In the acknowledgments for her novel In the Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende reveals that she starts each new book on January 8.
Isn’t that interesting? That little tidbit got me thinking (always dangerous, I know). So, I asked some clients to share any strange writing habits—quirks, superstitions, compulsions, etc.—they might have (also dangerous, I know). Here’s what they said:
If I don’t see mountains, it’s too cloudy to write (Jerry Barnes, author of When Heaven Visits).
I often get good writing ideas when I’m exercising, particularly walking or riding my bicycle. I think there is something about elevating the heart rate and pumping oxygen through the body that facilitates thinking (Rob Currie, author of Hunger Winter: A WW2 Novel).
I’m big on creating a structure for my books. Everybody outlines, but I get a little obsessive about it, especially when writing devotionals or anything with a lot of brief chapters. I often use a spreadsheet so I can see how all the titles, epigraphs, thesis statements, etc., stack up with each other (Lawrence Wilson, author of Promises & Prayers for Men).
I absolutely cannot sit down to write unless I brew a fresh cup of coffee. I also have to be wearing comfortable clothes. I think those two things combined bring out my creative flow and put me in the zone to write (Caitlin Henderson, author of Faith, Farming, and Family: Cultivating Hope and Harvesting Joy Wherever You Are).
To minimize internal and external distractions, I do two things before I sit down to write. First, I brush my teeth. There’s nothing more distracting (especially for a dental hygienist) than the feel of fuzzy teeth. Who can compose a coherent thought while a colony of bacteria sets up housekeeping between your premolars? Second, I clip my fingernails super short. The click click click of nails on a keyboard is as disruptive as a kid dropping marbles one by one onto a ceramic tile floor—for hours. The sound drives all brilliant thoughts far, far away (Lori Hatcher, author of Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible).
Before I sit down to write, I pray … then I turn on the TV for background noise to a show I’ve seen a dozen times, like Young Sheldon (Rebekah Millet, www.rebekahmillet.com).
When I was expecting my first child, I had to know if I was carrying a boy or a girl so I could call him/her by name the remaining months. I feel the exact same way when I get an idea for a new book. Long before I can start to write the story, I have to know who the characters are. I’ll search baby names online for days and days until I find the right names, then immediately their story starts to unfold in my mind (Michelle Shocklee, author of Under the Tulip Tree).
I don’t know if this counts as strange, but I occasionally get a compulsion to write that keeps me from sleeping at night. I imagine I am not alone in that. It often seems to be Holy Spirit inspiration and compulsion, a la 1 Corinthians 9:16 (Alan Ehler, author of How to Make Big Decisions Wisely).
Since I live alone and have a degree in theater, my writing gives me a great opportunity to act out my scenes, in character. Recently, as I energetically acted out an argument between my protagonist and antagonist, my front door slammed against the wall. There stood my landlord with a jar of home-canned pickles in one hand and his side iron in the other. He thought my ex had broken into my house and was trying to kill me. Guess I need to tone down my scenes a bit (Karen Lynn Nolan, author of Above the Fog).
How about you? Do you have any strange writer habits? Do tell.
Apparently, Lawrence Wilson and I are kindred spirits. I have spreadsheets with titles, word counts, readability scores and more. Early on, I lean heavily on my data points; later, as I edit, I cut anchor and float freely.
My best writing, I have found,
is at the light of the full moon,
hearing Europe’s ‘Final Countown’,
or some spacefaring tune
that leads my heart up, up, away!
from the cares and chores
that have piled up every day,
locked in my mental drawers
to scream and shout
and rant and rave
with thunerous proclivity,
and cry ask that someone save
them from their fell captivity,
but I write on ’till moment that
wife says it’s time to feed the cat.
This was hilarious and so affirming of my own weirdness, which are:
1) If I’m stuck, I pace and pace, muttering to myself, until I unravel the mental knot. Now that I’m a mom, I do this while carrying my infant daughter around.
2) I CAN’T write at the same place every day. I get bored. Some days I write at my desk, some days at my kitchen table, on a small writing table, sitting cross-legged on the floor, on the couch, while I’m pedaling on my recumbent bike, and (my favorite) outside on my porch using a free-standing ironing board as a desk because I can adjust it to the perfect height and pack it up when I’m done.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha! This is great!!! I don’t think this is weird, but my family does. Since our house of three boys and a 117lb dog is always rowdy, I get up at 4:00AM, grab a cup of coffee and an egg and write. My sons think I should stay up late and play videogames, ha! With the three sons, come various friends that we stick here and there in our small house. On the couch, slumped across the giant beanbag, on the floor in the living room … . Occasionally we also have various camp dishwashers (before covid) who stayed over to play board games late into the night and sometimes our home looks like a lair for resting vampires. So once in awhile, I will have to tip toe through this minefield of sleeping forms to get to my writing chair. The record happened several years ago, but I once had to get across the floor over five teens snoring away to get my coffee and get going on my story. Small houses certainly cause problems, but it is still possible, ha!
That last one was so funny. It’s actually something I suggested to do when your writing inkwell runs dry. Act out scenes from your work or your favorite book!
Thanks for the laughs!
I can relate to some of the other writers’ habits. I’m also a pacer, when working out a problem, and I have an inordinate fondness for spreadsheets.
Also, I love “company” when I write, so I rarely write in silence, unless it’s appropriate for the mood of the moment. I compiled a soundtrack for my memoir and play certain songs on repeat while working on specific scenes. For painful scenes I find a sweet, upbeat song to keep me grounded in the “here and now” while remembering the “there and then.” The time will come to let myself feel those emotions, but not now. Last week, I was entering trial testimony, for a particular event, into my timeline. What could be better than a snappy, upbeat rendition of “Isn’t It Romantic” to keep me smiling while writing about interrogations? I say, “Do whatever works.”
I don’t consider it strange because it’s me. ; ) But I get either a cup of hot tea or ice tea, put on jazz music, and work. It’s a great combination for me. Other than jazz music, I need it fairly quiet.
My ideas come in the shower. The cleaner I get, the more creative I am. Or, wait…maybe it’s the other way around. The more creative I am, the cleaner I get. Chicken? Egg? Which comes first? I’ll have to think about that. Excuse me while I hop in the shower!
Is this strange? I just start writing. Just like that: no plan; no structure and no notes until I am in the middle, close to the end or 3 chapters deep into the story. Then I call out the internet or bible to get me names for characters or info on maps. Otherwise, I just reel out my ideas from my imaginative spool in my head somewhere…
I hope this is more of a strange habit than a bad one! God bless you.
I tend to talk to myself if I’m stuck, to my computer if it’s being difficult, and to my characters if they are caught in a mess.