We writers are a quirky lot with our habits, superstitions, and idiosyncrasies—whatever we believe it takes to get the attention of the muse or elicit inspiration. I have a friend who has a particular hat… another friend who insists on a certain pen… one who places a goofy little figure beside her computer while she writes and puts it away again when she’s done. And oh there are so many others.
In A Writer’s Book of Days, I noted some of the ways famous writers found their inspiration. I thought I’d print that list here, as a way of reassuring any who might consider herself a little odd when she dons a flea-bitten sweater or dusts her philodendron. Mind you, these tidbits are all based on research I found here and there; I didn’t make any of it up. But that’s not to say this is all factually true. Some may be the literary equivalent of urban legends.
This then, is the list, excerpted from A Writer’s Book of Days.
The poet Friedrich von Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk, open it, inhale deeply, and compose.
Tea was the stimulant for Dr. Johnson and W. H. Auden. Johnson was reported to have frequently consumed twenty-five cups at one sitting. Honore de Balzac drank fifty cups of coffee in a day.
Colette first picked fleas from her cat, then wrote. It’s told she had a dozen of them (cats, not fleas).
While writing The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal began the day by reading two or three pages of the French civil code.
Willa Cather read the Bible.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge indulged in two grains of opium before working.
Alexandre Dumas, the elder, wrote his nonfiction on rose-colored paper, his fiction on blue, and his poetry on yellow. Langston Hughes also used a different kind of paper for each project.
Rudyard Kipling insisted on the blackest ink available and fantasized about keeping “an ink-boy to grind me Indian ink.” (Note: I’ve had this same fantasy.)
Voltaire used his lover’s naked back as a writing desk.
It’s said that Edgar Allen Poe wrote with his cat on his shoulder, Charles Baudelaire kept a bat in a cage on his writing desk, and Henrik Ibsen kept a pet scorpion on his.
T.S. Eliot preferred writing when he had a head cold.
Paul West listened nonstop to a sonatina by Ferruccio Busoni as he wrote The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests, while Hart Crane wrote to Cuban rumbas, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, and torch songs.
Me: I’m a light-a-candle-read-a-poem-cup-of-coffee woman.
How do you let the Muse know you’re ready for a visit?