someone already pointed out, one thing these greats have in common is that they all just got on with it and did what was required i.e. Write, write and write some more.
      From all the books and advice I have read recently the overwhelming message that comes through to me, is that there is no one style which is better, you just have to get writing and through default you will find your own writing style and what ‘habits’ work best for you. : ) The best advice I could give is switch off the TV!! or find an area away from it, if there are other family members and treat your writing seriously and with respect. A book I have just read which give nuggets of good advice with many Author contributions is ‘Wannabe a writer’ by Jane Wendham-Jones. Kind regards Andreabird

    • Diana Raab says:

      Great site — loads of fabulous information!

      My writing habits include writing all day and every day, but of course the time spent in my office is not devoted purely to writing, sometimes it is just the paperwork, like editing and/or sending my work out, which many writers know is very time-consuming.

      I am currently updating my high-risk pregnancy book first published in the 1980s so focus is important. I like writing first thing in the morning with 2 shots of espresso and my dog at my side. If I begin my day with a solid two hours of work, I know it will be a good day. This is usually the only time of day I can forgo the computer and sit in my chair and write long-hand drafts in my journal.

      Happy words to you and your readers!
      blog: http://www.dianaraab.wordpress.com

    • I write daily, the am is my most fluent, yet on a roll I can lose an entire day captured in something I am trying to develop – evening is great for drafts, a change in environment will sharpen the focus – often i blurb it all out and revisit

      I liked reading the different habits of famous writers

    • Writing is a habit, and it takes time to develop the habit. I’m a full time writer, so I feel weird when I don’t write – I need my writing fix each day. 🙂

      Favorite writing tips:

      * Focus – learn to develop concentration, without stress. Meditation helps with this;

      * Write junk – just give yourself permission to WRITE. Accept whatever comes. You can always fix it, but you can’t fix what you don’t write.

      * Blog – blogging will turn writing into a habit. It helps to make writing something that you just do, without thinking about it.

    • Greg says:

      Who could write while they’re drunk???? Hemingway liked to get shitfaced, that’s why he wrote early in the morning!

    • Ryan says:

      That’s funny, I have a very similar writing technique to Philip Roth. I don’t leave my house to write, but I do compose pretty much all my writing while pacing. Half a mile per page probably isn’t far off.

    • alan says:

      Well, that tears it. I cannot write until the sun goes down. At all. The first few hours of my day I am practically immobile with lethargy, useless. As the day progresses I flow into a sort of manic creative state and do my best work between 10pm and 11pm, when the night has fully taken over and my writing is not yet “purple”. What is the matter with me? Why must I always be the outcast? Nooooooooooooo.

      But seriously, anyone come across writers who are like me in this respect. The aforementioned Bradbury is one who wrote through the evening. Anyone else?

      Georges Simenon had a truly brutal schedule of one chapter a day no matter what. And if he got sick for more than a day, he had to throw the novel away. You can read about that in his interview w/ The Paris Review. I am slightly amused that no one will have read this far into my comment, it is simply too long. I should say something horrible or racist or cruel. Maybe another time 🙂

      • George Sand also found her most creative time at night. Despite the drama(s) in her life (Chopin and de Musset had a duel at her property in Nohants, where Delacroix was Chopin’s second, etc.) she always retired to her study at 12 am sharp and didn’t emerge until she was exhausted.

        I love to write at night, except that it screws up my entire sleep schedule and in the long run that doesn’t help. I sometimes pick a day or two a week where I’ll allow myself to stay up late if inspiraton strikes. This way I can work during the day the rest of the time without sleeping away my whole day.

        Don’t be fooled that having more time will automatically give you more time to write. I’ve taken semi-retirement for two years without any real work and haven’t written more than notes and a few starter chapters. So don’t lose hope. If you want it badly enough, you’ll keep at it.

    • Fran Macdonald says:

      The best thing for me is to find a long stretch of time, ie a whole day, because the further into the zone I get, the faster it comes.

    • Eric Go says:

      Nice article here.

      But if I were to describe my writing habit it would be nigh time just simply facing the computer.

      And take ten to fifteen minutes break after an hour of writing by roaming around the house looking for some sweets or junk foods to eat.


