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Curious writing habits

July 24, 2018 by cymaster

Reading about our favourite writers’ habits is a bit like peeking behind the curtains in a theatre or reading the secret recipes of our favourite chocolate factory. We are all curious to know how the stories we love were born. Aspiring authors and everyday language learners both struggle to find motivation from time to time, and maybe some advice from the masters can do the trick. Reading about the habits and routines of the greatest authors can make us understand that writing is not always an easy job, and finding your own rituals and experimenting with different approaches can be helpful.

Perhaps your students need to learn that writing is a longer process than simply sitting at a desk and working. It involves planning, researching, thinking, editing, correcting, just to mention some steps of the actual writing process. What else can it involve? Walking, running, sports, eating, talking, cooking, playing... They might realise that their best ideas come when they are doing some sports, and they should always carry a piece of paper or use a note-taking app on their phones. They might learn that writing outdoors is their thing or that a bookshop, gallery or a forest can be an inspiring environment. Also, reading itself is inspirational and the more they read, the more phrases they see in context and use. To be a successful writer you need dedication, mental strength, will power, self-discipline and lots of time to read.

Let’s turn to some of the greatest authors for advice, amusement and inspiration. 


Virginia Woolf. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Virginia Woolf: keep a diary

Woolf’s diaries do not only chronicle her life and writing, they are also a fascinating read. They were first published in 1953, and she started writing them in 1918 when she was 36, and she kept writing it until 1941. You can read seven entries on the Woolf Online website.

Tip: Encourage your students to keep a diary, either a private one in a notebook or a shared one on Google Drive. Some ideas for your diary: 'How do I feel today?', 'What did I learn today?' or 'What made me happy today?'


Mark Twain with a pipe, 1906. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Mark Twain (and others): Write in bed

What are the advantages of writing in bed? This article from the The Guardian this one from The New York Review of Books attempt to find answers, and both reveal that great authors like Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Edith Wharton and Truman Capote liked this comfortable writing position.

Ernest Hemingway (and others): Stand and write

Teachers know well that although it can be tiring, teaching and thinking in a standing position can be inspiring and creative. Many authors, for various reasons wrote at standing desks. In this article on the Open Culture website, you can see Hemingway standing at his desk and learn that Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov also did some of their writing standing.

Tip: Just like reading, writing is often done exclusively sitting at a desk in school or home. Of course we all have to find a healthy and comfortable reading and writing position, but some ideas might come to us standing, walking, running, swimming or lying down. Tell your students to go for a run or walk as preparation for their writing assignment and start preparing mentally for the task.

Edgar Allan Poe: Writing on narrow sheets

Sometimes we have our best ideas when we only have an envelope or a napkin to jot them down. It can be a useful challenge to write down your ideas in a small notebook.

You can try Edgar Allan Poe’s style. He used long, narrow sheets of parchment and then he glued them together. Read this article in The Guardian to learn more about it, and visit the website of the Poe Museum to see some images.

Tips: Do a creative writing activity in class. Everyone takes pieces of paper and writes down a scene from a story in a sentence. Use a well-known story like Little Red Riding Hood. Then stick these pieces together to create your own story. You can also encourage your students to write their first ideas for an essay or story on sticky notes than use them to reorganize and connect their ideas.

We have collected some of the most interesting articles on the Internet and recommend three books about writing habits.

Here you can find two fascinating collections by The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) author, Maria Popova

We recommend this collection of tips from authors if you are looking for some more:

These two books are worth checking and reading for some more inspiration:

  • Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors by Celia Blue Johnson
  • Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature by Celia Blue Johnson
  • Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Read more about writing on this Blog:

Do you have any odd writing habits? Share them with us!

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