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What it takes to get writers writing

May 17, 2012 |  4:31 pm

Hannah Tinti

Tea, email, walking, nail polish -- all are some of the pre-writing habits of writers trying to get started writing. At least, that's what Courtney Maum has uncovered at the Tin House blog. In some cases, it takes a ritual to be ready to write; in the case of Hannah Tinti, above, that ritual has come to include photographs.

In a two-part series titled Super Sad True Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Maum spoke to Gary Shteyngart -- only fair, after borrowing his title -- Jim Shepherd, Elissa Schappell, Steve Almond, Nick Flynn, Simon Winchester, Ben Percy, Eileen Myles, Darin Strauss, and Lynn Tillman. Overall, their answers show that authors can be superstitious and also wedded to routine, and can get pretty funny about their (real or imagined) procrastination techniques.

As cute and quirky as the Super Sad True Habits are, they aren't quite as bracing as the list that Flavorpill came up with last summer. They loved the collection so much that they brought it back on Christmas Day; maybe you saw it. If so, you probably remember John Cheever saying that he wrote in his underwear. Others they discovered:

Truman Capote liked to write prone, with coffee or sherry
T.S. Eliot wrote with green powder on his face, appearing cadaverous to visitors
Eudora Welty pinned pages of her works-in-progress together like a quilt
Tom Wolfe writes 1,800 words a day, no matter how long it takes
Vladimir Nabakov needed his pencils sharpened just so

Sometimes one writer's habits can fill another. If only Nabakov had met David Rees, author of "How to Sharpen Pencils."


For the person who has everything: Artisanal pencil sharpening

Festival of Books: Jerry Stahl and others on the book-to-screen trick

Two fiction contests, fast and slow

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Hannah Tinti in 2003. Credit: Debbie Zeolla