    • Ryan says:

      I write during my lunch break, after I eat. My mind is always going, and I’m usually happy (I mean, it’s lunch time!) so writing is easier for me.

    • John Smith says:

      Man, I wish I could write a set number of words/pages a day. I just don’t have the self discipline. I play a lot of solitaire, drink too much coffee, and generally do everything I can to avoid writing until finally it just explodes out of me and I write 10k words in one (exceedingly long) day.

      Maybe I should try horizontal writing…

    • Mystery writer P.D. James, once explained that to make room for writing amidst all of her other overwhelming responsibilities at the time (full time job, 2 young children and a husband who returned from the war disabled) she began writing by getting up shortly before 5:00AM to sit at the kitchen table and write for one hour between 5-6:00AM. With this formual, she wrote and published 1 novel every 3-4 years. I find her story inspiring.


    • RAVI says:

      osrry the blog adress didn’t come out correctly.
      Its http://ravimanoram.blogspot.com

    • RAVI says:

      I maintain a blog. http://ravimanoram.blogspoot.com
      I prefer writing whenever I feel I am in sync with my innner self and something is coming out. No fixed routine, when something wants to come out, it does come out, on its own. Read mu blog and do tell me how u liked it.

    • David Shute says:

      I’ve taken to waking up early as well and writing every morning before the world steals me away from myself. Additionally I scripted up a program that automatically downloads mail for me and indexes the contents based on tags starting with @. This means I can write where I ever I am on my BlackBerry, email it to myself, and everything is ready and easily available next time I’m at my computer.

    • Greg White says:

      Since the majority of my writing is in script form, it all depends on what sort of deadline I’m working on. Typically though, I will rise early, browse my google reader account over breakfast, shower (must cleanse!) and then away we go. Typically I try to reach a mile marker before I quit for the day.

      If I am writing a draft, I will not stop until I reach, say, the end of a particular story beat or act break. If I am rewriting, I will go into the day’s editing with specific goals in mind and will typically not stop until all of the issues have been addressed with at least some degree of fortitude.

    • J.D. Meier says:

      I love lessons from masters.

      A lesson from Steven Pressfield in the War of Art is … “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

      A common theme among successful writers is they make the time to write.

      • Gunter Bubleit says:

        Entirely true! And the best way to sit and stay seated to write is to feel passionately about the reason that you’re doing it. It helps if the reason is more than money.

        • Inshar Khan says:

          Dear Mr. Bubleit,

          My name is Inshar Khan i was your student in Hillside Senior Public School for the year 2006 – 2007. I was looking for you all over the place. You may not remember me because a teacher like you meets 100 people in a day. But I remember you very clearly sir. You have changed my life and the way i look at music. I was a noisy kid in your class who didn’t care. Now wherever I go I tell your story. Like Tupac Shakur would say “you are the rose that grew from the concrete”. Its because of you I learned the true meaning of hip-hop. The love you have for art was passed on to me and it was growing into a dream or an ambition. Your life experiences have educated me. Your stories about Beat Trader, different occupations, and the rap opera. I truly miss you sir. I still remember the time when you had made a “how to rap group” i was in it. Though it didn’t last long, it still remains in my memories. I need some guidance sir. I told my mother how you were the best teacher I had in my life. You aren’t a teacher…you are a father figure in my life. Hope all is well with you. You might think im crazy, but the day i moved to Ottawa I felt that i should tell you my feelings for you and hip-hop. You are a moving force in my life. I can relate to you in every way. Please add me on Facebook, i sent you a friend request. I need some guidance in my raps/poetry. I know you are a busy man so Im sorry. I just wanted to let you know how you saved my life and inspired me. No other teacher has cried for me. You see the inner potential in people. You are a great man sir. Take care…

          Inshar Khan

    • Jim Estill says:

      Interesting to see how the “famous” authors did it.

      I think it is all about habits. Develop habits that put you in the “writing” space.



    • ChrisB says:

      I think King’s more important habit is writing in his living room. If you don’t write full time, it can eat up your family time. He solves this problem by writing in the family room. (Don’t know how he does it, though.)

