Posted by: mygentlecloud | April 1, 2007

Writing habits of famous authors

Excerpts from Sunday Times article by Janadas Devan, dated 28th Jan 07 gave the following writing timetable of famous authors:

Charles Dickens puts in four hours each day, normally between breakfast and lunch, after which he would go for two-hour long brisk walks through the streets of London, observing and absorbing.

Graham Greene wrote for only two hours each day. In those two hours, he would write seven to nine hundred words. At 9am, he would stop. This, coming from a writer who produced twenty-six novels, not counting numerous short stories, plays etc.

Aldous Huxley puts in a bit more. Like Dickens, he did two hours between breakfast and lunch, but also added another two hours between tea and dinner. He averaged about five hundred words a day and yet produced about forty-four books, not including countless pieces of journalism and film scripts.

Virgnia Woolf’s schedule was similar to Huxley’s except that the afternoon was devoted to revisitng her morning’s work.

Anthony Trollope and T.S.Eliot both had day jobs, like a lot of us, but yet they managed to carve out three hours a day writing.

Two observations from reading this.

1) Well-known authors set aside the same time each day to writing and sticks to it. This is the writer’s discipline we all hear about.

2) They spend only a few hours each day writing. The rest of the time was spent observing, experiencing and reading which formed the ingredients of their writing. They have to take in in order to put out words and ideas on paper.

Reading this article makes me reflect on the need to go out more and see the real world. Only then can our writing be knowledgable, realistic and more powerful. Imagine witnessing a street brawl. The direct experience of your heart pumping, the speed with which the brawl erupted and the simultaneous reactions of people around them cannot be the same as reading or watching it.

Similarly, going on a ghost-hunt adds a new dimension to your senses which no reading or hearing about it could substitute. Jodi Piccoult is one believer of seeing and experiencing things first before she writes. She’d joined ghost-hunting trips, went to prison, worked at a check-out counter etc so as to get that first-hand experience which lends originality and credibility to her writing.

So, nett of the message here for writers is to go out of your shell and live life, not just your normal daily life, but venture into new territory. Go to a bar, go to a police station, visit an asylum, an old folk’s home. Travel. Observe and learn. Doesn’t sound like work, does it? Yet, it is, if you want to be a writer.

Su Yin



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