Every writer has his or her own routine. When I sit down to write anything, from a short reporting story to a 20-page research paper, I always sit in the same spot at the head of my dining room table with my pajamas and slippers on. I always have some sort of snack, usually something chocolatey. But, that’s not where my writing routine stops. I also can’t write without a jumbo glass of water with crushed ice. My dog is almost always at my side. So, in pursuit of an intriguing post, I asked myself, what do the most famous of authors do to prepare themselves to write?
Many writers are notorious for going straight to alcohol for inspiration—but do they have a favorite food? Or a favorite place? Can writers be inspired by specific foods and drinks? There’s nothing I like better than a great book and a delectable meal. So, are foods, drinks, and literature all connected?
In my research, I found tons of bar-books, filled with tidbits and recipes about writers and their favorite cocktails. However, some articles also included food preferences and other routines writers followed before sitting down to write.
After having dinner and going to sleep at 6 p.m., French author Honoré de Balzac woke up at 1 a.m. every morning to write. After writing for a while, he then took a short nap, and upon awaking would start writing again. It is said that in order to stick to this military schedule, Balzac drank cups upon cups of black coffee, sometimes up to fifty cups daily—it is rumored he sometimes even ate straight coffee grounds.
Stephen King, a more recent author, depends on cheesecake and beer to get his ideas flowing. King says that his sweet tooth has been passed down to his son, who eats crème brûlée for writing inspiration. King never goes to bars to drink because he says,“[bars are] full of assholes like me.” He drinks so much to write, that he claims to not remember writing his novel Cujo. One of King’s biggest fears is that sobriety will lead to the loss of his creativity.
Maya Angelou went to a hotel every day at 6:30 in the morning and checked into a room to write without any distractions, bringing only a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry.
Carson McCuller’s favorite indulgence while writing was a combination of hot tea and sherry, a drink she called “sonnie boy”. She often claimed that it was just tea in her thermos and drank it throughout the workday.
Cat’s Cradle author Kurt Vonnegut drinks a cheap scotch and water daily at exactly 5:30 pm in order to “numb [his] twanging intellect.”
Truman Capote refused to write using a typewriter. He only wrote by hand and with a cigar and beverage nearby. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy,” Capote said. “I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”
Daniel Handler, who writes under the name Lemony Snicket, only eats healthy food at his desk. He works in a distraction-free zone, with only a window as a decoration.
Joyce Carol Oates told The Paris Review that she will not eat a bite of anything until she’s finished her writing for the day. “Sometimes the writing goes so smoothly that I don’t take a break for many hours—and consequently have breakfast at two or three in the afternoon on good days,” she said.
According to his biographer, Hunter S. Thompson’s routine relied on cocaine and food while writing. He said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald preferred gin because he believed that gin was the only liquor people couldn’t smell on someone’s breath. He had a notoriously small tolerance and lived the drunken lifestyle that is so often associated with the roaring twenties. Apparently he and his wife, Zelda, were infamous pranksters, doing things like swimming in the fountain at the Plaza, going to parties in pajamas, and boiling their party guests’ watches in tomato soup.
How many writers, or people in general who don’t even know that they’re gifted writers, miss out on their untapped potential to write something powerful and influential? Sometimes we assume that people are born with great talents and blessed with the streak of genius it takes someone to produce a work of art that has the power to change people’s outlook on the world. How many of us have the capability to write something amazing but our ideas are stuck deep down inside, impossible to grasp and produce? What makes writers be able to dig out those ideas, embellish them and share them with anyone willing to read their work? From my own experience, no matter what I’m writing, it’s not until I go to my own writing spot and follow my own routine that I can fish deep down and really be creative and inventive with my thoughts and ideas. However, along with routine comes discipline; finding your routine takes trial-and-error. You’ve got to figure out what does and what does not draw out your creative drive, what routine you actually enjoy. Some of the most famous writers mentioned above have the most specific and personal of routines—maybe that’s the key to good writing.
— Emily Flippo