Writers’ Idiosyncrasies

Maybe we should train all editors to be psychologists.

Writers are quirky. They have idiosyncrasies that can amuse or annoy – or both. They have hard-to-break habits in how they approach their writing. Sometimes those writing “tics” make them more productive; sometimes they can get in the way of “getting black down on white.”

In chapter 5 of “Coaching Writers,” Clark and Fry say that good editors tolerate and even encourage writers’ (beneficial) idiosyncrasies.

As you get to know writers and their peculiarities, you can find ways to reinforce the good habits and perhaps redirect some of the bad. I, for example, cannot sit down at a computer and just start writing. I have to “write” first in my head — a lot. No doubt I look like a muttering, mumbling fool as I carry on a dialogue with myself in the grocery aisle, at the gas pump, at a red light. This “conversation” can go on for days (if I’m not on deadline). Only after I’ve talked to myself for a long while can I sit down and start writing.

Often, of course, particularly at a newspaper, time doesn’t permit this self-conversational luxury. Instead I’m forced to sit down and get black-on-white while the clock ticks. A blank screen paralyzes me. To overcome that, I just start typing: “This is going to be a story about the merchants who own small businesses like ethnic groceries or video stores or clothing stores in what most of us consider the ‘bad’ part of town. …” Of course, it’s not a lead. It’s just a beginning to get me over the hump. Usually, as I get into telling the story, a real lead will occur to me and I can go back and re-do the top.

But other writers I know simply cannot go on to the second graf until the lead is perfect. They will spend 90 percent of their time on the lead, and 10 percent on the rest of the story. That would never work for me: I would never write a second graf.

Writing quirks abound. I’ve seen writers who can’t write until:

  • they take a smoke break on the loading dock.
  • they take a walk around the block.
  • they have a teary meltdown in the bathroom.
  • they crack open a Diet Pepsi and tear into a bag of candy corn.
  • they arrange everything “just so” on their desk, perfectly aligned.
  • they banter and joke with nearby co-workers until minutes before deadline, then dash off a story in a frenzied torrent of typing.
  • they color code all their notes.
  • they are holed up someplace quiet, with no distractions.
  • they have rock music cranked on their iPod.
  • they have a certain pen tucked behind their ear.
  • they clear their throat three times.

I prefer to write only after I have placed a red pen, a blue pen and a pencil on a yellow legal pad to the right of my keyboard. I have no idea why. I also need coffee, water or Diet Pepsi within easy reach. And chapstick. Again, no idea why.

To an observer, these mannerisms don’t make sense and can even seem counter-productive. But to the writer, they establish routine and provide comfort. Part of being an editor (psychologist?) is indulging these peculiarities (to a point), knowing they are a necessary part of the creative process.

Maybe we are not unlike little kids who need their security blanket or teddy bear to help give them the confidence to take on the world.

What writing idiosyncrasies do you have? Are they productive or counter-productive? Have you seen amusing, endearing or annoying “tics” in other writers? What purpose do you think they serve?

Posted by Jill Van Wyke, Sept. 11, 2008

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89 responses to “Writers’ Idiosyncrasies

  1. I am a lead-first color-coder. I don’t start writing until I have a decent lead in mind and have highlighted my usable quotes and other valuable information in separate colors.

    When I get on a roll with a story, I stand up and take a break. I don’t know why I do this, since my natural inclination is to keep writing so I don’t forget what I want to say. But for some reason, as to avoid jinxing the moment or something, I stop writing and walk around aimlessly or stand and look at my story from a distance. Weird, I know.

    • Stop while you’re on a roll? I can’t imagine! My kids could be starving and the house burning down, and I still wouldn’t stop writing if I was on a roll.

