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Eccentric authors

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It takes a lot of imagination to pen a novel, and many authors spend most of their days stuck inside their own heads, creating their literary masterpieces (or even just their passable ‘dime novels’). When your job is to record your day dreams and fantasies, authors can be forgiven for some of their more…eccentric habits.

It starts back in Ancient Greece where, according to Plutarch, orator Demosthenes would shave half his head to force himself to stay inside and write. Too ashamed to leave the house with only half his hair, he would continue this for months even though he desperately wished to leave.

Flannery O’Connor, notable for the novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away was a woman after my own heart who was absolutely obsessed with poultry. Her childhood chicken was famous for being able to walk backwards, and she mail ordered a family of peacocks which later made an appearance in her works. She also had pheasants, ducks, turkeys, and quail which apparently provided her with a symphony while she wrote.

Colour coding was a popular pastime for many authors. Alexandre Dumas of The Count of Monte Cristo fame has specific coloured paper for his differing works – blue for fiction, yellow for poetry, and pink for his articles. It was said that Virginia Wolfe and Lewis Carroll preferred to write with purple ink, though Wolfe did so out of personal preference and Carroll because that’s what he used at university to correct his student’s papers.

Jack London who wrote Call of the Wild and White Fang has been quoted as saying that he religiously wrote one thousand words every single day of his career, though other reports state it was fifteen hundred words. Stephen King aims for two thousand words each day, but given his dislike of adverbs, using three sentences to describe something instead of simply adding the suffix ‘ly’ to the end of a single word would boost his word count considerably.

French novelist Honoré de Balzac allegedly maintained a grueling writing schedule, writing for up to fourteen hours a day. He would wake at 1 am and make use of the early morning hours before napping for an hour and a half around 8 am and then work through until 4 or 5 pm. He apparently was able to sustain this schedule due to the fact that he drank on average fifty cups of coffee per day but take that with a large grain of salt since his heart would likely have given out after a week of such a routine.

German poet, philosopher, and historian Friedrich Schiller would keep a drawer full of rotting apples in his writing den, claiming that the aroma led to inspired writing. In reality it was more likely that the methane gas produced by the rotting fruit led to the light headedness that he may have mistaken for creative inspiration.

Though these tales of peculiar authors are good for a laugh, it is always good to remember that often these tales came from the authors themselves. Telling an embellished story to friends about one of their quirks leads to even further embellishment upon retelling by said friends, and by the time these tales have made their way down the years to us now, well, who is to say what is true and what is not? As always, don’t believe everything you read and always be open to doing a little fact checking yourself.