And You Thought Your Writing Ritual Was Odd…

This one of the eclectic daily doses of nonfiction from delancyplace.com.

“Dame Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day’s writing. When I mentioned this macabre bit of gossip to a poet friend, he said acidly, ‘If only someone had thought to shut it.’ …

“Sitwell’s coffin trick may sound like a prank, unless you look at how other writers have gone about courting their muses. … For example, the poet Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk and inhale their pungent bouquet when he needed to find the right word. Then he would close the drawer, but the fragrance remained in his head. …

“Amy Lowell, like George Sand, liked to smoke cigars while writing, and went so far in 1915 as to buy 10,000 of her favorite Manila stogies to make sure she could keep her creative fires kindled. … Balzac drank more than 50 cups of coffee a day, and actually died from caffeine poisoning, although colossal amounts of caffeine don’t seem to have bothered W. H. Auden or Dr. Johnson, who was reported to have drunk 25 cups of tea at one sitting. Victor Hugo, Benjamin Franklin and many others felt that they did their best work if they wrote while they were nude. …

“Colette used to begin her day’s writing by first picking fleas from her cat, and it’s not hard to imagine how the methodical stroking and probing into fur might have focused such a voluptuary’s mind. After all, this was a woman who could never travel light, but insisted on taking a hamper of such essentials as chocolate, cheese, meats, flowers and a baguette whenever she made even brief sorties. …

“Alfred de Musset, George Sand’s lover, confided that it piqued him when she went directly from lovemaking to her writing desk, as she often did. But surely that was not so direct as Voltaire’s actually using his lover’s naked back as a writing desk. Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain and Truman Capote all used to lie down when they wrote, with Capote going so far as to declare himself ‘a completely horizontal writer.’ …

“Benjamin Franklin, Edmond Rostand and others wrote while soaking in a bathtub. In fact, Franklin brought the first bathtub to the United States in the 1780’s, and he loved a good, long, thoughtful submersion. In water and ideas, I mean. …

“The Romantics, of course, were fond of opium, and Coleridge freely admitted to indulging in two grains of it before working. The list of writers triggered to inspirational highs by alcohol would occupy a small, damp book. T. S. Eliot’s tonic was viral – he preferred writing when he had a head cold. The rustling of his head, as if full of petticoats, shattered the usual logical links between things and allowed his mind to roam.”

Diane Ackerman, “O Muse! You Do Make Things Difficult!” The New York Times, Sunday, November 12, 1989, Section 7, Page 1.



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One Response

  1. […] George Sand got down to business.: Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, who wrote under the pen name of George Sand, participated in a nearly two-year affair with fellow literati member Alfred de Musset. Apparently, their sexual escapades charged her up to the point she'd move straight from bed to desk after finishing a session. de Musset himself found this boundless energy highly impressive. […]

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