    • I understand this concept. Whenever I’m on a roll, that’s about the time I take a smoke break to “cool my brain off.” With all the words rumbling around up there, I’d hate to start a fire on my keyboard. Typing 200 words a minute can be murder on a computer, especially when you like to pound the keys into obliteration. 🙂

  2. Wow, writing idiosyncrasies…

    A huge thing that I need to have in front of me is my laptop open, a word document looming in front of me, with the Internet running in the background with my three constantly up webpages (my email, my Facebook, and my Twitter). I also need to have some sort of background noise on, whether it be the TV, either on CNN, the local news or ESPN (don’t ask) or my iPod, blaring out soundtracks to whatever I’m in the mood for. And usually when I write, it’s always in chunks, with usually a blank line separating them until I find some sort of organization around them.

    If I’m somehow stuck in a rut (and not have a deadline looming), I will revert into either writing on the many numerous novel ideas I have, or be reading mystery novels online. I know, weird, huh?

    I think these tics are here for us (and different for everyone) because they are what makes us comfortable in any situation. Unfortunately, with some of mine, they do seem to take up a lot of time I can use for writing, but I find I write better when I’m rushed for time. But everyone is different, and that’s what makes us I think special in our own way.

    • I write better under deadline, too. Nothing like a looming deadline to crystallize your thinking.

    • Distractions like Facebook and Twitter scare me when I’m writing. I would never get anything done!

      • Clara Haneberg

        Facebook saves me all the time–It serves as my “stepping back” approach to writing. If I get stuck or am sick of the topic I am writing about I go to my best friend from home’s facebook page or someone I haven’t talked to in awhile and see what they are up to and it instantly relaxes me…creepy kinda I know.

      • Caitlin Berens

        Facebook, if I don’t limit my time on the site, can leave me with a blank screen three hours later. However, if I keep the chat off and just do a quick look at my mini-feed and a few of my friends’ pages it helps me get my mind off of my story and relax. Facebook in appropriate doses can be beneficial to my writing.

      • Facebook + me = empty word document.

    • Wow. You are my complete opposite. Everything you wrote about doing, I wrote about not doing. But, obviously we can both write and enjoy writing. Isn’t it funny how different every writer is. What works for some would never work for others.

      • These opposite approaches to writing always emerge in a discussion like this. What works for one writer would be a disaster for another. As editors, we have to recognize this differing approaches in our stable of writers, and figure out how to exploit these idiosyncrasies. We also need to help rein in the quirks that might be hindering a writer.

      • I totally am the same way as Emily. It’s so hard for me to focus when there’re noises around me. It’s disastrous. When my mind is trying to find the next part of the story, I have to be in absolute quietness. No sound whatsoever. And if you drop a pen, goodness, pray that you won’t get killed!

  3. My writing idiosyncrasies are in a productive/counterproductive limbo.

    I type out every interview and categorize each quote according to general topic, which consumes a lot of time but proves to be helpful later.

    When I’m writing, I like to start with the lead, but I usually have three or four ideas for leads separated by a blank line in a Word document. If stars don’t align (and let’s be honest, that rarely happens immediately), I read magazines, online articles or a good book for inspiration.

    Lots of people have tics, not just writers. I think it’s a natural way to take solace in a situation. It might be a silly systematic thing, but if it makes you feel better and get your work done, so be it.

    • Does transcribing entire interviews take a long time? Or are you a really fast typist? Does anybody else transcribe interviews, or have another method? Many writers struggle with this.

      • Yes, transcribing interviews does take a long time, but trying to reread by handwriting would take longer. Plus, you can cut, paste and organize the interview content and file it away for later reference, if needed.

      • I love transcribing interviews! Typing notes is stress-free and helps me map out the story mentally. Plus, I tend to find things I might have forgotten about, or remember little details about the interview that can add a lot to the story.

      • Holly D'Anna

        Allison–I totally do that do! Sometimes I’ll spend an hour at the computer just getting down in a word processor what I already have on paper, and that will just help me organize the information I gathered, after which I normally spend another hour writing and re-writing the lead until it’s perfect.

      • Caitlin Berens

        I just recently started to fully transcribe my interviews, versus depending on scribbled notes in my own shorthand. It definitely can take a decent amount of time, but to me this time is worth it, and beneficial in several ways. One, I get to hear great quote-worthy statements twice (they have an extra chance to stand out). Two, I get an opportunity to relax between an interview and starting my story. During this time I often am transcribing and writing the story in my head. Because of this process, I am often more prepared and ready to pump out a story once I start.

