The writing life: Writing routines of the rich and famous… and me


Sleepingby Pamela Powers Hannley

Years ago, I heard author Barbara Kingsolver give a talk on "The Writing Life"— inspiration vs blockage… stolen moments on sleepless nights, writing in her closet… writing boring technical reports as an information specialist at The University of Arizona… and her life before she became famous. Having been an information specialist at the UA, I could relate easily to her stories about writing for work vs stealing away time to write for yourself.

I also enjoyed learning about her writing routines– like writing in a walk-in closet at night in their tiny Tucson house, so she wouldn't wake her husband. I recently stumbled upon an article detailing the writing habits of famous authors— Joan Didion, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradburry, and others.

For a peek at their writing habits and their lives, read on.

Reading this article–The Daily Routines of Famous Writers— I was surprised how varied other authors' writing habits are. Some write in the morning. Others at night. Some write with coffee but edit with scotch. (I have not tried this. Coffee and tea are my drugs of choice when writing; too many typos result with anything else.)

Others make rules for themselves and lists. (I don't do this either.) Some have special places and times to write and special rituals– like lighting candles or pouring an adult beverage– while others are more like me– anywhere, anytime. (Anytime before dark, that is. I'm too tired and unfocused to write in the evening.)

Some do obsessive rewriting. I only do this when writing something very technical (particularly for work), complex, or controversial– and I want every word to be just right.

I have never written in a closet, but when I write, I write early… like 6 a.m., immediately after pouring my first cup of coffee, usually in my home office (with the moral support of my editorial team, pictured above). As Ernest Hemingway said…

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write…You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love.

Although I mostly write at my desk at home or at work, there are times when I prefer the laptop on the living room couch or the back patio or in a coffee shop. When I am traveling, I write wherever I am– restaurants, airports, airplanes, hotel rooms– and appreciate the flexibility my iPad gives me. (Being able to concentrate and write wherever I am was handy when I covered the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.)

Unless I'm writing in a public place– I write in total solitude and total silence. If it seems too quiet, I'll put chanting or classical music on the stereo but no talking… no words except the ones in my head. E.B. White says he finds music distracting when he writes but not the din of his household and his family. 

I  know no writers' block. When I have an idea, I want to write it… now, and the words just flow. Writing is an obsession for me. I guess that's why I'm a blogger. Bradburry's words sum up my experiences with writing:

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.

If you're a writer or want to be a writer or just like peeking into other people's private lives, check out this article. Also, tell us your writing routines in the comment box.


  1. I agree with you. In the past I used to be a paid freelance writer. Unfortunately the only clients who paid my full hourly rate were major corporations and the drivel I had to write for them was award-winning (really) but unfulfilling to me.

    I write some for my current job but not everyday and what I do write I choose– so it is much different from the old corporate PR I used to do. Blogging and related photography and video is really my creative outlet now. Many of my fans say I should be paid for it. The problem with that is then I would have to write what “the man” tells me to. For example, the Wal-mart and Martha McSally stories that I wrote recently would never have been published by mainstream media.

  2. I always write as early as possible also. If I am working on something complex, I may write it in pieces– get out the formulated ideas and put it away for another day to finish. This is dangerous, though, because if a major life event gets in the way (like being sick for 2 weeks this fall) stories can be put off indefinitely and become out of date. I still have at least 3 half-written stories that I wanted to publish before the election. Still trying to figure out what to do with them to make them relevant now.

  3. I write as early as possible in the morning, 7.30 am if I can manage it. My creativity is greater first thing. Once lunchtime arrives the creativity tends to go… If I’m working and can’t write, I write small pieces as and when I can during breaks and in the evening – always something, even if it’s just one sentence.

  4. If we’re talking about “work” writing…here’s my habit since college: The day before writing, I’ll organize my resources(and my thoughts, shaping an outline in my mind). Then I’ll get up around 3am, get my coffee and, for some reason, it flows. But that only applies to how I handle work assignments.