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The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s recently published daily routine made we wonder how other beloved writers organized their days. So I pored through various old diaries and interviews – many from the fantastic Paris Review archives – and culled a handful of writing routines from some of my favorite authors. Enjoy.

Ray Bradbury, a lifelong proponent of working with joy and an avid champion of public libraries, playfully defies the question of routines in this 2010 interview:

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. … I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.

Joan Didion creates for herself a kind of incubation period for ideas, articulated in this 1968interview:

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I’m really working I don’t like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don’t have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I’m in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

E. B. White, in the same fantastic interview that gave us his timeless insight on the role and responsibility of the writer, notes his relationship with sound and ends on a note echoingTchaikovsky on work ethic:

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me. A girl pushing a carpet sweeper under my typewriter table has never annoyed me particularly, nor has it taken my mind off my work, unless the girl was unusually pretty or unusually clumsy. My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man – they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Jack Kerouac describes his rituals and superstitions in 1968:

I had a ritual once of lighting a candle and writing by its light and blowing it out when I was done for the night … also kneeling and praying before starting (I got that from a French movie about George Frideric Handel) … but now I simply hate to write. My superstition? I’m beginning to suspect the full moon. Also I’m hung up on the number nine though I’m told a Piscean like myself should stick to number seven; but I try to do nine touchdowns a day, that is, I stand on my head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with my toe tips, while balanced. This is incidentally more than yoga, it’s an athletic feat, I mean imagine calling me ‘unbalanced’ after that. Frankly I do feel that my mind is going. So another ‘ritual’ as you call it, is to pray to Jesus to preserve my sanity and my energy so I can help my family: that being my paralyzed mother, and my wife, and the ever-present kitties. Okay?

Susan Sontag resolves in her diary in 1977, adding to her collected wisdom on writing:

Starting tomorrow – if not today:

I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)

I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.)

I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)

I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.

I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much – as an escape from writing.)

I will answer letters once a week. (Friday? – I have to go to the hospital anyway.)

Then, in a Paris Review interview nearly two decades later, she details her routine:

I write with a felt-tip pen, or sometimes a pencil, on yellow or white legal pads, that fetish of American writers. I like the slowness of writing by hand. Then I type it up and scrawl all over that. And keep on retyping it, each time making corrections both by hand and directly on the typewriter, until I don’t see how to make it any better. Up to five years ago, that was it. Since then there is a computer in my life. After the second or third draft it goes into the computer, so I don’t retype the whole manuscript anymore, but continue to revise by hand on a succession of hard-copy drafts from the computer.


I write in spurts. I write when I have to because the pressure builds up and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really under way, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little. It’s a very undisciplined way of working and makes me not very prolific. But I’m too interested in many other things.

In 1932, under a section titled Daily RoutineHenry Miller footnotes his 11 commandments of writing with this wonderful blueprint for productivity, inspiration, and mental health:


If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.If in fine fettle, write.


Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.


See friends. Read in cafés.

Explore unfamiliar sections – on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

In this 1965 interviewSimone de Beauvoir contributes to dispelling the “tortured-genius” myth of writing:

I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.


If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.

Don DeLillo tells The Paris Review in 1993:

I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle – it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent – you don’t know it’s passing. No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes – I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet. A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. Looking out the window, reading random entries in the dictionary. To break the spell I look at a photograph of Borges, a great picture sent to me by the Irish writer Colm Tóín. The face of Borges against a dark background – Borges fierce, blind, his nostrils gaping, his skin stretched taut, his mouth amazingly vivid; his mouth looks painted; he’s like a shaman painted for visions, and the whole face has a kind of steely rapture. I’ve read Borges of course, although not nearly all of it, and I don’t know anything about the way he worked – but the photograph shows us a writer who did not waste time at the window or anywhere else. So I’ve tried to make him my guide out of lethargy and drift, into the otherworld of magic, art, and divination.

Productivity maniac Benjamin Franklin had a formidably rigorous daily routine:

Haruki Murakami shares the mind-body connection noted by some of history’s famous creators:

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), 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.

William Gibson tells the Paris Review in 2011:

When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking. … As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.

Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.