    • I do this too, in a way. Sometimes it does feel like a waste of time- but I think that it helps more than I realize because quotes or facts that I might have overlooked stick out to me better while i writing the story than if I hadn’t spent the time typing it all out before.

    • I’m so glad I’ve found a friend on this. Time wise, it’s very counterproductive. Organisation wise, it’s quite useful. It keeps me going when I don’t know what’s next.

  4. Mary Bess Bolling

    After reading through a few other posts, the components of my writing routine seem common. I need a coffee or tea before and during my writing. I like to have burned off energy before I write so working out the day of my deadline helps me focus. My writing tends to flow pretty well when I have music going. I start with Red Hot Chili Peppers and move into a play list that consists of Thievery Corporation and a handful of other techno-mellow songs without lyrics.
    If I have trouble coming up with a lead, I do the same as Allison and read other publications for inspiration. It helps to see different angles fellow writers take on stories. Also, I try to be in a public place to write my lead. Starbucks, Olmsted and Mars Café are some of my most successful lead-writing spots. If I get tired of staring at my paper or computer, taking a walk around one of these establishments helps. Also, as a last resort, I like to call my mom or brother for a pep talk. It sounds corny but I know that she thinks I’m a super-star and it helps to have that You-can-achieve-anything-as-long-as-you-set-your-mind-to-it boost.
    Some of my habits seem to be counter-productive, simply in the time I waste. But they all help me break into a story so I like to think they’re all useful. It’s a challenge reaching that writing autopilot stage, but the tics writers have help make them more comfortable and allow their natural writing talent to flow.

    • Erin Hogan (M/W)

      I am the exact opposite of Mary Bess when it comes to environment.

      Despite several attempts over the years, I cannot study or write with any noise or other people around. The only time I will listen to music is if people are being loud in the hallway. Even then, I usually just put my earbuds in my ears without actually playing a single tune.

      I am also incapable of working in a coffee shop or Olmsted. I get distracted by the people around me. I’m somewhat hypersensitive to noises and activity around me. (Which is perhaps a good asset to a journalist in some ways, but certainly not when you’re trying to focus on writing.)

  5. When writing, I have found it HUGELY helps to chew gum. However, if the pack of gum is in my visibility, I will continue to chew pieces without realizing it until I have a huge and sort of gross wad of Juicyfruit in my mouth. Therefore, while at work, I would always hide the gum behind a tool on my desk and forget it was there. Many, many times I reached to grab something and felt the gum, puzzled as to what it was, then delighted, because now I had more gum to chew.

    I think this is productive — it helps keep me focused, allows me to tune out the world. When I was REALLY writing on a deadline, I listened to an instrumental music station on Pandora to chill me out, which worked awesomely.

    I’ve never really noticed other writers having tics, but I’m sure they’re there. My tics just serve to keep me concentrated and focused, specifically targeted to shut out my non-essential thoughts and the sounds of the world around me.

    • How did we write before Pandora?!

      • Pandora got me through 2-D design. My personal playlist probably occupied a third of the hours I spent on that class, and I have days worth of music. Otherwise, music distracts me when I write. Sometimes I’ll accidentally throw in a word or phrase in the song while I’m writing. For as much as I’d love to be able to listen and write, I just can’t.

    • I agree about the music thing. It’s like when you’re writing and listening to someone talk and you accidentally write what they said and not what’s in your head. I do that all the time. Also on a side note I can’t write when I’m tired in the slightest bit because I’ll type while I’m falling asleep and end up writing the most ridiculous things. One time I was filling out a piece of paper for something while falling asleep and I wrote something about coco puffs. My roommates thought it was so funny, they taped it on the wall and it stayed there for the whole semester.

      Anyway, I think that whole gum thing is hilarious Matt and your voice was so funny. You should write like that all the time!

