Writers have always been an eccentric and superstitious bunch. While some have been known to compose poems on horsebacks (yes, you read it right!), others have been known for using an open coffin as their ‘thinking pod’. Below is a list of some of the most lauded writers throughout the history and their own personal list of idiosyncrasies
The renowned 18th century German poet, philosopher and historian Friedrich Schiller owed his brilliant works and creations to something as humble as apples and water. For completely unfathomable reasons, Friedrich Schiller always wrote with rotten apples concealed beneath his desk and his feet soaked in a tub of ice water. In 1985, many years after his death, it was discovered that the spiced smell of rotten apples can have elevating effect on people, to the point of warding off panic attacks. Looks like Mr. Schiller discovered this long ago!
William Butler Yeats
While we all know people who can be termed as ‘Exercise Fanatics’, no one was more so than famous poet William Butler Yeats. When having trouble getting his words in order, he would take to the London streets, often mistaken for a crazy person. Says Celia Blue Johnson in her quirky book titled Old Type Writers, “The poet would barrel through city streets like a tornado. He’d wave his arms and mutter as he walked, so absorbed in musings that he lost track of the world around him.”
Truman Capote, the celebrated author, was eccentric to the point of being a maniac. He would never begin or finish a work on Friday. He wrote his first and second drafts while horizontally lying on the bed. His superstitions were not only confined to his writing habits. Cigarette butts in his ash tray never exceeded 3. The extra butts would go straight to his pocket. He also had a special aversion to number 13. He would never stay on 13th floor and even skipped 13th stair. Also, he would plain refuse to board a plane that had more than one nun!
If not for his literary genius, Graham Greene would have certainly found himself listed as a patient of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The prolific writer was obsessed with numbers. He would not start writing until a certain combination of numbers appeared accidentally in front of him. He would spend hours sitting on the side of the road looking at the license plate of the numbers passing by, looking for his ‘magic number’. Maybe he just didn’t feel like writing. Wait, did we just hear a publisher groan?
Talking about procrastination, have you ever met a writer who hated writing? Procrastination habit of Douglas Adams, the popular science fiction novelist, was a matter of utter despair for his publisher. It wasn’t for the lack of inspiration; he just plain hated writing. In the end though, his publisher stumbled across the perfect solution- He locked him in a room in order to get him to finish his work!
Honoré de Balzac
Balzac was a true caffeine addict. He believed he derived his great literary abilities from the cups of coffee. He had devised an unbreakable mechanism for his writing. He would go to bed at 10 at night he would wake up around 2 am and begin writing. He would write until the late afternoon next day and then take a break. Throughout the day, he would consume about 50 cups of strong Turkish coffee to stimulate his brain. Renowned author Voltaire was another coffee enthusiast, consuming about 40 cups a day.
James Joyce, like Truman Capote, was another lover of ‘horizontal writing’. He used to lie on his bed at night wearing a white coat. His sister later discovered that he used white coat to add brightness to his already floundering eyesight. He was also a man of patience, spending hours over each sentence. On meeting James Joyce in the street, his friend once famously asked him if he had had a good writing day. Joyce replied in affirmative, stating he had managed three sentences that day!
Capote would have hated Nabokov! The iconic writer, who authored masterpieces like Lolita and Ada, always wrote while standing, sometimes for hours at a stretch. He also had a habit of using index cards for writing. Nabokov would often write different scenes on index cards without any set sequence and later arrange them in order. It is said his novel Ada took close to 2000 index cards!
Though a brilliant writer, she had her own quirks. She lived in a mansion perched on top of a hill in Lenox, Massachusetts. While the mansion itself was ideal for writing, she followed a method to get the best writing done. She used to wake up in the morning and being a very lazy girl, would start writing in bed. She would keep filling sheets of papers with her writing and keep dropping them on to the floor. Her maid came in later to collect the sheets and gave them to her secretary to type out. Talk about making money out of laziness!
We all have experienced writer’s block one time or another. People often go for a walk or take a nap to get over the block. But famous author Gertrude Stein did something a little more unconventional. She discovered, by accident, that the front seat of her new Ford T model was a great place to write. You could easily find her writing intently curled upon the front seat of her car. She had christened her car “Auntie” after her Aunt Pauline!
(P.S. – Our horseback poet was Sir Walter Scott. The lady in the coffin was Edith Sitwell, who used to lie in a coffin before she began writing, in order to stimulate her creativity.)