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9 Weird Habits That Famous Writers Formed to Write Better

9 Weird Habits That Famous Writers Formed to Write Better

Every writer is in constant search of a solid strategy for their personal daily battle with the blank page. This doesn’t only happen to newbies, it even happens to the literary icons we adore. Excellent wordsmiths have to wait for their best and motivated self before they can produce deep and thought-provoking novels and stories. Along with their drive to work in the ways that best suit them, famous writers’ own strange writing rituals also bring meaning to their creations.

Aside from innate skills and intelligence, the greatest geniuses share their potential with the world by possessing remarkable eagerness and a strong passion towards their craft. But believe it or not, most famous writers have also adopted bizarre habits in an attempt to scribble their words down on paper. Many successful authors were able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack because of these quirky secrets. Take a look at some of the routines of these eccentrics that may help you simplify your own writing process.

1. Lying down

Twain_writing_in_bed_jpg_600x458_q85
    Mark Twain writing in bed.

    For some authors, lying down seems to set their creativity and focus in writing. They find inspiration and the right words to write while they are in the comfort of their bed. Among the successful novelists who have practiced this habit are Mark Twain, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Woody Allen and Marcel Proust. They were all known for churning out pages while lying in bed or lounged on a sofa. American author and playwright Truman Capote even claimed to be a “completely horizontal author” because he couldn’t think and write unless he was lying down.

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    2. Standing up

    Hemingwaywriting1
      Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up.

      In contrast to point 1, writing vertically is also not peculiar for famous writers of critically acclaimed novels and motivational speeches: writers like Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Philip Roth. These great thinkers have been inspired to pen their finest pieces at their standing desk. For health-conscious writers, this technique might work for you because standing desks offer many proven benefits.

      3. Writing with index cards

      vladimir-nabokov-writing-draft-on-index-cards
        Vladimir Nabokov writing a draft on index cards.

        Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada, was very particular about his writing instruments. He composed all his works on index cards, which he kept in slim boxes. This odd method enabled him to write scenes non-sequentially and re-order the cards any time he wanted.

        Nabokov also stored some of his lined Bristol cards underneath his pillow. This way, if an idea popped into his head, he could quickly write it down. You can use index cards when doing your note-taking or plotting too. It’s a different way to construct your story that can knock fun things loose.

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        4. Using a color-coded system

        Alexandre-Dumas2
          Alexandre Dumas

          French author Alexandre Dumas wrote his historical adventure novels like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo using a color-coded system of writing. It may be hard to imagine, but this genius was actually very specific on the palettes of colors for his works. Interesting, right? For decades, Dumas used various colors to indicate his type of writing. Blue was the color for his fiction novels, pink for non-fiction or articles and yellow for poetry. Why not try applying different colors to your content creation and see if it can help you express yourself in print.

          5. Hanging upside down

          Dan Brown
            Dan Brown

            Hanging upside down is the cure for writer’s block; at least, this is what the renowned bestselling author Dan Brown believes. According to Brown, when he does so-called inversion therapy, it helps him relax and concentrate better on his writing. The more he does it, the more he feels relieved and inspired to write.

            Another unusual habit of the Da Vinci Code writer is having an hourglass on his desk. Every hour he sets aside his manuscript to do some push-ups, sit-ups and stretches. Imitating such weird tactics doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. If it helps you to write, why not give it a try, right? At the very least, you’ll stay fit!

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            6. Facing a wall

            Francine_Prose
              Francine Prose

              Francine Prose, the author of Blue Angel, believes that writing while facing a wall is the perfect metaphor for being a writer. When working in a strange apartment, Prose’s solution for limiting distraction was moving her desk to face the window and looking out on a high brick wall. She found this view monotonous but it helped her to sit and write for long stretches of time.

              7. Acting out dialogues

              Aaron-Sorkin
                Aaron Sorkin

                The award-winning screenwriter behind The West Wing and The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin, confessed that he broke his nose while writing. How did it happen? Well, he likes to act out his stories’ dialogues in front of the mirror, and once, after getting carried away, he accidentally head butted it. Acting out your story dialogues is good, but make sure that you don’t step over the line and get yourself hurt when you’re structuring your story.

                8. Writing without clothes

                Victor Hugo
                  Victor Hugo

                  To complete your writing before a deadline, you may possibly consider Victor Hugo’s weird habit — writing without clothes. When he was facing a tight schedule for his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he instructed his valet to confiscate all his clothes so he wouldn’t able to leave the house. Even during the coldest days, Hugo only wrapped himself in a blanket while he penned his story.

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                  9. Drinking massive amounts of coffee

                  Honore de Balzac.jpg
                    Honore de Balzac

                    French novelist Honoré de Balzac fueled his creative writing by consuming around 50 cups of coffee a day. Yes, that’s the amount of coffee he drank every day just to find inspiration for his written works. Some studies say that Balzac barely slept when he wrote his magnum opus, La Comedie Humaine. Besides de Balzac, another coffee-addicted author was Voltaire. He was known for drinking up to 40 cups of coffee a day.

                    Featured photo credit: the author/streetwrk.com via flickr.com

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                    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

                    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

                    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

                    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

                    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

                    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

                    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

                    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

                    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

                    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

                    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

                    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

                    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

                    What Is a Stretch Goal?

                    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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                    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

                    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

                    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

                    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

                    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

                    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

                    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

                    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

                    1. Get Outside of Your Head

                    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

                    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

                    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

                    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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                    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

                    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

                    I see this in so many areas of life:

                    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

                    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

                    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

                    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

                    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

                    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

                    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

                    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

                    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

                    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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                    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

                    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

                    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

                    S.M.A.R.T.

                    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

                    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

                    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

                    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

                    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

                    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

                    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

                    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

                    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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                    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

                    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

                    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

                    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

                    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

                    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

                    The Bottom Line

                    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

                    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

                    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

                    Reference

                    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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