  6. First of all, I’m highly encouraged by two sections of J70, Jill. Although after watching that social media video a few minutes ago, I’m a bit depressed about print media. So I guess cancels each other out.

    Anyway, back to the subject of idiosyncrasies. Whenever I cover a story nowadays, it’s always at least a 15-minute drive. So right after a game/event/interview, I get in my car as quick as I can so I can start writing in my head. But I have to get the lead at least halfway decent. Then I pull out my recorder and listen to all the quotes I just got. From there, I make a rough outline in my head of what quotes I’m going to use and where, almost like I’m writing an English paper. And, usually, by the time I get back to the office or my apartment, I’ve got everything done except the actual writing and transcribing of quotes. But the hard work is over, so that usually doesn’t take long.

    They’ve got me shooting some video for our Web site now, and I’ve noticed I do the same editing process for video that I do for writing. So most of my video is planned out by the time I get back to the office. Although, the editing of the video takes a lot longer than writing. But it’s the same story-telling process.

    Our Olympics beat writer has to print out his story and read it for (what seems like) 30 minutes before he says he’s done with it. I think he’s the only one out of our full-time writers who reads back through his story before he sends it in. At least it seems that way.

    But I don’t even think the process of writing is where the most idiosyncrasies of writers are found. It’s in their actual stories. The word choice and flow and organization are so different for each writer. But they’re so easy to peg after a while. I could easily pick out which writer did what story (taking out any team reference first) just based on writing style.

    Although a lot of times I don’t care what writing style they have. I just want them to send in their story already so we can edit in and put it on the page and get done by deadline.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Angie! (Angie’s a NNET grad from 2007, now a sports copy editor and reporter and the Colorado Springs Gazette. And one of the founders of Think magazine.)

      I’m always fascinated by the writing process of others. It does seem that most accomplished writers do the heavy lifting of writing in their heads, long before they sit down to put pen to paper (or keyboard to screen). A blank computer screen and flashing cursor seem to be the fastest route to writer’s block.

      • I can relate to the writer who prints out his story and reads it for awhile before he hands it in. I didn’t write about this in my post because it is kind of embarrassing and OCD, but I do the same thing. After I have written a story, I read it over at least five times. Sometimes I read it in my head, and sometimes I read it aloud. I often find things to tweak here and there, and in the end, my story is much better. As I write, I don’t often think about technical things. I just want to get my thoughts on paper. After I read it over and over, I can refine my writing. Reading aloud calls my attention to things I would have never noticed if I had only skimmed it over in my head.

      • Reading our stories aloud is a must (weird as you sound and look as you’re doing it). You will always hear something “wrong” in your story that you wouldn’t detect by simply reading it. It’s especially helpful in detecting long-windedness: If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, it’s too long!

  7. Ann Schnoebelen

    Curled up with my laptop on my lap. Hooded sweatshirt on with the hood up (no matter what the weather is like). Headphones plugged in… but honestly, there’s usually no music playing.
    If that’s the scene my roommate sees when she walks in, she knows I’m in my writing zone.

    Like Allison, I usually transcribe my interviews. As soon as possible after they happen, I retype them into a word document and sort the related information together and highlight the quotes and/or information I really like. This way, the totally bizarre shorthand I might have invented mid-interview is still fresh in my mind and I can also recall details of facial expressions, etc. As I’m doing this, I’m mentally searching for theme and lead ideas and scribbling them off to the side. I usually let the interviews sit for at least a little while and go off and do something else, while subconsciously organizing the piece.

    I can’t just write at any time either. I just know when I’m ready. Sometimes, it’ll even be only a day or two before a really important paper is due and I might have all my notes and organizing ready. But if I don’t feel like it, I’ve discovered there’s no point because nothing comes out or it’s lousy and I just end up trashing it all later when I do get into the zone.

    • It’s essential to go back to your interview as soon as humanly possible after the interview, while it’s still fresh and you can read your handwriting. Allison and Ann transcribe entire interviews. Do the rest of you? If not, how do you process your interview?

