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Seven Strange Writing Rituals


Finding it difficult to extract the novel that all of us are meant to possess from your being? Perhaps you're not coming at it from the right angle. And by right angle, we mean the odd, the weird and the plain wrong...

1. STANDING UP With his reputation for inebriation, you may wonder how Ernest Hemingway managed to write anything at all. In his later years in Cuba, while working on The Old Man And The Sea, he ascribed to a ‘done by noon, drunk by three’ routine in which he would get up at dawn, write standing up at his typewriter until he’d emptied his head, then empty the famous Floridita bar.

2. LYING DOWN In Cold Blood novelist Truman Capote described himself as a “horizontal author”, thanks to his languid approach to his craft. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy,” he told The Paris Review in 1957. “I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”

3. DRINKING VAST AMOUNTS OF COFFEE Like a lot of people, coffee was Honoré de Balzac’s poison. But we’re not talking the odd espresso. He would drink vast quantities of black coffee, ensuring that he could write through the day and into the night, once clocking in 48 hours straight.

4. ACTING OUT DIALOGUE As well as chain-smoking and index cards, the man behind The West Wing and The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin, has a habit of acting out his zippy dialogue while gazing at his own reflection. In 2010, he worked himself into such a frenzy that he head-butted a mirror. “I wish I could say I was in a bar fight,” confessed Sorkin, “but I broke my nose writing.”

5. NUDITY In order to stave off procrastination, French novelist Victor Hugo wrote both Les Misérables and The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame in the altogether. Being nude meant he wouldn’t be able to leave his house. As a safety measure, he’d also instruct his valet to hide his clothes.

6. IN A HOTEL A ritual that is at once lavish, pious and debauched: Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, rises at 5am and checks into a hotel, where staff are instructed to remove all stimuli from the walls of her room. She takes legal pads, a bottle of sherry, playing cards, a Bible and Roget’s Thesaurus, writing 12 pages before leaving in the afternoon and editing the pages that evening.

7. HEAD-SHAVING Demosthenes was among the greatest statesmen in ancient Greece. In order to motivate his writing and public speaking practise, it’s said he would shave one side of his head. Like Hugo hundreds of years later, it ensured that he remained in the house working instead of outside looking daft.

(Image: Getty)



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