Famous books and Writers
How many people die with their best work still inside them?
We often assume that great things are done by those who were blessed with natural talent, genius, and skill. But how many great things could have been done by people who never fully realized their potential? I think many of us, myself included, are capable of much more than we typically produce — our best work is often still hiding inside of us.
How can you pull that potential out of yourself and share it with the world?
Perhaps the best way to develop better daily routines. When you look at the top performers in any field, you see something that goes much deeper than intelligence or skill. They possess an incredible willingness to do the work that needs to be done. They are masters of their daily routines.
As an example of what separates successful people from the rest of the pack, take a look at some of the daily routines of famous writers from past and present.
At the end of the article, I broke down some common themes that you can apply to your daily routines — regardless of your goals. To skip straight to those suggestions, click here.
E.B. White: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
In an interview with The Paris Review, E.B. White, the famous author of Charlotte’s Web, talked about his daily writing routine…
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.
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.
Haruki Murakami: “The repetition itself becomes the important thing.”
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.
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.
But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
Ernest Hemingway: “I write every morning.”
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.
When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
Henry Miller: “When you can’t create you can work.”
In 1932, the famous writer and painter, Henry Miller, created a work schedule that listed his “Commandments” for him to follow as part of his daily routine. This list was published in the book, Henry Miller on Writing (Kindle).
- Work on one thing at a time until finished.
- Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
- Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
- Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
- When you can’t create you can work.
- Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
- Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
- Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
- Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
- Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
- Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Kurt Vonnegut: “I do pushups and sit ups all the time.”
In 1965, Vonnegut wrote a letter to his wife Jane about his daily writing habits, which was published in the book: Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Kindle).