Maya Angelou shares her day with the Paris Review in 1990:

I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop – I’m a serious cook – and pretend to be normal. I play sane – Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work. And to blue pencil it. When I finish maybe fifty pages and read them – fifty acceptable pages – it’s not too bad. I’ve had the same editor since 1967. Many times he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times over the years I have said to him things like: I will never speak to you again. Forever. Goodbye. That is it. Thank you very much. And I leave. Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions. I send him a telegram that says, OK, so you’re right. So what? Don’t ever mention this to me again. If you do, I will never speak to you again. About two years ago I was visiting him and his wife in the Hamptons. I was at the end of a dining room table with a sit-down dinner of about fourteen people. Way at the end I said to someone, I sent him telegrams over the years. From the other end of the table he said, And I’ve kept every one! Brute! But the editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important.

Anaïs Nin simply notes, in a 1941 parenthetical comment, in the third volume of her diaries:

I write my stories in the morning, my diary at night.

She then adds in the fifth volume, in 1948.

I write every day. … I do my best work in the morning.

For more wisdom from beloved authors, complement with Kurt Vonnegut’8 rules for a great storyJoy Williams on why writers writeDavid Ogilvy’10 no-bullshit tips,Henry Miller’11 commandmentsJack Kerouac’30 beliefs and techniquesJohn Steinbeck’6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’synthesized learnings.

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16 Responses to "The Daily Routines of Famous Writers"

  1. AKB Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Nice copy-paste stuff about writers of the West as if there was nothing original for the OP to post about the writers of Indo-Pak subcontinent such as Manto, Mohd Hussain Azaad, Munshi Prem Chand, Josh, Hafeez, Firaq Gorakhpuri,
    Tagore, Krishan Chadra, M,Aslam MA, Iqbal, Ghalib, etc etc ….it;s a long long list!!

    To start with I recollect the the daily routine of Diwan Singh Maftoon, editor of famous daily of his day, the Riyasat, India, and the autobiographer of Naqabil e faramosh. being that he took a bath daily at exactly 1 am in the night!!

    Another one is about Molvi Muhammad Hussain Azad, the great writer and translator of Urdu…he would take long walks daily. He lost his memory and lived without 27 years doing unaimed undirected long long walks! What a great loss was that to Urdu literature!


    Molvi Zakaullah use to write so much sitting against the wall that a pit has been created on the wall where his head rested!


    Iqbal’s dhoti and huqqa is well known to all…..and without which he might have not written what he has!!

  2. tajender United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    great akb i am with u.

  3. AKB Pakistan Opera Windows says:


  4. AKB Pakistan Opera Windows says:

    Raees Amrohvi, the Urdu poet and columnist, who lived at Nargis, Garden
    East Karachi, would sit in his lawn in the evenings and would
    meet anyone who came to see him withour demur. He was a Sehra writing
    machine and would do it for to be married grooms or brides FREE
    OF CHARGE and that too spontaneously ON HAND!!!


    Maulana Mahirula Qadri was a great Urdu poet who began his poetry
    from romantic form then suddently swithed over to serious pious
    poetry. Here is a sample of his verses I still remember…



    HIS daily routine was that after attending his small business
    (he was often seen on his Suzuki dabba) he would sit on his Takht posh
    (a bed kinda wooden platform) and delve over writing. He would
    not refuse going over the work of any new poet and would do it for Free
    and on time. It’s hard to find such selfless people now.


    Dar Kashmiri was a malang poet who would write poetry like
    Jalib or Zafar Ali Khan. I remember some of his verses but have lost his
    diwaan…which is not available now (but I am searching for it’s
    titles LO HO GAYA SAVERA!!) He was the dissident son of a renowned family of Gujranwala where Gujral was born who mutineed against
    his father who had turned Mirjai for the sake of money and other fringe benefits offered him by the Mirjai cult at that time. He knew Iqbal by heart as well kalam of other famous poets. His daily routine was
    that he would wake up at 5 am and go to a nearby park (jinnah park near ex Jubilee cinema karachi) and give tuition to his students gathered there. Once I went to see him at his house and was shocked to find
    him sleeping on the bare dining table! He sensed my awe and said it was his daily routine to hit the sack that way!! amazing!!
    Some gems of his..

    baywaqoofi he hukumat se baghawat karna
    jaisi ik sher se bakri ka adawat karna
    dosto tum na kabhi aisee himaqat karna


    HE WAS SAVED BY BHOLO BROS FOR HIS ABOVe ‘truth’ about political leaders…

    though he is not famous but bold and outspoken people are rarely
    seen nowadays. He was ofcourse a Kashmiri…once I asked him what his name meant? GAllows or what?/ To which he replied his name was
    Mahmood Ahmad Dar aka DAR ….or phansi!!



