‘There’s no one way, there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place. You suit yourself, your nature…. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.’- Bernard Malamud (1914–1936)

Legendary authors and their writing rituals (PART 1)

Their schedules and idiosyncrasies

Mary Good Books
6 min readNov 17, 2023

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This a short article on how some renowned writers made their time each day to do their best literary works; how they organized their schedules in order to be creative and productive. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired in a certain way in your writing journey.

1. Jane Austen (1775–1817)

Her Ritual: Jane had no privilege of privacy and solitude in her writing life. She lived with the rest of her family and so she had house chores to attend to, like preparing breakfast. She would write her novels in the sitting room but if guests showed up, she would hide her papers. During the evening after dinner, she would read her work-in-progress to her family.

“I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am.”

Her renowned novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan.

2. Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)

His Ritual: Hemingway was an early bird, he woke up around 5:30 and 6:00. He would begin writing when he got up until noon. He prefers to write in the morning because of the quietness and solitude.

Writing Idiosyncrasies: Sometimes Hemingway wrote while standing up. His first drafts were composed in pencil on onionskin typewriter paper laid slantwise across the board; when the work was going well, Hemingway would remove the board and shift to the typewriter. He also kept track of his words count on a chart. When he was tired of writing fiction, he wrote letters.

“Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I as trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline”

His notable works: The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940)

His Ritual: Fitzgerald had trouble sticking to a regular schedule. He generally rose at 11:00 A.M. and tried to start writing at 5:00 P.M., working on and off until 3:30 in the morning. The real writing usually happened in brief bursts of concentrated activity, during which he could manage 7,000 or 8,000 words in one session.

Writing Idiosyncrasies: Fitzgerald believed he would write creative novels if he had some alcohol. He preferred straight gin because it worked fast. Later on he found that alcohol wasn’t quite doing the trick especially during the editing time.

“My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward”

His notable works: The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Beautiful and Damned.

4. Haruki Murakami (b. 1949)

His Ritual: Murakami is a Japanese Novelist, he keeps a regular and a tight schedule. He wakes at 4:00 A.M. and works for five to six hours straight. In the afternoons he runs or swims (or does both), runs errands, reads, and listens to music; bedtime is 9:00.

“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

Writing Idiosyncrasies: Murakami believes physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity. He had moved to a rural area, quitted smoking, drinking less, and eating a diet of mostly vegetables and fish. He also started running daily, a habit he has kept up for more than a quarter century.

“Good style happens in one of two ways: the writer is either inborn talent or is willing to work herself to death to get it”

His notable works: Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84, Men Without Women

5. Franz Kafka (1883–1924)

His Ritual: Kafka kept a daily office job from 2 up to 3. From 3 to 3:30, he will have lunch. Then he will go for a nap till 7:30. Afterwards, he will exercise for 10minutes, he will then go for a walk alone or with a companion. Then he will have dinner with his family. He would start writing at 10:30 and carry on up to when he felt enough, that could be 1, 2, or 3, sometimes at 6 in the morning. He will exercise once again and then go to bed.

“I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man”

His notable works: The Metamorphosis, The Trial, Letters to Milena

6. T. S. Eliot (1888–1965)

His Ritual: Eliot had a job as a clerk which required him sitting in an office from 9:15 to 5 with an hour for lunch. During lunch time he would discuss literary projects with collaborators and friends. It was only during the evening did he find time to write his poetry or to earn extra money from reviews and criticism.

Writing every day is a way of keeping the engine running, and then something good may come out of it

His notable works: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday

7. Agatha Christie (1890–1976)

Her Ritual: It was almost impossible to see Agatha write. Even after writing over ten books, she didn’t see herself as an accomplished writer; she viewed herself as simply “a married woman” She enjoyed living an ordinary life and so writing was a task she did on spells and bursts; she had no definite place to write or to retire to. She could write anywhere were there was a steady table and a typewriter.

Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop… suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head

Her notable works: Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, The Murder at the Vicarage

8. Umberto Eco (1932–2016)

His Ritual: Umberto kept no schedule espiacilly when he was in Milan or at the University. Sometimes he would write from morning till night only stopping for a sandwich; sometimes he didn’t feel like writing in the whole day.

However, when Umberto is in his countryside home where the interruption is minimal, he could follow a certain routine: turning on a computer, checking emails, reading something, then writing until afternoon. Then he would go to the village to have a drink and read a newspaper. He came back home and watched TV or a DVD in the evening until eleven, and then he wrote a little more until one or two o’clock in the morning.

The thought that all experience will be lost at the moment of my death makes me feel pain and fear… What a waste, decades spent building up experience, only to throw it all away… We remedy this sadness by working. For example, by writing, painting, or building cities.

His notable works: The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, The Prague Cemetery

9. Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Her Ritual: Angelou has managed to write not only her acclaimed series of autobiographies but numerous poems, plays, lectures, articles, and television scripts.

Angelou couldn’t work at home, she preferred tiny-mean hotel rooms with just a bed. She would get up at about 5:30, and have coffee by 6, with her husband. She went to write around 7, and worked until 2 in the afternoon.

Writing Idiosyncrasies: She kept a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the hotel room she was writing in. Also, she edited her work while she was working; she didn’t invite comments from anyone but her editor.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you

Her notable works: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Letter to My Daughter

10. Truman Capote (1924–1984)

His Ritual: Capote typically wrote for four hours during the day, then revised his work in the evenings or the next morning, eventually doing two longhand versions in pencil before typing up a final copy.

Writing Idiosyncrasies: He did all of his work lying down in bed or stretched out on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. As the afternoon wears on, he shifted from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. He couldn’t begin or end anything on a Friday. He compulsively added numbers in his head, refusing to dial a telephone number or accept a hotel room if the digits made a sum he considered unlucky.

I think the only person a writer has an obligation to is himself. If what I write doesn’t fulfil something in me, if I don’t honestly feel it’s the best I can do, then I’m miserable

His notable works: In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

‘Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers’ — Franz Kafka

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