Is there a magic formula to writing a best selling novel – of course not, but this does not stop me wanting to know all the what, where, how and why’s of my favourite authors. I might uncover some secret that best selling novelists have kept hidden for centuries; they may belong to a secret society. I may stumble upon one quirky habit, that I could adopt, and my writing would be transformed.
My first quest was the Where.
I knew that Mark Twain and Roald Dahl both wrote in their back sheds, but I was looking for more inspirational writers haunts. So, why not start with the master of all writers, the picture above is of William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford- Upon-Avon, England. I didn’t get much from my visit here except that Shakespeare slept in the sitting position, and I wasn’t going to adopt that habit. Next was Charles Dickens house in London, England – a desk and a chair, no secrets there. So while still in England I headed to the more picturesque setting of The Lakes District, this was more to my liking. Beatrix Potter ‘s desk sat under a window overlooking her garden, complete with rabbits, of course. Williams Wordsworth lived in Grasmere by the lake; this environment inspired many of his early poems. One of the last houses I looked at was John Keats. His apartment in Rome overlooked the Spanish Steps; this is now an amazing museum dedicated to English romantic writers. The only thing that these writer’s abodes had in common was pen and paper.
Now to the How.
- Roald Dahl always wrote only on yellow paper with a lead pencil.
- Jack Kerouac – Would write by candle -light and blow it out when finished for the night. He had many little rituals that probably bordered on OCD, particularly in reference to the number nine. He would also always pray before he started to write.
- Earnest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Roth were all known for writing while standing.
- Haruki Murakami “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), and then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. 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.”
- Vladimir Nabokov –wrote on index cards (this is something I do as well)
What, is a very individualistic area unless you are writing a knockoff, copycat book, which I know none of my readers would do that. So under What I’ve put word count, some writers appear obsessed by this.
- Stephen King – would write no less than 10 pages a day. (1800 -2000words)
- Earnest Hemingway – 500 words a day
- James Joyce was happy if he wrote three sentences.
- Lee Child averages 1,800 words a day
- Arthur Conan Doyle 3,000 words a day
- Michael Crichton 10, 000
This is my favourite, who in their right mind would choose to be a writer.
- George Orwell said writers write for “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.”
- Gustave Flaubert said “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living,”
- Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. “
- Neil Gaiman said “The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”
What did I get from this exercise? I learnt that it doesn’t matter where you write; if you’re waiting for the view then you will be waiting forever, as a writer writes anywhere. I learnt that commitment is important and that may take the form of a word count. I also decided that adding a quirky, ritualistic habit could be a good idea (and fun). Lastly I found Mr. Gaiman summed it up, for being reminded of why I write is sometimes all the inspiration I need.