  5. tajender United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:



  6. AKB Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    thank, tajender. I liked the verse quoted by it yours??


    ARZ HE……

  7. AKB Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    thankS, tajender.
    I liked the verse quoted by you..
    is it yours??


    ARZ HE……

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S,fringe,THA,squander,also,MANZOOR,Stratfor,head,most,energy,HE,Uddari,take,Angelou,stick,Pure,hes,taken,glad,DeLillo,MS,birds,sketch,preserve,NASHAY,hurry,drift,Steinbeck,hunt,if,park,close,mean,titledDaily,comment,And,asleep,following,EVENINGS,reading,Naqabil,HTML,best,interlude,pit,AKB,in,East,ritual,Foreign,end,pay,own,famous,creates,remember,He,Franklin,need,clear,She,na,cents,QASOOR,March,SE,Differ,John,perhaps,while,DUHAEEE,right,enter,Mahirula,among,makes,painted,diversions,Content,bedrooms,Guardian,gt,Powered,YOUR,dad,About,half,pm,Rights,blue,section,feel,swim,Naps,withKurt,finds,everything,cares,deadpan,Notes,UCLA,huqqa,man,Khan,news,often,fettle,Green,same,ablution,Way,pen,SAVERA,book,Lahore,routine,always,hand,where,can,Amrohvi,FAVOR,Gorakhpuri,general,Pardes,with,nap,leave,wrote,feat,etc,then,redoing,or,Gujral,Didion,Colm,Gibson,Zakaullah,sensed,com,these,pick,Beauvoir,Library,Waste,YAANI,kinda,near,Sehra,play,kept,rapture,AS,earnest,rituals,to,bold,ZABAINE,sections,give,MEIN,Henry,formidably,demur,museums,ex,defies,havent,an,the,Sacramento,thread,aka,paste,sound,datetime,pored,normal,Murakami,lunch,daily,Flash,OF,bakri,tell,anybody,slowness,today,As,wisdom,fierce,else,Chand,inserted,passageway,has,playfully,See,echoing,able,light,candle,Williams,lt,Explore,memory,recollect,Baithak,FREE,manuscript,KA,vivid,Road,clumsy,variation,cigarettes,titles,In,synthesized,KUCH,process,chemically,moon,anyway,well,alone,details,hung,blind,http,HUAY,drive,Josh,lose,Internet,Blogs,bit,Hamptons,MILLAT,YE,something,amazingly,Up,TAY,Blog,GHUROOR,bed,fairly,do,despite,kalam,speak,suggestions,Okay,shows,stretched,AAPOAN,suspect,typewriter,heart,Jesus,mental,Riyasat,karna,days,food,NetworkedBlogs,SUROOR,Stray,No,Productivity,Kashmiri,mesmerize,Informed,forget,house,Plans,ordinary,SHED,December,think,JAAM,ten,open,MY,Frankly,editor,father,Routine,BADAL,annoyed,Top,they,so,check,THIS,off,nostrils,Mind,under,word,her,Notebook,spend,semicolon,MAAN,weeks,slightest,akb,Windmills,BAN,telegrams,Rupee,Dar,its,PTH,lost,undirected,Downtime,type,cheerful,have,want,Tchaikovsky,second,delve,fantastic,On,Institute,blockquote,wall,Ghalib,send,drizzle,routines,km,Then,dont,said,home,prolific,dry,rarely,told,timeless,STAGE,Fine,until,Starting,window,Sontag,for,who,minutes,directly,happening,amp,body,felt,cite,Model,avid,lives,slipper,things,notes,little,fifty,ablutions,afternoon,phone,refuse,requires,Muhammad,them,Sabizak,babri,protective,Nice,Jubilee,he,legal,been,incidentally,every,Suzuki,us,appear,Qadri,looks,schedules,Later,Kashmir,made,without,VAY,Target,candles,Website,period,succession,done,karachi,MIND,skin,running,Reflections,Its,Things,story,since,references,than,buy,KO,tags,MERA,News,secure,American,authors,transparent,May,Analytica,came,solitude,difficulty,consequence,work,noise,composition,HUSNE,Im,attentiveness,brother,moved,cult,beginning,WAADAY,Gujranwala,WORDS,MA,dhoti,through,may,acronym,selfless,NA,articulated,WOH,BY,eat,bored,went,face,important,drink,My,Ill,em,post,Karachi,connection,movie,Development,Another,JO,Tech,Paris,confine,scrupulously,magic,Hussain,sit,Straus,Enjoy,pads,KHAANDA,Jalib,only,CHOOR,spectator,pray,thing,proponent,Work,absolutely,waking,Blogroll,stopped,Firaq,dark,going,quiet,Theres,When,beliefs,MINISTER,mail,WILL,becomes,room,QURAN,Review,good,benefits,shop,Roger,on,lethargy,Studies,BBC,Paindabad,Garden,altered,what,diary,low,productivity,diwaan,anyone,Tn,music,brides,groggy,morning,Benjamin,name,found,Aryana,pencil,POST,Paint,world,ofcourse,Katana,starting,late,French,This,him,interested,all,Ahmad,ll,gave,pious,CyrilalMeida,Chadra,David,democracy,GStech,Articles,Raees,back,mow,Cartoon,FOR,superstition,anymore,Ke,joy,sleeping,swithed,sitting,learnings,find,TU,wife,midday,subcontinent,shadowed,HEY,visiting,libraries,working,February,talking,Pilates,imagine,about,Krishan,finish,wet,Player,PRAISE,Name,del,Azaad,family,Many,shake,columnist,But,Centre,telegram,sanity,GAYA,wonderful,responsibility,unfamiliar,how,APPRECIATE,version,If,BHI,leaders,Ream,Dont,October,Topics,grooms,Filed,hour,wooden,around,tips,George,Read,TARAH,trains,GHIRAY,GAllows,cruelest,spell,dislike,DAUR,got,Aslam,no,MAHBOOB,places,India,making,visions,myself,draft,paralyzed,dissident,withour,though,snack,SEEKHO,thank,me,call,Trunk,Allow,exactly,Zawahiri,Los,created,praying,Al,space,clock,Maya,YAROON,tum,household,Cut,order,break,Forever,KEE,Global,seen,go,poetry,small,Note,Milli,measures,taut,Free] SOURCE: [...]