    • Henry says:

      I like to talk and sometimes read about writing rather than actually writing. I don’t really produce much. At all. Kinda a bummer.

    • I only write in a bath tub full of pink jelly.

      The tub is attached (with chewing gum and nails clipped from an elephant’s toes) to a coconut.

      The act of balancing on this coconut, while typing in a bath full of pink jelly is crucial as it stops me from being required to get a job, ensures my mentally-ill status and thus my disability pension, and, frankly, isn’t bad publicity either (as I do it all balanced on top of a very tall, slightly bent pole which sticks five meters out of my chimney).

    • Someone Someone says:

      Interesting to read, y’all. As for me, I’m still struggling to get into the habit of writing. Lately I’ve started just writing something in my diary every day, even if it’s just some keywords on what I did that day.

      I wrote a few times while being drunk and it struck me how honest and uncomplicated I write in that state of consciousness.

      @ Stormy Weather: I’ve tried writing on marijuana too, but most of the time while writing the second half of a sentence I already forgot the first half. In that state of mind inspiration flows in so fast that I can’t stick to one line of thought!

    • conrad says:

      My favourite writing advice comes from Elmore Leonard: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite.

    • matthew says:

      I tend to think for weeks at a time, then write furiously over the course of a week or two, often producing 5000 or even 10,000 words in a week once I get going. It seems my subconscious organizes my ideas and adds to them during the extended period of non-writing, then opens the floodgates all at once when ready.

    • Patricia says:

      This was a fascinating list and although I knew some of the habits many were new to me.
      Ursala Le Guin wrote a fascinating article entitled the Hand that Rocks the Cradle Writes and it inspired me to keep going even when I had 3 young children under the age of six – one with breathing problems I had to monitor all night long and one with insomnia from birth onwards. I wrote on every scrape of paper I could find – envelopes were great!
      I have not really gotten paid for anything I write, but I never stop writing and hoping.
      Wow very nice article to end my day with – Thank you

    • Glenda says:

      Tamara, you’re not alone in thinking that writing and parenthood can be on a collision course, unless we take steps to prevent it.

      I kept my sanity and wrote when my son was small by keeping notebooks everywhere I might be during a day: in the car, beside my easy chair, in the kitchen, beside the bed, and in my purse. That way, I could write a sentence, a poem, or even entire paragraphs in any moment I could snatch from cooking, family TV time, before bed, waiting at the school, etc. The pages from each day, if not linked to a specific document already on my computer, went in o a day journal where I stored ideas and bits until I could get through them. About once a month, I’d go through the day journal and pull out bits for new poems or stories. I still do this.

      Now my son is grown and I have the luxury of time, but there’s still the roofer, the cleaners, the friends who can’t get it into their heads that I’m working even if I am home. So my tricks are:

      1. Turn off the TV unless it’s really important to you, and write instead, in your easy chair with a laptop if necessary.
      2. Schedule time for your writing like you do the doctor, and make it stick.
      3. Enroll in workshops and retreats that force you to have something prepared for critique, or that give you time to dig into big projects that you can’t find time to focus on at home.
      4. Ignore writers and how-to books who don’t share your circumstances and learn from those who’ve been there. Never hesitate to pull your sisters’ coattails!
      5. Cook ahead so you don’t have to stop to prepare meals. The best meals are eaten while I’m writing.
      6. Save one day a week for revising and editing; write freely without self-censorship on the other days.
      7. Treat it like a job that your really love!

      What do I fall down on? Sending work out! Still working on getting better at that!

      • MandyB says:

        I love your tips. I engaged in my very first NaNo in 2009 and used my laptop as my son played soccer or my daughter had her gymnastics! I would write between starting to cook the evening meal & serving it and any and every moment I could type!

        If you want to write you will.

    • Maura says:

      Another night-owl here (though the day job means I don’t write much for pleasure). I like the concept of discipline, but find my best creative writing is done at the moment of inspiration, which can occur at any time.

      My guess is that Nabokov would have forgone note cards for computer… he was just ahead of his time. Once dedicated to a pencil, I now exclusively draft on a keyboard. And I’ll have to try the Joyce Carol Oates approach – I find having options keeps me engaged at a deeper level.

