10 Eye-Opening Writing Rituals from Great Writers

The author should die once he has finished writing. So as not to trouble the path of the text. Umberto Eco

The truth is (social distancing or not), I am still a very disorganised author. How could I publish so many books? 🤨 I don’t know.  That’s why I’m diving in into some rituals of the greatest, in hope to learn a thing or two… or to find the answers. 

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro – 2 desks + 1 month

He keeps two desks: one with a computer not connected to the internet, the other with a writing slope. He produces a first draft in pen by hand on his writing slope, paying no attention at all to coherence or style. He writes the second draft on his computer (with a clearer idea of where the novel is heading). He rewrites individual passages a lot, but his third draft is the final one.

He is usually working four hours a day.

He finished a first draft of The Remains of the Day in four weeks. He did nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm – all day, every day, six days a week – 1 hour off for lunch and 2 hours off for dinner. No letters, no phone calls, no visitors. Well, it worked…

  1. Elizabeth George – self-discipline

She said in her book “Write away”: “If all you possess is talent and/or passion – you will not be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again. Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to sit down and write.”

Remember, writing is work.

She is writing five days a week, every week. She’s usually getting up around 6am – dogs, food, workout, mediation. 9am – reading ten or fifteen minutes. Then – journal entry about writing, day or novel. Five pages of manuscript done by 11am.

  1. Leo Tolstoy – sacrifice, an exceptional human being

He usually worked from 9am to 11am, then two-three hours in the afternoon.

He wrote in 1853, at age 25: “I have not met one man who is morally as good as I am, or ready to sacrifice everything for his ideals, as I am.”

His rules for life, helpful for writing as well:

  • Wake up at five o’clock
  • Go to bed no later than ten o’clock
  • Two hours permissible for sleeping during the day
  • Eat moderately
  • Walk for an hour every day
  • Disregard all public opinion not based on reason
  • Only do one thing at a time
  • Never to show emotion
  • Keep away from women
  • Suppress lust by working hard
  • Help those less fortunate

Keep away from women? Ah, listen the wise advice of the father of 14 children…

I’m going to recommend the book (discovered in the local library) – My confession, my religion, the Gospel in brief.

The book is some kind of diary of Leo Tolstoy (a count/graf). Most of his younger years he was feeling suicidal, but then he finally found God, in his own way… By finding God he found the purpose. The book is aimed at 40+. It is full of typos, missing texts, because it is scanned by publisher without any manual proofreading. 

  1. Patricia Highsmith – make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible

In her own words, she had ideas like rats have orgasms… She wrote daily – max 2000 words. Usually sitting on her bed, surrounded by cigarettes, coffee and doughnuts.

She also bred snails at home (300 or so)… and once arrived at a cocktail party carrying a gigantic handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a 100 snails – her companions for the evening.😜

!! Once she smuggled them across the border (6 or 10 hidden under each breast), but I wouldn’t advice to do that during the time of the covid-19. Or ever. 

  1. Anthony Trollope – no mercy; 250 words every quarter of an hour

He sat at his table every morning at 5:30 am. He was against sitting and nibbling his pen, gazing at the wall, founding words. He worked only three hours, with his watch before him, requiring 250 words every quarter of an hour.

10 pages of an ordinary novel volume a day. 10 months = 3 novels.

Damn! I wanna be this man!

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald – one or three jumps

What does it mean? The three-jump story should be done in three days. Then a day to revise and off it goes. Easy!

Novels are trickier, of course, but gin helps… He preferred straight gin – it worked fast and was difficult to detect on one’s breath. Fitzgerald generally rose 11am, tried to start writing at 5pm, working until 3:30 in the morning. He could manage 7-8k words each time.

I don’t know if this ritual is something to consider… but I have to agree that a short story can be written in one or three jumps.

  1. Arthur Miller and Umberto Eco – I wish I had a routine for writing!

Works for the most of us. We hope that something sticks and at the end we’ll get the result we desire – a novel.