  9. tajender United Arab Emirates Internet Explorer Windows says:

    akb very good this is not my sher.this was written by some urdu poet of delhi during 1857 gadr.i forgot the name of poem.but ur correction is great.again thanks.

  10. kaalabhartibhai India Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Enormously interesting! I agree with AKB and Tajender that we should know about our writers as well. But it ia also true that these western guys are very articulate about themselves

  11. AKB Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ tajender
    Thanks, tajender.
    Jane Austin always carried her type writer with her and would type out on it even during traveling. She wrote long long sentences which often bored me reading her Pride & Prejudice during school days!

  12. AKB Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ kaalabhartibhai

    thanks for appreciation. There were many great Indian writers and they ought to have been included in this specially topicked anthology. Some were very articulate such as Josh Maleehabadi ( In his autobiography Yadoan kee Baraat) while others were not so yet their character could be understood from their works.

    Sahir Ludhyanvi, Firaq gorakhpuri, Prem Chand, Shakeel baduini, etc are some of my fav poets…..apart from the classic poets such as Nazir Akberabadi, Fani, Ghalib, Mir, Dard, etc etc.
    will someone shed light on their daily routines??

  13. a,k.b Pakistan Opera Windows says:

    Back in the early 80′s I met Salman Rushdie’s father ( can’t remember his name) at an Property dealer’s office where he would come daily to sell his terry towel factory, namely Shah textile Mills, Karachi, for the last one year without success and later which I was interested to buy. Rushdie’s father was an old man in very poor condition and very upset. After I struck the deal with him I came to know that his factory was shut and this and a 3000sq yds bungalow in Defense were jointly mortgaged with a bank. At that time I was not aware of Salman Rushdie but his father told me that he was a writer and in London bowed over his typewriter scribling something. He was not happy with his son who had abandoned him after having driven him into bankruptcy and utter misery to face in Paksitan. I was also told by his factory staff that Salman was a characterless guy who indulged in all kinds of lechery in his factory and that according to them it was due to this that calamity had befallen them.
    Well, the long and short of the story is that the deal was finally consummaated and my family took over his estate, leaving out his house out of pity. Thus he was emancipated from his sins or his father’s sin which made his visit the estate agent every day for more than one year.

    If Salman Rushdie reads this he should be ashamed of the pain and agony his Dehli walla father was made to suffer in his last days!
    I pray Salman suffer worse than his father and there is No AKB to come to his succour!!

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