    • Infected-Daemon says:

      I don’t think many people can write in the morning. Specially holds true if you don’t write for a living. I do my best in the afternoon. The easiest way for me is to write is set up a fixed amount of hours to dedicate to writing. In some occasions I have managed to do five pages a day for a week (but some times I can only get a sentence or two).

    • Shevonne says:

      I am trying to develop mine now, so this was really helpful. Thanks for posting!

      • Hey Shevonne,

        Your website is far more advance then mine, Your post on Sept 2008 on “Just trying to develop one” has grown so big site.

        Hope i can be there in two year from now, Just started ganeshmuthiah.wordpress.com

        Hmm, long way to go, hope by practicing tips from writetodo.com I can be happy with effort in future.

    • Zanade says:

      I am so much of a mulit tasking woman that I tend to write whenever I can and anywhere I can! But my favorite is to sit on the boardwalk as the sun is going down or at a park. I need to see the sky and let my mind run free!

    • Zanade says:


      This post was amazing very nice put together list! I am a writer and have been one since I was 7 but now I am focused more and have been perfecting my craft. I love King he is an awesome writer and his tactics are great!

    • kassy says:

      i tend to write lying down or in a very compact positon. i never write in pencil. i prefer electronically but i can write in pen. i never write during the day. the night helps me feel less rushed and calm.

    • Kellye says:

      I’m another night writer (though my new job, which entails getting up ridiculously early, has put a definite cramp on my night owl style)…

      But when I’m writing, my favorite thing to do is hop in the car and take a ritualistic cruise through my home city (I have a certain set route that I use). I do my best thinking about fiction while I drive, and numerous times I’ve had a situation work itself out in my head while I drive around listening to the radio. Environmentally and financially friendly? Not so much. But fictionally effective? Absolutely.

      I always keep a steno pad in my car. If I’m at a stoplight, chances are you’ll see me scribbling away while I balance a note pad on my steering wheel.

      Did I mention I’m one of the most easily distracted drivers on the planet?

      Another thing that helps me when I’m not driving around is to listen to music. My current favorites are Linkin Park, Coheed and Cambria, Tool, and Evanescence, because their musical styles most closely fit the themes of my work.

      I like index cards, but I frequently lose them and have yet to come up with an effective organizational system for keeping them in line. Mostly I use steno pads for longhand writing, or type up my work and print it out to save in a folder designated for such things…

      A concordance helps me out tremendously. I keep lists of quotes, theme songs, trait charts, pictures, scenes, and other things related to characters which helps me keep them pinned down in my mind and (fairly) under control. I also keep a file of interesting technology and news that I think would be cool if it was alluded to or reimagined in the story.

      When you’re juggling several subplots at once, you’ve GOT to have a system or you’ll end up with the whole thing unravelling right in front of you…

    • Carrie says:

      My mother told me Agatha Christie wrote her stories in a bath tub while crunching on apples

    • Zoe says:

      I like Hemingway’s style. I really enjoyed “A Moveable Feast,” which is a short collection of memoirs Hemingway wrote about being a struggling young writer in Paris.

      It’s easy to romanticize the writing process, though the reality for many writers is much less self-indulgent. We all simply have to do what we can — if you really want to write, you will.

      I am lucky to have a lot of flexibility. As my schedule allows, I prefer to write in the morning, with a cup of tea, before checking e-mails. I should probably wake up earlier to take full advantage of my morning writing, but I have a terrible time getting to bed early!

    • Michelle says:

      Wendy Kelly,

      I’ve just got to smile at that vision. I was reading an old forum post somewhere recently where the writers were seriously debating the pros and cons of certain brands of waterproof paper!

      “Only in America” was my initial British response, but I’m just envious.

    • wow,
      I really appreciated Leo’s post from the point of view that it was interesting to see how these great writers had the luxury to write back in an era that doesn’t exist for most of us today. It was both somewhat romantic and fluffy as I’m sure it didn’t take in to consideration any of their daily struggles as writes as wel. For any of you who has read On Writing by Stephan King, he shares quite a bit of his struggles and doesn’t make it seem like a day in the park that he just pumped out all of those words.

