Odd Type Writers

Celia Blue Johnson on writers' habits
Gertrude Stein
Celia Blue Johnson shares research she has conducted for her new book, Odd Type Writers:
Poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller was very particular about his writing process. He worked mostly at night and hung red curtains in his study so sunlight never illuminated the room. If he grew tired, Schiller would dip his feet in cold water so that he could stay awake and write. His most peculiar habit, however, involved fruit. He kept a drawer full of rotten apples in his study. The spoiled food created a stench that Schiller's friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe found repugnant. However, according to Schiller's wife, he "could not live or work without" the awful aroma.


Gertrude Stein found inspiration in the driver's seat of her Model T Ford. Stein would wait in the car while her partner, Alice B. Toklas, ran errands. She jotted down poetry and prose on scraps of paper while busy Parisian traffic zipped by. Stein owned two Fords in her lifetime: the first she dubbed Auntie after a relative who "behaved fairly well most of the time if she was properly flattered," and the second, which lacked any bells and whistles, was named Godiva, after the naked heroine.

As a young writer Virginia Woolf preferred to stand while she wrote. Her desk was three and a half feet tall. Quentin Bell, Woolf's nephew, concluded that the habit was spurred by sibling rivalry. Woolf's sister Vanessa was an artist who painted at an easel. Bell noted, "This led Virginia to feel that her own pursuit might appear less arduous than that of her sister unless she set matters on a footing of equality." Eventually Woolf transitioned from standing to sitting.

In his late twenties, James Joyce wore a white coat while he worked. He'd put it on, climb into bed, and compose his work with a blue pencil. His sister Eileen noted that the coat "gave a kind of white light" that helped him see the page. Joyce battled eye diseases throughout his life. As his sight worsened, the resourceful author magnified his entire creative process, writing intricate sentences with colored crayons on large pieces of cardboard. [Read More]

Those interested in writer routines and eccentricities might also be tempted by Mason Currey's fascinating collection, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

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