Write Drunk, Edit Sober | The Habits of 5 Great Writers

While it may or may not be in your best interest to follow Hemingway’s famous drinking and writing advice, there is something to be said for examining and emulating some of the habits of great artists. Even though successful creation often boils down to hard work and perseverance, hopefully a few of these tricks will help you get started.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

The beloved author, poet, and activist paid for a hotel room by the month and used that as the space where she did all of her writing. Each day from early morning until 2pm, she locked herself into the room with nothing but a dictionary, a thesaurus, and pen and paper. Setting aside a specific time and place with limited distractions cleared the space in Angelou’s mind and created an efficient environment for her work to develop.

Henry Miller


Miller’s all-or-nothing approach to his writing necessitated he completely finish whatever section of writing he was working on that day. He also strived to have continual and regular inspiration from outside resources – from museums, from exploration on foot or by bike, and from friends. Miller’s description from his personal journal:

Work Schedule 1932-1933


If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus. If in fine fettle, write.


Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No instrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.


See friends. Read in cafés. Explore unfamiliar sections – on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry. Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program. Paint if empty or tired. Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

Jack Kerouac


Kerouac harbored a fair amount of superstitious beliefs which carried over into his writing habits as well. He was known to kneel on his knees, say a prayer, then light a candle before beginning his work and only blowing it out once finished for the day. He also had an obsession with the numbers 7 and 9 and would often balance on his head and lower his toes until they touched the floor 7 or 9 times to break up his time while writing.


Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S

Rather than trying to explain Thompson’s very original creative approach, we’ve just copied his daily list as recorded in his journal.

3:00 p.m. rise
3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills
3:45 cocaine
3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill
4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill
4:15 cocaine
4:16 orange juice, Dunhill
4:30 cocaine
4:54 cocaine
5:05 cocaine
5:11 coffee, Dunhills
5:30 more ice in the Chivas
5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.
6:00 grass to take the edge off the day
7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch-Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jig­gers of Chivas)
9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously
10:00 drops acid
11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass
11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.
12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write
12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.
6:00 the hot tub-champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo
8:00 Halcyon
8:20 sleep

Stephen King


King’s approach focuses less on a specific checklist and more on the mindset and personal ritual needed for productive writing sessions. In his book “On Writing”, he extrapolates:

Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule – in at about the same time very day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk – exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual.

In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each  night – six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight – so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.

The space can be humble…and it really needs only one thing: A door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world that you mean business.


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