      Then…in the comments…Tamara’s comment was like getting an entire other post. Very interesting also. As a mother, grandmother and writer I certianly can relate to that list! I have kids from age 31 to 11 and my writing style is to write when I can squeeze it in! My best writing actually happens in the jacuzzi with a notebook and pen because it is often the only time I sit still long enough to collect my thoughts before I am jumping up to do something else again!

      Thanks for the two for one day!


      A hat tip to Leo for opening up this dialog.

      Some background and replies…

      My comment wasn’t meant as a whine, Ernest, and I’m sorry for the poor spirit of your post. Mine was an articulation of the blindspot in Leo’s list; my intent was to help an untold number of writers who really need the support.

      The reality is that creative writers (mothers AND fathers) who also care for their children and, now, their own parents, face a completely different reality. It’s not nearly as romantic as “lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis, as the day wore on.”

      Parents can’t aspire to be most of the writers on Leo’s list because there is a luxury of time that folks like Capote had that most parents (many of them also holding down jobs) simple don’t have. Frankly, just writing longhand is a luxury!

      Here’s the deal: Besides being a writer and a parent, I’m also an editor, writing coach and mentor. I posed the question not for myself (you’ll see, below, that writing as a parent isn’t a problem for me) but for all my clients and writing cohorts and anyone else out there because:

      a/I know that just because something works for me doesn’t mean that it will work for someone else, and

      b/since parenthood is a continuously morphing experience, I’m not finished looking for solutions because my schedule is always in constant flux.

      I’m a rather prolific writer, actually. I’ve written and published more during my early years as a parent than I ever had in life BC (before children). Dozens of short stories, three times that in poems. Three complete novels. Two in drafts. Two Pushcart nominations, miscellaneous smaller awards and dozens of publications that speak to my writing life. I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo. I write short fiction, poetry, nonfiction, blogs, academic work, editorials. I’m currently working on a nonfiction book plus the final revisions for a novel right now (for an agent request). Take a look: http://www.tamarasellman.com

      Listen, I’m not a Great Writer, so my habits are still part of my journey through anonymity like everyone else here. The fact is that giving advice to people who don’t live the same reality is like a gymnast giving advice to a ski jumper on how to get into the Olympics. So there are some commonalities, sure: get a coach, have discipline, find out what works for you, just do it. Rah rah. It’s in all the books, advice that’s typically timeworn, but abstract.

      Let’s be realistic: those in the thick of parenting younger children need more options than that. They need practicalities and, well, even some of the idiosyncracies (such as Joyce’s 4 typewriters and Nabokov’s notecards) to find “their way,” which will likely be outside the box that most other writers can fit inside because they aren’t caring for children (and working on top of that).

      That’s not a whine, that’s 13 years of daily life talking, like it or lump it.

      FWIW, here are some things that I *have* done over the years to keep my writing life intact:

      a/write before 6am
      b/write after 9pm
      c/write during my commutes to and from the city
      d/write during naps
      e/writing while children are in school (it’s harder than it sounds when you also work for a living)
      f/buying writing time through childcare
      g/buying writing time through out-of-town writing conferences (you have to actually use the time to write, though, so this one requires heaps of discipline)
      h/buying writing time through retreats (usually spent in locations that inform the work I’m writing on)
      i/limit email and internet time to 1 hour a day
      j/attend a writer’s marketing group (to encourage submitting)
      k/attend a writer’s support and critique group
      l/take classes to generate new work

      Hmmm, a lot of buying going on. This is what we have to spend, after all: money, time, energy, resources/support. We spend what we can, eh? I can spend money to buy time. Some people barter childcare (resources/support) for writing time. Others burn the candle at both ends (not the best solution).

      I don’t have writer’s block because there’s no time for it, by the way. I leave writing projects in the middle of sentences so that I have an easy way to pick up the pace when I re-enter the work. I write various projects at a time so that I am always excited about something. From my training as a journalist, I assign and keep deadlines for projects that are both short-term and long-term. I write myself a 1-year and 5-year writing plan. I compartmentalize big projects so that when I sit down to work at them, I can feel accomplished in getting them done, brick by brick.