    • I do the headphones-with-no-music thing too. Music kills my writing mojo.

  8. After reading through everyone else’s idiosyncrasies, I wish I felt like there was more of a method to my madness.

    When I feel like it’s time to write, I go. I cannot rough draft–I tend to think my writing suffers for it. (God, it did in high school when required.) I open my laptop and go, even if it means waiting half an hour for something to come to me. I am another one of those lead-first people. I think because I don’t outline or rough draft my writing, my lead is the only way I can feel secure in my story’s progression, although that’s not to say it isn’t open to later changes.

    Like Van Wyke, I need chapstick (but I always do anyway). I always need Internet access for fact-checking and other (because I’ll be clicking the button regardless…a hopeless habit). And I always need my hand-written notes, because I like the slightly feverish feeling of flipping through them, even if I’m not on some rushed deadline. Looking at the original pages, scrawled and a bit messy, often bring back more memory of the interview than if I had them typed up, which I also like.

  9. The words always seem to start flowing whenever a pen and paper are least available for me. I often find myself saving a text message to my phone with phrases I want to include in my paper.

    I cannot start typing first. I have to write everything out by hand first. I think I like seeing a tangible product in my hands. I need a thesaurus I also cannot write anything worth reading with another person in the room. I need to have my thoughts all to myself. I don’t really feel that my methods are counterproductive. Whatever gets the job done.

    • I never thought of texting my verbal brainstorms to myself. Excellent idea.

      • Clara Haneberg

        first off–thankgod for texting right and cell phones in general? I use my memo pad like crazy for storage of things I see, think, ect.

        secondly– thesauruses are the bomb.com. Also the synonyms function on Word is my saving grace. When I get on a roll, I always find myself using the same adjectives to describe the topic and I get “stuck” on them throughout the entirety of the story.

  10. Oh, boy. Here we go…

    First, I need quiet. No music, no people in the room. No Facebook, no Twitter, no distractions whatsoever. Just silence.

    I used to drink when I wrote. There have been so many pieces written under the influence of alcohol–and surprisingly quite well. I’ve been sober a year and a half now and have converted back to cigarettes. So instead of a stiff drink, I have to have that ashtray close by. But I don’t like to smoke in the house. This means every time I have good flow and am really on a roll, I need to take a break to smoke. It’s part of that adrenaline rush that comes from good writing. I just have to take that inevitable smoke break, whether it be every 15 minutes or every couple of hours. It depends on the piece.

    I also have a tendency to pound the keys on a keyboard. People can hear my typing from miles away. My MacBook hates me because of my constant beatings. I’m surprised I’m not missing half the keys. (On a roll, I can type up to 200 words a minutes.)

    Coffee. Coffee, coffee, coffee. And various kinds of creamer. I can’t have coffee without creamer. Some will argue that I’m not a real coffee drinker if I can’t drink my coffee straight. But those people don’t drink 8-10 cups a day. Those people don’t make a pot of coffee at 10 p.m. and have it finished and a new pot brewing by midnight. Those people sleep. I don’t. Coffee, coffee, coffee. Mmmmm!

    Other idiosyncrasies exist, but I don’t want to be a diva with the blogging. These are a few of my constants.

    One other MAJOR thing I need before even delving into an article is the interview written out in full transcript style. I highlight and go through it and pull out my favorite quotes. I don’t try to worry about leads, because they usually find me.

    Lastly, unlike many other writers who fear the white space of the empty Word document, I have a strange fascination with it. That empty white Word document on my screen means endless possibilities. Nothing is more satisfying than filling up that white space with my words, my creation, my art. There is no other feeling like it in the world.

    • Erin Hogan (M/W)

      I wish I could force myself to type out my interviews into transcripts. I’m somewhat obsessive compulsive in terms of neatness, and it always drives me nuts when my interview notes look like a mess, but they always manage to make sense to me. It is some type of random exception to obsessive compulsiveness.

      I’m too anxious to begin writing to pause and retype my interviews. I just want to get the thoughts and topics organized, and somehow color-coded highlighting does the trick for me.

