Some Weird and Not So Weird Habits of Famous Authors

Intern Bren’s Team Pick:

Here’s the thing. Writers are weirdos. If there’s one thing I love, it’s weirdos. It’s the reason I love San Francisco over my own city. It’s the reason I ever so slightly favor my nephew over my niece. It’s the reason I, a fully adult human with a “real” job, choose to hang out with college kids who smoke things they shouldn’t and are almost half my age. They’re interesting and evolving and alive!

As if reading my mind Flavorwire has complied a list of weirdos and the weird things they do that make/made them iconic literary figures. Unfortunately, they’ve put each author on a separate page to force you click through 10 pages to read the entire thing – SO ANNOYING. I’ll just give you the highlights.

The Drinkers:

William Faulkner “drank a lot of whiskey when he was writing.” My kinda man.

Truman Capote would supposedly write supine, with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another.

“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”

The Blogger Predecessors:

John Cheever wrote in his underoos.

“To publish a definitive collection of short stories in one’s late 60s seems to me, as an American writer, a traditional and a dignified occasion, eclipsed in no way by the fact that a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.”

Francine Prose writes facing a wall and wearing “red and black checked flannel pajama pants and a T-shirt.” What do you think I’m wearing right now?

Masters of the Quota System:

Thomas Wolfe was a taskmaster.

”I set myself a quota — ten pages a day, triple-spaced, which means about eighteen hundred words. If I can finish that in three hours, then I’m through for the day. I just close up the lunch box and go home — that’s the way I think of it anyway. If it takes me twelve hours, that’s too bad, I’ve got to do it.”

Ernest Hemingway famously said he wrote 500 words a day, mostly in the mornings, to avoid the heat.

Folks with a touch of OCD:

Vladimir Nabokov – Most of his novels were written on handy 3 x 5 inch cards, which would be paper-clipped and stored in slim boxes.

“My schedule is flexible, but I am rather particular about my instruments: lined Bristol cards and well sharpened, not too hard, pencils capped with erasers.”

Eudora Welty – Back in 1953, Welty wrote to her friend William Maxwell that she straight-pins her stories together as she goes.

“I used to use ordinary paste and put the story together in one long strip, that could be seen as a whole and at a glance — helpful and realistic. When the stories got too long for the room I took them up on the bed or table & pinned and that’s when my worst stories were like patchwork quilts, you could almost read them in any direction . . . I like pins.”

And the Winning Weirdo:

Really the only one that is truly weird (misleading title much, Flavorwire?) has to be T.S. Eliot, who made everybody refer to him as “Captain” and powdered his face green “to look cadaverous.” WTF!? Now THAT’S weird.

What are your weird habits?

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Bren has written 80 articles for us.


  1. Marcel Proust stayed in bed for almost a decade due to real or imagined aliments. His bed became his workplace, he worked on his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, in bed.
    I would love to be like Proust.

    • He stayed in his bed in a cork-lined room, no less. Allergies and/or a severe case of delicate sensibilities.

  2. The only place I can focus in is my bathroom, with the fan on. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in there, usually sitting on the toilet, hunched over my laptop.

    I think at some point I figured out that there’s not much to distract me in there and the fan noise cancels out any other noises that would usually cause me to get up and wander off.

    • Ha! Strange habits are not limited to this one profession. My GF has to have the Zipper portion of the pillow on the inside of the pillow case so that you can’t see it or else she can’t sleep. Also she has to sleep on whatever side is farthest from the door, ya know so that if someone breaks in I get killed first.

      • I seriously LOLed at the last part! Sorreh Intern Bren XD

        Now this article made me think what kind of weird things I do, though I’m not a writer; I’m more of an artist/musician. I suppose I should ponder upon the subject. :D

      • lol i totally have to sleep on the side furthest away from the door so if someone breaks in I don’t get killed first, weird.

        when I was little i used to sleep in between my parents, trying to hedge my bets as to which side the killer wud start on.

  3. I just make WEIRD faces when I write. I probably look like I’m in intense pain or something.

  4. I used to clap continuously if I got stuck during a paper. I don’t know how I didn’t annoy myself.

    • HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAHA OH GOD I HAVE A YEAR OF TS ELIOT AHEAD OF ME! Now I won’t be able to see him as anything but The Captian and won’t be able to stop giggling in class!

  5. I usually hum incessantly. Either that, or I talk to myself, just this constant stream of inane one-sided conversation.
    I dunno why, maybe I’m trying to drive myself insane to produce better writing. I hear most of the best writers are crazy.

  6. When I’m on a writing bender I tend to take a lot of showers. Because it’s quiet and I think best while I’m shampooing. I also like to create deadlines then procrastinate on meeting them because my creativity tends to spark brighter when I feel pressured. And there might have been a time when I absolutely refused to create a traditional outline for a story but instead put together a mix CD to serve as my outline and guide me through the writing process.

    I have a long way to go before I’m as fabulously weird as these great writers though.

  7. i talk to myself when i’m studying.. and if i’m bored, i read aloud to myself from the textbook, making different voices and accents..

  8. I started writing all of my third year art history essays while wearing a Jason-style goalie/halloween mask and I started getting As.

  9. When Flaubert was writing Madame Bovary, he used to keep a lady’s slipper in his desk drawer and sniff it occasionally.

  10. Completely unrelated to writing but sort of not really, I’d come up with the best ideas while swimming. There was a running joke, I should have a laminated sheet of paper and pen at the bottom of one side of the pool.

  11. Whenever I write, I blast music, and eat chocolate digestive biscuits like there’s no tomorrow. I write best between midnight and 3am, so y’know, I’m not really that weird all thing considered.

  12. When I’m a passenger in a car, I mentally keep a tally of how many stoplights we pass and whether we got a green or red light.

  13. when i write i have to listen to music and grit my teeth along to it. and i fidget with my hands a lot and everything has to be done evenly.

  14. Senior year of college I used to put on a knit hat I called my “thinking cap” while writing papers. Though that was also because my apartment was drafty and poorly insulated.

  15. I dont think I have any outlandish habits. I like to be high, without an internet connection, and fresh on an idea. I have to be eating to slog through the hard parts in the middle where the muse leaves me to my own meanderings, and high again to finish, wish something delightfully brilliant.

    So unless getting stoned is weird, then no, nothing weird. Oh,and I only write in pen. Pencil makes my pinky finger black.

    • Your routine sounds like mine!

      Also: My pinky finger gets black even when I use pen. Pencil, pen, fountain pen, sketchy-looking bird feather dipped in ink, charcoal, crayon, anything. It always gets black. There’s something up with my pinky.

    • i usually have a story in my head i play with, wake up in the middle of the night and fervently scratch an outline then go back to sleep… wake up to a morning bowl, with coffee and cigs. lots of pacing between typing, smoking, sipping and toking. getting stoned is the way to do it sister.

  16. Hemingway would also write standing up over his deep freezer. And I love the fact that all the greats were pretty much schnockered when they wrote the best literature in history

  17. I don’t do anything too weird when i write, however, i do have to be alone, i talk to myself a whole lot throughout the writing process, and if I’m not typing i HAVE to use a black pen, no gel pens either. then when I’m done, i have to reread what i have written over and over about 8 times. probably an OCD thing!

  18. I’ll go through several hours to a few days [depending on my luck] of depression
    and then write a fucking genius poem
    and for some reason, I’ve decided it’s worth that.

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