Capote would supposedly write supine, with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another. In a 1957 Paris Review interview with Pati Hill, Capote explains: “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”
In a 1978 Newsweek essay, Cheever writes, “To publish a definitive collection of short stories in one’s late 60s seems to me, as an American writer, a traditional and a dignified occasion, eclipsed in no way by the fact that a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.” Since the author of The Wapshot Chronicle had but one suit at the time, why rumple and wrinkle it when you can do the same thing in your skivvies? It’s sound reasoning from an impassioned man who was once known as the “Chekov of the suburbs.”
Hemingway famously said he wrote 500 words a day, mostly in the mornings, to avoid the heat. Though a prolific writer, he also knew when to stop. In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934, he wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
Faulkner drank a lot of whiskey when he was writing. It all started when he met Sherwood Anderson when they were both living in New Orleans (Faulkner was working for a bootlegger). In a 1957 Q&A, Faulkner explains their relationship: “We’d meet in the evenings, and we’d go to a drinking place and we’d sit around till one or two o’clock drinking, and still me listening and him talking. Then in the morning he would be in seclusion working, and the next time I’d see him, the same thing, we would spend the afternoon and evening together, the next morning he’d be working. And I thought then, if that was the life it took to be a writer, that was the life for me.”
Lyndall Gordon writes in T.S. Eliot: A Modern Life that in the early 1920s, the author answered to “Captain Eliot” in his hideaway above Chatto & Windus, a publishing house on St Martin’s Lane; however, at another hideaway on Charing Cross Road, visitors were asked to inquire at the porter’s lodge for a man known only as “The Captain.” Upstairs, Eliot’s face was “tinted green with powder to look cadaverous.” What can we say? The man was an eccentric genius for good reason.
In The Habit of Being, St. Flannery explains, “I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.” Since she had lupus, any activity was incredibly taxing for her during the end of her life, so she sat facing the blank surface of her wood dresser, which provided no distractions.
Index cards — the man loved them. Most of his novels were written on handy 3 x 5 inch cards, which would be paper-clipped and stored in slim boxes. In a 1967 Paris Review interview with Herbert Gold, Nabokov says, “My schedule is flexible, but I am rather particular about my instruments: lined Bristol cards and well sharpened, not too hard, pencils capped with erasers.”