      Despite my friend’s attempts at getting me to at least *try* coffee, I can’t seem to drink it. I don’t even like the smell, to be truthful. But, luckily, water is usually sufficient for me.

    • I’m the same way. There’s no way I could write with any kind of distractions. I can’t even have my computer on or I’ll likely end up checking my email or facebook.

  11. Idiosyncrasies…. My workspace needs to be organized and cleared of non-essentials. Clutter distracts me. Coffee is generally a must. I like writing where people are, but not if I can pick out individual conversations. When I’m typing I don’t look at the screen, I stare at my keyboard and let my eyes unfocus.

    I tend to edit as I’m writing, instead of just getting it all on paper first. This is so frustrating, so whenever I’m stuck I start free-writing and brain vom in my Word doc. I’m also a slave to my impulses, so if a song gets stuck in my head, I have to take a break and listen to it before I can keep writing.

    I also crack my fingers and my back religiously while I write.

    I’ve never ever noticed my idiosyncrasies before, so its weird to sit down and think about them. And it took me a good 25 minutes to write this post. Thinking about idiosyncrasies is apparently detrimental to my writing process.

  12. Before I begin to write, there are a few things that I must always do. I love the fact that you—Professor Van Wyke—wrote that you talk to yourself about your writing. I do the same thing. My work always starts in my head, not on paper. I can be in class, watching TV or out with friends and I will get ideas about what to write about. It may be an opening line, an ending, even a particular way I want to organize my writing. This will go on from the minute I get an assignment to at least a day later when I begin to write.

    I have also found that I need complete quiet. There can be nothing distracting around me as I write. Television and music are the worst. Often times when these two things are in the background, I loose concentration and the next thing I know I have typed out the lyrics to a song. It is best for me to shut myself out from reality and devote all of my focus to my writing.

    As I write, I set goals before I allow myself to take a break. If I’m really thirsty, I won’t get up until I have finished two more pages. This forces me to get my work done. Otherwise I would constantly be getting up to talk to friends or make a snack, and I would never actually get around to writing anything down. I also feel that this gives me a sense of accomplishment when I do finally allow myself to take a breather.

    Usually, my first draft is complete crap. Sometimes I will drone on about random things if I can’t seem to get my thoughts together. Then I go back through my writing and look for parts that have potential. Then I cut away all of the crap and work on focusing on the points I think are best.

    I feel that these are all idiosyncrasies that are very productive. They force be to think about what I want to write and let me zero in on my work when I begin to write.

    I can’t stand the way my best friend writes. Her first draft is always on paper, which I think is a complete waste of a time. She also writes small sections of her papers in about a million different notebooks. There is absolutely no organization. When she finally gets around to sitting down at a computer, she has work scattered everywhere. I can’t even begin to wonder why she writes like she does.

    I don’t believe there are any benefits to the way she writes. I can’t imagine it causes anything other than confusion, but it works for her. As I writer, I am very particular about the way I write and seem to think my way is best. Because I can’t write effectively any other way, I can’t begin to understand how or why anyone does it differently. I guess that’s just the writer in me.

    • Your first draft is usually crap? Mine *always* is! Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, has a book about writing called “Bird by Bird.” One of her early chapters is titled “S***** First Drafts” and is about how necessary they are to the better drafts that follow. I’ll try to bring that chapter to class soon.

    • Emily, I have to agree with you on writing on paper. The only writing on paper I do is taking notes (which usually ends up being a bunch of jibberish chicken-scratch that nobody but myself can translate, and sometimes I can’t even read what I write!). I need my friend, the computer, to get me somewhat organized, otherwise I think I would be killing a whole forest with the amount of scribbling that would entail in numerous notebooks.