      So that’s what I offer people who are trying to swing it as writing parents. But it’s still darn hard and I will always be looking for advice from the eye of the storm.

      Some replies:

      Mary: I like the idea of the Guest Post about great women writers and their good habits. I’ll probably do that on my own blog, though! (sorry Leo).

      Allena, I have paid for childcare to write my books. I’m lucky in that regard because I can afford the $8-12/hour to do this. If you want blocks of time during the school year, you have to go with daycare because all the babysitters are in high school, and they want a 20-hour minimum commitment per week. Are you prepared to pay that? Minimum $640+ a month? Most people can’t. The other option is to find a group of writing mothers and barter childcare for writing time. I live in a community burgeoning with writers, but I could never find anyone willing to do this. See what I mean by practicalities? Realities for writing parents? Ideas are good, but only if they make it into practice.

      Chase, I’ve become a seasonal writer as well. I write year-round on nonfiction forms primarily, but when it comes to my creative writing (fiction, poetry, etc.), I save that up for the summer. I can do that now, with children who are older and more independent. I couldn’t do that back in the day of diapers and cabinet locks and poison control stickers everywhere. I think there’s a lot to be said about reinventing our relationships with time so that we can work inside our own rhythms rather than the artificial ones imposed upon us by society. That’s where I’ve been focusing my energies of late.

      Thanks for mentioning me in your blog. (Y’all should go and take a gander, she gives the writing parent’s life a good go-around. All I can say is, I’m subscribing!) http://juicedonwriting.com/131/writing-habits-of-amazing-writers/

    • Great post Leo, like others have mentioned it is great to ‘peer’ into the lives of other writers. I never thought I would write as much as I do these days 😉



    • Here’s my writing habit. I use the computer to “write” and what I’d do is to choose a font that I’m comfortable with, and start typing away. 🙂

    • Betsy says:

      Discipline is what I strive for. I could have written “I want to be disciplined” but somehow it wasn’t seemly. What seems to happen, though, is that a subject will churn around and then emerge at about shoulder level, travel down my arms and onto the keyboard or paper of its own accord. I’ve learned that I need to get out of its way or risk losing it. So, I’m looking for the balance between a daily routine and those bursts of flow.

    • Michelle says:

      I’d really be interested in knowing, as Tamara questioned, the writing habits of successful women authors, particularly those with young children. I’m sure that I could learn a thing or two from some of those experiences also.

      We know that JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in a cafe while her daughter was at school, simply because she couldn’t afford the central heating in her Scottish flat, and it was her only method of staying warm. I’m sure her own writing habits have altered drastically since (lol).

      I’ve responded with my own writing habits (for a relative newbie) on my own blog, and appreciate the chance to think about these.

    • I just published my first book (a business book) in April. My publisher had given me a deadline. I focused like a laser beam on getting the book written. When I started, I had no idea of how I was actually going to get this book written. I got plenty of advice from others, but ultimately, I had to figure out what would work for me. I created an outline of the book and a plan for when each chapter was supposed to be done. I found that I needed a big block of time to write, had to write starting early in the morning, and couldn’t use the one hour per day approach. Even so, I never knew how much I’d be able to get done, as many roadblocks and writer’s blocks appeared along the way. I tried to muscle my way past them with as much self-discipline as possible, trying to avoid the inevitable distractions and procrastination that would occur. Writing the book was an interesting, extremely challenging and ultimately very satisfying experience. I now have a far greater appreciation for the task, having done it myself.

    • My writing routine is very odd. I’m a teacher and I can’t seem to start writing until the school year is well under way. I don’t typically start writing until after Christmas and then I write furiously for about four months. By that time, I usually need a break from writing.

      So I am what you might call, “A Seasonal Writer”

      I said my routine was weird, but it works for me.

    • stormy weather says:

      I write best when I’m high on MARIJUANA

    • Ernest says:


      The point of the list is to inspire you. Stop crying and figure out your own style, instead of whining about the lack of writers who match your exact situation. What a baby.

      • V says:

        Hi, Ernest. I wonder how you could make your comment more helpful to the busy mother of children who want to write more than she gets time. She makes an excellent point, you know.