Umberto Eco (published first novel when he was 48 yo) – claims that he follows no set routine. He can write in the train, waiting for the elevator, while swimming, in the bathtub… or while the phone is ringing.

  1. Marcel Proust – devoting the life

To give his full attention to the work, Proust made a conscious decision to withdraw from society, spending almost all his time in the bedroom.

Social distancing at its finest…

Upon waking in the late afternoon – typically 3-4pm – Proust first lit a batch of the opium-based Legras powders that he used to relieve his chronic asthma. “After ten pages I am shattered,” Proust wrote. In general, his every day was the same. As well as the food: coffee and two croissants.

1,5 million words. Applause!

  1. William Gass – write when you are angry

Rise early and get angry. Wouldn’t be that hard… He usually went out and photographed for a couple of hours – filth and decay mostly. Then he got back to write.

It took him twenty-five years to complete The Tunnel (a novel). He said he had to be mad to be working well: “when my work is going well, I’m usually sort of sick.”

  1. Nabokov – flash cards

He composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in a long boxes. Then he pictured an entire novel in his mind… and began writing it. This method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased, by shifting the cards around.

He worked in 2 parts:
1 – after breakfast until 1pm (lunch)
2 – from 2pm to 6:30pm
Bed around 9pm.
Reading – until 11pm

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. W. H. Auden

Recommendation: Daily Rituals. How Artists Work by Mason Currey (the book about daily rituals of the greatest people of XIX-XX century).

P. S. I’m alive and fine. We don’t have any kind of lockdown/quarantine in Sweden, but my routine right now is = minimum shopping + max movies, books, dogs and COOKIES😋. Stay safe! 


Next post – My heroes ‘Sophia von X’ 

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53 Responses

  1. Victoria, this is a great post. Thank you for sharing. I am write there with Umberto Eco (not when it comes to fame loll). I hope you are doing well and all your projects are coming to fruition.
    xoxo

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thanks a lot! Sorry I was absent but I’ll go around and check posts as always… and I’m fine 💪, simply bcz I’m avoiding people, small shops etc = doing all recommendations from WHO… and I understand completely 😅✌️ about Umberto. I’m also “there” – at least in the writing process.
      Stay safe too! 💝

  2. theresaly520 says:

    Fascinating rituals! Judging from such variety shared, whatever floats your boat it seems! Thanks for sharing! I’m currently in an odd sort of writing block. This is helpful

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you;) and yes, I guess whatever works 🙂 I’m personally 50% of the time in block* mode & 50% – in the writing world. It feels okay 😅😅
      So I’m sure it will be fine in your case as well … maybe you should do something else… until you’ll get back writing itch*. I’m usually switching between different activities (seems helps)

  3. Jina Bazzar says:

    I like 3 and 4. I also agree with 9 – emotions make you a better writer. But I think each person has to find a rhythm that works for them. For me, I write without regard for grammar, typo, or even sense – I think #1 mentioned that? Then I re-draft, and re-draft, and re-draft, rinse, repeat, until it’s as polished as I can make it. Sometimes the first draft takes me between 6 to 8 weeks, sometimes more. But I never consider writing a chore. the moment I do is the moment I lose the pleasure. So no, writing is never work. But again, each individual needs their own unique rhythm.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      A very interesting ‘take’… thank you for sharing 🙂 the most wonderful part – it’s never the work but pleasure.

      I think I’d add “fun” from my side. It should be fun, otherwise I don’t want to write or spend my time on the boring activity (that’s why I don’t like revising and editing, but it’s very important part of the writing process… so I’m often just pushing myself to do it).

      Kinda => I hate it but I’m doing it anyway.

      I noticed also that I can write when I’m angry 🙂 but only short stories/texts. Long text = novel… requires determination and patience. Short-time emotions doesn’t work (in my case).

      6-8 weeks – great time for draft #1!!
      Your answer is quite inspiring… I think should help many ppl & even me – to push me forward, to finish my book – cuz I’m soooo lazy right now… 🤪

      Btw, I finished your book 🙂 I’ll post review tomorrow 👋✌️

      Good luck with the book & stay safe!

