The Sleep and Work Habits of 15 Famous Writers

Title: The Sleep and Work Habits of 15 Famous Writers

Author: Sarah Stodola

Full Text & Source:

The Internet, Online, 07/09/2016

Sample Text:

Ask any fan of literature to describe the quintessential writer’s lifestyle, and the answer usually includes the following adjectives: neurotic, alcoholic, impulsive.

Neurotic, at least, is most certainly accurate — any profession that requires complete solitude tends to pry loose otherwise placated neuroses. From here, though, the reality of the writing life largely diverges from its mythos. Entire books have been written about the connection between writers and alcoholism, yet the vast majority of successful writers don’t have a drinking problem. It’s more romantic than practical.

Even fewer successful writers could be called impulsive. On the contrary, writers, perhaps more so than any other professional group, superstitiously cling to carefully curated routines, creating rules normally imposed by more traditional employment. Almost invariably, these rules and routines include specific sleep habits.

I studied the lives of 18 of the 19th and 20th centuries’ greatest writers in major detail for my book, Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors. Along the way, I gathered a sizable set of information about sleep routines and the writing life. To make sense of these different habits, I’ve broken them into seven categories.

Morning Producers

By far, more writers fall into this category than any other. There’s Toni Morrison, for one, who had two children and a day job when she began her writing career. As such, she established the habit of rising at 4 a.m., then writing until it was time to get the kids up and off to school. When the kids were grown and she became a full-time writer, the Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winner found that the schedule still worked; she has described herself as “clear-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning.”

Likewise, famously hard-edged Ernest Hemingway rose with the sun every morning — he said that his eyelids were too remarkably thin to keep out the light. (Hemingway had a knack for embellishment.) He then wrote straight through until noon, when the day gave way to the drinking, hunting and fighting for which he is known.

Virginia Woolf, too, got up around the same time every morning. After having breakfast with her husband, the English modernist headed into her writing room at 9:30. Salman Rushdie isn’t necessarily a very early riser, but he does get straight down to writing — still in his PJs — when wakes between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.

“I’ve learned that I need to give [writing] the first energy of the day,” the Booker Prize winner says.

Joan Didion gets up and, over breakfast, deals with that perpetual dread of writing. She heads into her office by mid-morning anyway, every day of the year, and gets down to the business of producing some of the finest literary journalism of recent decades. Junot Diaz, author of Pulitzer Prize winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, gets up at 7 a.m. every day, allows himself on the internet briefly, then gets down to writing.

Finally, with what I call “terrifying consistency” in my book, Philip Roth was settled into his writing studio every morning by 9:30 a.m. How else to explain Roth’s longevity as one of America’s foremost fiction writers?

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Comment: I can write at any time but I am most productive at night when the house is peaceful.



About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

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