    • Alexandros says:

      Writing more and more leads to better writing… Steven King has got the point! 🙂

    • This is so interesting!

      And I thought I had quirky writing habits hehehe…

    • eronious says:

      I subscribe to the Charlie Brown method of writing: “If I start writing now when I’m not really rested it could upset my thinking which is not good at all. I’ll get a fresh start tomorrow then I’ll have all of Tuesday unless something should happen… why does this always happen? I should start writing now, but if I start writing now when I’m not really rested it could upset my thinking which is not good at all…”

      This could be why I’ve only written the first draft of my first novel in the year I’ve decided to try my hand at being a novelist some day. 😉

      • MandyB says:

        Try NaNoWriMo – it definately focuses your mind!!!

    • Robert says:


      Thought you might like these. Don’t forget about that book Scott likes, Stephen King wrote a book about writing.



    • scott says:


      Interesting. I know you like the Stephen King book on writing. These are interesting tidbits to me. I always find this sort of thing interesting.



    • I’ve always done my best writing at night, when the rest of the family is asleep. I’ve always been a night person anyway, but when my kids were really little, it seemed that was the only time I could get any peace and quiet.

    • Leo – I admire Hemingway’s simplicity in his writings. He possessed word power but rarely used it to convey his ideas.

    • Very interesting look at how these famous writers go about their writing.

      I haven’t developed any noteworthy regiment. The only thing I can say that I do without fail is carry a notepad with me. And I write notes into it all the time, throughout the day.

      When I do write – I like to spend at least an hour doing so. I also often spread out a writing project over more than one day. But I’m still experimenting and trying to find what works most optimally for the best of writing.

    • Hi Funkright!
      As the Chief Editor of WTD I’m ok with a bit of self promotion in the comments. As long as it’s still within the field of writing.

      I think we writers need to learn to promote ourselves more, not less!

      • Hi Mary,

        At this stage, I will rate 1/10 in term of writing.
        I found blogging is one of the most easier way to express my thoughts and yet helping people to grow in life.

        I agree with you that writer have to do most promotion on their write up and constantly seek feedback. This will get them going & sustain blogging enthusiasm.

        I’m going to take 3 ideas from this WTD post to improve my blog content at ganeshmuthiah.wordpress.com

        Those 3 ideas which i intent to try are:
        (1)Setting up a dedicated place to write like Philip Roth
        (2)Writing xxpages daily even on holiday as Stephen King does
        (3)Or Ernest Hemingway advise to write at least 500word a day

        Thanks for posting this simple article.

    • Writing habits still amaze me today. I know a lot of weird habits of writers.

    • funkright says:

      Shanel Yang, I like that you provide useful information on the web (your site is good), but the self promotion and constant linking is a little to blatant for me.. your clickable name is good enough, don’t you think? Heh, it’s just one man’s opinion, so if you don’t agree, well then keep on doing it and if Leo’s good with it then Leo can delete my post..

    • Genie says:

      If I recall the story correctly, Joyce Carol Oates is also so prolific because she always has four pieces in progress at any given time, and her office is set up so she sits in the middle of four typewriters (she may have upgraded to computers at this point) and is able to spin to whichever piece she feels like working on at the given time. Could be myth, but I’m pretty sure I read this was true…

      • MandyB says:

        OMG!!! I couldn’t do that. I concentrated on my novel for eight months but had small respites for my blog, Writers Circle and other writing site posts. Just taking a few moments away helped with my flow.

    • Allena says:

      Tamara, you’ve answered your own question: get someone else to care for your children. At least once in a while. I don’t know ANYONE who can’t use a break to listen (reallllly listen, without interuption) to the muse.

    • Loved the post! It’s nice to hear of worthy writers sometimes having eccentric styles to their craft. I write everything out longhand then type out what I need for letters, posts, and the like. Whatever works, right?

    • Hi Tamara!
      I’m a mother. When my son Sebastian was a toddler, I hardly wrote. All I wanted to do was sleep! The first two years of motherhood are really hard because the task of being a mother is so incessant. And the few hours when baby is asleep are often taken up with domestic tasks.