      • Jina Bazzar says:

        Sorry for the late response! I’m actually miffed about all these “extra time” everyone seems to have gained with this pandemic. The drafting is the fun part. You endure the editing for the feeling of accomplishment you get afterward 😉
        I loved your review. I shared it with my fb friends!

      • Victoria Ray NB says:

        Glad u liked it! Your writing skills (or editing) are amazing! The book deserves to be mentioned & wish you many readers!
        I don’t see much “extra time”… & honestly want to get out & just walk everywhere without fear again…

  4. alexraphael says:

    So glad you are well. Love this post. Which of the 10 is most like your style?

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Hope you are well too. Stay safe! 👋☀️

      Well… I have a routine only when I’m 101% fed up with whatever I’m doing. By “doing” I mean:

      A) cooking food
      B) movies
      C) books
      D) exercising

      Damn cleaning I have to do allll the time! Especially now 😅😅

      To make it simple: I’m jumping between “different” routines 🙂 it works so far

      • alexraphael says:

        Do you snack/drink when you write?

      • Victoria Ray NB says:

        No. I don’t drink. I don’t eat. I need absolute silence too. Means – I can’t talk. I hate when ppl disturbing me when I’m writing. I’m loosing my vibe… the mood of the story 🙂

        Im never writing in cafe bcz of the noisy environment.
        I can write very late…but not so often now. Too old lol
        In general I can produce 3k clean text in a day. By clean I mean – I still need proofreading:) but I usually do not changing anything

      • Victoria Ray NB says:

        I can take a break tho… for example: 1 hr writing (or 2 hrs) – then break + tea & snacks 😂😂

        But I can’t eat & write in the same time… I’m very focused when “creating”

      • alexraphael says:

        You should write more posts about your habits. So fun reading about it

      • Victoria Ray NB says:

        Haha ok 😉

  5. librepaley says:

    Yay, you’re back. These are great. I envy Ishiguro and identity (in terms of lacking routine!) with Eco and Miller. I wonder how many women write around childcare and domesticity, even today. I recall reading Sylvia Plath rising before 5 to be able to write before her children woke up. I notice Zadie Smith emphasises the need for time and space in her ten rules https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/19/zadie-smith-10-rules-of-writing/

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I think women-writers with kids are the real heroes 🦸‍♀️! I don’t have any kids and it’s so damn difficult to find a minute to write – I just don’t understand HOW they are doing it 🧐🤨

      I’ll check the article, thank you for sharing 🙂 ✌️
      And hope you & your fam is ok. Stay safe ☀️☀️

  6. So nice to hear your are well. This was excellent. Makes my routine look almot sane. Thak care and stay well.

  7. Ten months three novels. This is unheard of. I would love to bust them out that easily.

    How are you VR

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      😂 ah yes… I’d love to be that guy with 3 novels :)) in 10 months sigh

      I’m ok. Lazy. Eating. Movies. Books… washing hands & surfaces like a madman 😅😅… alive 🙂

      Hope you are well! Take care of you! This year is crazy… who knew…

      • Sounds a lot like my current lifestyle. I even sanitize the keyboard and I am the only one using it.

        After this year we will all have 2020 vision.
        We will apprciate the things we have.

      • Victoria Ray NB says:

        Yes, true.

        And same here. Scrubbing 🧽 is my daily routine now 🙂 even if no one else had touched it 😅😅

  8. Excellent post, Victoria. Good to know you are fine. Well, poetry writing doesn’t require that much of discipline. I write like Umberto Eco…anytime and anywhere!

  9. Sorryless says:

    250 words every 15 minutes is lofty. Sometimes the tap is dry, yanno?

    I do like the idea of writing when you’re angry. Very therapeutic and the results can result in some primo stuff, not to mention . . even if I wouldn’t give up my therapist.

    Good to see you RNB.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I can’t even dream about 250 in 15 minutes… mmmm, maybe only if I’m very angry :))

      Yes, I guess it’s therapeutic, but it doesn’t last for long so the final text is kinda “short” :))

      And thank you. Stay safe too!