      But you are correct in saying that you think your idea is the best. That’s how we all think. We each think the way we do things is so much better than everyone else. I’ve had some comments on the fact I have Twitter and Facebook up 24/7, and the fact that I have to listen to music (non-lyrical music) when I write. But I think the fact I have my Twitter and Facebook up is my OCD, and that’s probably why I find writing up interviews a bit strange…

  13. I’m a pen chewer. I will sit in front of my computer (I generally have to be sitting someplace comfortable, never at a desk) and even if I don’t even have a notepad in front of me, chewing pens somehow gets my brain to start thinking of possible leads. I also am 100% the writer who has to have a perfect lead before they go on to the rest of the story–and it’s annoying. I will sometimes type random bits of information into the word document that will later turn into paragraphs of the story, but the lead has to be absolutely perfect before I can go on (and the ironic part is that I usually end up making changes to it once I’ve finished the entire story). After I have my perfect lead, I normally have to get up and walk around for a little bit, put on some music, something to take my mind off of the actual story. Then, when I come back to it, I’m able to concentrate.

    I feel like each writer needs their own routine (however unusual it may be) that works for them so that they have something comforting and familiar to come back to every time they sit down to write.

    • Matt Vasilogambros

      I am the same way in regards to writing the lead. It sucks, but that’s the only way I work. Also, I used to have this fixation of putting pens in my mouth, but I had to stop that habit considering all the borrowed pens that I put in my mouth. That habit doesn’t make you a very popular person.

  14. I never write on my computer at first.
    I must have the cheapest notebook I can find.
    And my pilot pen.
    Black ink works the best.
    Red if I’m desperate.
    I’m a frantic doodler.
    The TV has to be off.
    I have to wear my black shorts.
    I ride my bike when my head is spinning with ideas.
    I buy a pack of cloves and smoke ’til my head is literally spinning.
    I pace.
    I talk to myself.
    I read out loud.
    My writing space has to be a sort of organized mess.
    Damien Rice, the Flobots, the Soundtrack from “Once.”
    Root beer from a glass bottle.
    Good weather also helps.
    I never start with an introduction.

  15. I have a systematic approach to everything I do, whether it’s taking a shower or making my bed in the mornings. Some would call it OCD or even madness, and I would agree with both diagnoses. It’s also not surprising that the same familiar insanity sparks my writing.

    After I’ve completed the minimal research necessary to begin the story, I go for a long run. I run until I can’t feel my legs, and then I run another half a mile. It is the same every single time, whether I have two weeks or two hours until my assigned deadline. I shower for 5 minutes exactly, put on some sweats, and throw my hair up. I open up my computer, close all the browsers except for one, and immediately start typing a load of crap. I repeat this at least four times (the crap, not the closing of browsers), and then usually lay my head down on the desk in defeat, or leave the room, or scream a string of profanities until the infernal lightbulb in my head decides to flicker on. (For a story last semester in London, this process took over 9 and a half hours.) Then, I write until my eyes start to blur. The room must be as silent as a graveyard, or I will lose it.

    There is one way of determining whether my writing is counterproductive, or productive. If the story blows, whatever I’ve done to prep for it sucks. If it’s good, the “methods to my madness” are working. Simple as that.

    I do think that the process every writer uses before putting hand to keyboard, or pen to paper, is unique, and benefits them (and their story) in some way. I once knew a girl who had to eat an entire pack of pull and peel cherry Twizzlers before opening a Word document to begin a story.

    Whatever works for you, run with it. As long as the story is good, why does it matter? An editor won’t care, and neither will your readers.

  16. I find that I am a fairly predictable person–especially when it comes to writing. I can only write at night (it’s nearly 11pm right now for example). I rarely am able to focus in my room and I can always tell when I wrote something at the library or a coffee shop versus my own desk because it is always more prone to mistakes and less professional sounding. I have to have a list of goals for the story, a map if you will, within eye view. Cold water is essential. And I always have to read my lead out loud several times before I can decide if it “works for me.” I like writing with someone nearby, not for support but for comfort. And, like alot of the previous posts have mentioned, I’ve gotta have my quotes in order of importance and quality printed off ready and ready to be inserted into my story. The type of story determines the genre of music I have playing or if music is even necessary.