      After Sebastian turned 2, I started writing again. But I had to train myself to write in the evening. After all, how can you write in the morning when your toddler is jumping up and down on you, screaming “Mummy!”, “Mummy!”

      If any of you women writers out there wanted to write a guest post about Great Woman Writers and their habits – I’d be delighted!

    • Hi FHL!
      You are doomed because you are not a morning person? Of course 🙂

      Early morning birds like me feel righteous about writing bright and early. We’re virtuous, we are! We’re not lazy layabouts who can’t get themselves into gear in the morning, no!

      Of course in the evening my tune changes. I feel inept when I start to flag in the evenings. Then I begin to envy those who rev up at night. Put me in front of a page at midnight and I’ll squeeze out about one word per minute…

    • This list isn’t all that useful or relevant to me. I find little inspiration from writers whose lives are nothing like mine.

      Any chance you could list a few more great writers who also happened to be mothers?

      Joyce Carol Oates, for instance, doesn’t have children. She’s the only one on the list.

      The rest of the male writers, if they had children, had someone else caring for them.

      So here’s what I’d like to know: what are the habits of great women writers who also raised children (and worked, for that matter)?


    • One of the greatest living American writers, Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claimed to walk half a mile for every page he writes. He separates his work life from personal life, and doesn’t write where he lives — he has a studio built away from his house.

      Very ironic, considering the semiautobiographical nature of the author’s fiction. I would never have guessed.

    • FHL says:

      Dang, I’m so not a morning person – I’m doomed! =)

      I second the comment on King’s On Writing – it has definitely inspired me.
      Fun blog!

    • Hi David inJapan!
      I’ve tried the index card thing. But I just lose them and can’t find my way through them…hopeless!

      I always have my trusty Moleskine to hand for genius ideas 😉
      And try and get things down on my laptop as soon as possible.

      One tip: I email myself the stuff I write through gmail…just incase I don’t back up soon enough and lose it.

    • Good list. I was especially interested to see how Vladimir Nabokov writes. I first learned about this style of writing from Robert M. Pirsig in Lila (his follow up to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”). I’ve experimented with it myself and tho I keep returning to my moleskine or a word processor, I like the idea.


    • Tiffany says:

      This is a fantastic list!

      I think that the big thing I noted is that these writers spent concentrated time every day actually writing. They didn’t let things and life and stuff get in the way. That’s a great lesson for me as I try to develop my own writing.

    • Muthu says:

      Great Article. One motto from these writers “Practice Makes Perfect”
      Thanks for the article.

    • Hi Leo!
      Thanks for the great article!

      I too am at my best in the early mornings.

      Recently I had to write a whole swag of articles in one week. To do that I had to write through the day as well. After I had finished, it took a few days for my writing inspiration to come back. So, it seems that I am at the peak of my writing creativity when I write about 700 -1000 words a day. Less and I’m out of practice. More and I’m on overload.

      Quite difficult to keep that balance, eh?

    • writer dad says:

      All of these writers have lessons to teach. I wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t for Kings, “On Writing.”


    • You’ve named 4 of my favorite writers! All great tips! There are so many great lessons to be learned from famous, successful writers. That’s why I compiled a list of “200 Writing Quotes” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/08/21/200-writing-quotes/ Thanks for the great post, Leo! I really enjoyed it. : )

    • I really like this post. Each writer has a habit that I either share or admire. I tend to be an early riser (4:30am usually) and that is when I get most of my writing done. Before breakfast, before most of the world wakes.
      I also can relate to pacing. I get my best (and most clear) ideas when run. Something about being outdoors and the sunshine (and the endorphins) that inspires me. Thanks for sharing. Eric.

    • Metroknow says:

      I really loved this post. I love to peer into the glass a bit to see what other writers, the greats, have really done on a day to day basis to create such masterful works. One of my favorites from my youth was Ray Bradbury. He stated in the past that his office was like a curiosity shop – full of objects that conjured memories and inspired stories. I know a lot of writers like Leo love a more minimalist approach to workspace, but I think I am much more akin to Ray.

      Thanks again. I really did enjoy this.

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