      • Sorryless says:

        I know right?

        LOL! Short and maybe not so sweet? But hells . . it’s gonna be worth reading. My opinion.

        Peace to you sistah.

  10. Mireya says:

    Wow what an awesome list! I see where I need to focus on.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you 🙂 yes… maybe we should try and mix all the rituals a bit – something should work for sure 🙂

  11. Eilene Lyon says:

    Nice to see you! I love how you dig up these writer routines and advice. I’ll skip the snails and cigarettes! I cannot find a routine for writing. When I feel it, I do it. Guess that’s why I don’t have any published books!😆

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you! Coming over next week, starting from Monday… 😀

      I’d skip the snails 🐌 but I love them 🙂
      Understand about writing routines… don’t have them either. I think publishing is about taking time to revise (boring part) + lots of administrative BS! Especially if indie.

  12. aarzoorose says:

    Wonderful collection of rituals!! Though I am sure many of us will pick what suits us the best. But then it is always good to learn from such great minds! Loved your little opinions and book suggestions in between.
    And well because of lockdown in India, my routine is also somewhat books, movies, cooking and blogs😃
    Stay safe and keep inspiring all of us Victoria👍🏼

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you 😊 yes, learning is fun and also useful (I hope)…
      We don’t have lockdown but I’m at home anyway – shifting between cooking & movies 🙂

      I feel I’m so fed up with movies… hm, I might be starting writing/blogging again 🙂

      Great u r back! I’ll check your posts Monday 🙂

  13. Anonymous says:

    I need a desk with a slope now… and some cookies.
    What a great post. I’ve been wondering where u are. Stay safe.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I think I’ll cookies while you are busy installing that desk with a slope 👀😂

  14. Great post! Maybe if I started carrying snails around in my…never mind, I like things the way they are!

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you!! 🙂
      Who knows, maybe “snails” are very motivating when hiding around or under…

  15. I really enjoyed reading this post, love your humor! It’s so interesting how the writer’s have different routines & how discipline helps a lot. Hadn’t heard of the snails story & I appreciate the write when you’re angry advice lol. I’m going to check out the book My confession, my religion, the Gospel in brief. Thank you for the rec 🙂

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I’m not sure it is the book 😂 but I found it in the library so I guess it is 🤨

      Glad you enjoyed to read about different rituals/routines. Angry works for me… but most important- to read later + revise/edit 🙂

  16. Kitty Jade says:

    This is such a great post! Thank you for sharing.

  17. Whatever your approach it’s certainly delivering wonderful work. I remember an author (forget who) who said they locked themselves away from family and friends in a cabin in the wilds. He hated nature. But after a day or so he got so angry that the words just flowed.
    Stay safe, I understand Sweden is sticking to its own strategy.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Yeah, here’s freedom just like before. Lots of recommendations* but no restrictions.

      Agreed, whatever works 🙂 for me personally- nothing works until I’m absolutely fed up with movies or books 🙂 then I’m starting writing 😂

  18. kinkyacres says:

    So nice too see you back! Great suggestions, the folks that follow you are extremely lucky! Don’t write, can barely read and feel Mark Twain could be a dear friend!

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      you are such a liar, Kinky 🙂 sweeeettt… can barely read? haha ok

  19. Jerry Laiche says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Now that I am blissfully 😃 retired, ritual and routine have become even more important. (retired = still cooking, cleaning, tending the garden, doing the groceries, binge watching TV, writing, editing. I just don’t have to be anywhere at any given time) Anyway, without the self imposed rituals and routines, I would never get anything – especially writing -done. As always thanks for your on going inspiration, and your wonderful stories.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      thank you 🙂 yeah the rituals of the greatest minds are such fun read… let’s hope its all true 🙂

      Your routine is kinda calming… if we could escape ‘cleaning’ (most boring part). but who can now?

  20. Glad to read that you guys are doing good. Cheers!

  21. Great post, Ray. Very inspiring. I try to write every morning before I go to work. I get up by 615. btw; After a year off, I’ve started writing short essays on films.

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