How do the Best Stay Productive? The Habits of 6 Bestselling Authors
“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up in the morning and see the light.” Miles Davis
Being creative, focusing, and even just getting started on work is hard. But, if you want to produce, then you have to put in the work. Sometimes that very first step, the motion that gets us into first gear, that gets the brain neurons firing, that very first decision to act...it can make all the difference in the world in getting the work done. We love picking apart the routines of others and applying what we can to our own lives. We also love books and writers. So -- these are some of the most prolific writers of the English language to supply you with some daily routine inspiration:
As perhaps one of the most important poets, memoirists, and civil rights activists, (and even singer!) Maya Angelou kept to a schedule when writing. In her 1983 interview with Claudia Tate, Angelou specifically detailed her routine.
5:30 a.m. - Wakes up
6:00 a.m. - Drinks coffee with her husband
6:30 a.m. - She could never work in her own home, so she would head off to a tiny hotel room
7:00 a.m. - Write write write
2:30 p.m. - Returns home and reads over what she wrote that day
4:30 p.m. - Showers and prepares dinner with her husband
7:30 p.m. & on - Often she reads aloud her work to her husband in the evening, but never invites comments from anyone other than her editor. Still, she finds that hearing her own work aloud is helpful.
Jodi Picoult has written 23 books and has sold millions of copies of her acclaimed work. For a decade now she has woken up at 5:00 a.m. and gone on a three mile walk with her friend. When she returns, Picoult gets her kids ready and then goes up to her home office to answer fan mail for about an hour. Then she writes and edits until 3:30 p.m. when her kids come back home from school and she returns to being a mother. She describes her ability to focus in those few hours away from her kids comes from necessity. “Writer’s block is a luxury for people who have time on their hands” Picoult says. Writer's block doesn’t affect her because she simply doesn’t have time for it.
Jane Austen, author of some of your favorites including Pride and Prejudice, was the best kept secret in early 19th century England. She produced an enormous body of work and has gone down as one of the greatest novelist of all time despite originally publishing anonymously to avoid the negative societal pressure to marry and quit writing.
Because of this, Jane Austen had to keep to a strict schedule to maintain the “womanly” appearance society demanded. She lived in her family’s house and rose early before everyone were up to play the piano. Then at 9:00 she went about preparing the family’s breakfast, ate, and then sat in her personal room to write. She wrote on small pieces of paper that she could quickly hide away if a visitor unexpectedly arrived (which they often did). She wrote until dinner, which was served between 3:00 and 4:00, and then spent the evening with her family reading aloud her stories, playing card games, and drinking tea.
Anne Rice, the writer of dozens of books in the Christian fiction, vampire, and erotica genres (wow!), departs from the strict routines of others. In the book Daily Rituals, Mason Curry writes that her work day consists of not getting to work until after checking Facebook and reading the newspaper in the late morning. She drinks Diet Coke and works for at least three or four hour stretches. But, she maintains that in the past she has only worked at night and that every book she writes takes on its own routine. The most important thing to her is the ability to “clear all distraction.”
Donna Tartt is perhaps the most acclaimed writer publishing today. Her novels like The Secret History gained her a cult-like following, and recently The Goldfinch won her the Pulitzer Prize. She approaches her writing in a continual never-ending work stream. In an interview with the BBC, Tartt explains that wherever she is, she has a notebook to jot down ideas. She wrote much of The Goldfinch in the New York Public Library in the Allen Room. If she needs inspiration for a character, then she looks up and observes. If she is on a particularly productive streak, then she will write into the night until she is satisfied.
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates has amassed an influential and diverse body of work of over 40 novels and dozens of collections of poetry and essays. The New York Times wrote in 1989 that her name “is synonymous with productivity,” and it would seem so given her body of work. But, Oates never saw herself as productive. She would write from about 8:00 in the morning until 1:00 P.M. when she would eat lunch and break before returning to work from 4:00 P.M. until dinner at 7:00.
Despite all of this work Oates remarks that she usually only gets a single page out of each day’s work. She points out that people see her as productive because she is “measured against people who simply don’t work as hard or as long.” When you work that hard for one page a day, those pages begin adding up, and pretty soon you become one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century.