Woke up, got out of bed: writers’ routines


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Novelists are, in the main, mysterious creatures. They must work alone -- sure, you might see one at a coffee shop with a laptop, but it’s still writer versus the void. The daily battle of the blank page. How does that humming machine turn out a complete novel, say, ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’? Where did James’ Giant Peach come from?

A blog is compiling the daily routines of writers and other artists -- it is called, not inappropriately, Daily Routines. The idea is that looking at the daily work process of an author -- his caffeine intake, how long she sits and writes -- will somehow illuminate the ineffable creative process. Maybe having a cocktail at 8 p.m., as William Styron did, will enable any of us to write our own ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ Maybe, like Truman Capote, we ought to write lying down.


The routines are found in biographies, the Paris Review Interview series and other sources, and can be submitted via e-mail to the site’s administrator. The very first author, when the site launched in 2007, was Vladimir Nabokov:

After waking up between six and seven in the morning, I write till ten-thirty, generally at a lectern which faces a bright corner of the room instead of the bright audiences of my professorial days.... Around eleven, I soak for 20 minutes in a hot bath, with a sponge on my head and a wordsman’s worry in it, encroaching, alas, upon the nirvana. A stroll with my wife along the lake is followed by a frugal lunch and a two-hour nap, after which I resume my work until dinner at seven.

Was he thinking of Lolita as he soaked in the bath, approaching nirvana? Is that an unseemly question? As for inappropriate thoughts, well, author T.C. Boyle -- the latest addition -- says he has none. The professor was asked, by USC Trojan Family Magazine, ‘What is your daily reading diet?’

I start with two newspapers: the L.A. Times and the Santa Barbara News Press. Then I re-read what I’ve written the previous day. Then I work. When that’s over, I do something physical: yard work, hiking, swimming, snorkeling. Then I make dinner, read, maybe watch a movie, sleep. This last is important: I need my rest, as we all do; and I sleep well, you’ll be happy to know, as a result of having a clean conscience.

In addition to Boyle and Nabokov, the site includes routines of many authors -- the complete list is after the jump. There are late risers and early risers, boozers and abstainers, drinkers of coffee and of tea. What they show us, sadly, is that there is no set roadmap for genius. There are many routines, but no set way to write right.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Kingsley Amis
Isaac Asimov
Saul Bellow
Alain de Botton
Truman Capote
J.M. Coetzee
Roald Dahl
Roger Ebert
Jonathan Safran Foer
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Friedman
Brendan Gill
Thomas Hardy
Ernest Hemingway
Immanuel Kant
Pauline Kael
Anthony Lane
Philip Larkin
Elmore Leonard
Karl Marx
Arthur Miller
Toni Morrison
Alice Munro
Haruki Murakami
Vladimir Nabakov
Joyce Carol Oates
Orhan Pamuk
Gary Panter
Emily Post
Philip Roth
Gertrude Stein
William Styron
Gay Talese
John Updike
E.B. White
Edmund Wilson
P.G. Wodehouse