    The lead is where I spend a majority of my time I have found. I stress and fumble with the introduction more than I do the entire story. If I am pressed for time my conclusion definitely shows it. I can never leave my writing until I have finished the paragraph I am working on–which is counterproductive–especially when it’s going on 3am and you have writers block.

    Tics in other people I have observed include:
    -girls repeatedly pushing their hair back behind their ears
    -popping up Facebook or the ESPN.com to take a moment to step away from the writing
    -sharpening pencils and switching pens unnecessarily when handwriting a story

    …and then of course the basic quarks smoke breaks, pacing, spinning in wheely chair, deleting entire paragraphs at a time, ect.

    I think these “tics” are counterproductive, yet they work for me and work for other people, so at the same time they are productive. I do wish I could write during the day–I would probably get ALOT more sleep that way–oh well.

  17. Let’s see… when I sit down to write a story, there are a handful of things that I do–time after time. Number one, I find a great soundtrack, a band with a sound a like, but that I’m familiar enough with that I don’t spend all my time listening to every single lyric. Also, I chew gum–it’s ridiculous, but post my big caffeinated boost gum does help my mind going. Once I have all of the above taken care of then I write my lead, to the best of my ability. Lately I have taken to making a brief outline for my piece, then going through my notes from interviews and marking what quotes I want to use and which I won’t need. I cross them out once they’re placed in the story. After my first draft is completed, I must print it out, break out my red pen and murder my paper with ink. Next I make the changes, read the story aloud, and then send it to the presses. So, long story short I’m a music/caffeine junkie when I sit down to write a story. Also, I have to listen to myself; if I don’t want to write a story–really don’t want to–then I don’t. I take a daylong break (if I can) then face the story the next day when I feel ready. Although I always want to have my stories completed way before deadline, attitude goes a long way, and I perform better if I’m close to deadline and wanting to write versus far away from deadline and drained from conducting interviews and researching for my story.

  18. A common thread in many of these posts: Our idiosyncrasies can eat up a lot of time. What about those who must write on a deadline of only a few hours — or even less? What if you’re covering a breaking news story, for example, and you have to get the story posted online asap? Given your quirks, would you be able to turn a story quickly?

    • Erin Hogan (M/W)

      For me, one of my idiosyncrasies is to write on a somewhat of a deadline. However, I usually like to research and arrange/confirm interviews the night before the story is due, conduct interviews the next day, do non-story-related things, and then write immediately before the deadline.

      I remember in our J54 class, though, I always struggled when we wrote “deadline stories” in class. I was uncomfortable not having any time to step back and process after being bombarded with the type of story, the subject, and the data and interviews all at once.

      I certainly view this as a writing flaw on my part. As of now, I don’t have many ideas for how to write or report differently other than to keep gaining experience, try to learn from my mistakes, and strive for improvement.

    • Personally, I would prefer that. Deadlines often give me my best work, and I’d be able to ignore some quirks, quickly neaten my desk, and produce whatever I was told to.

      When pressed for time, I find that I think on the page and my best ideas just come out of me rather than being internally critiqued and altered first.

    • For me there is a whole new list of idiosyncrasies that goes a long with writing on a deadline. I think the most important one is mentally telling myself I don’t have time to get comfortable, or to procrastinate. I just have to start writing wherever I am as fast as I can. I have to fight the urge to write creative sentences and just get the information out. This is sometimes painful, but in some ways writing on deadline is more fun because of the adrenaline rush.

    • I have to agree with Alysse. I feel like I can write better when I’m force to write on deadline. When I have free time, I do somehow end up having to clear my mind, since I know I have all this time to do something. But on deadline, I know I have only so much time to get the article done and handed into my editor before I’m in trouble.

      That may be why I do spend so much time on the Internet…

  19. I am also guilty of engaging in a conversation with myself before I dive in. I usually lie awake in bed the night before and write the story in my head… of course this is when all the good ideas come to me and in the morning they are a fading memory.

    I always have to make sure that I have the assignment completed well before the due date… I have never been one to wait to the last minute. There’s nothing better than relaxing before the deadline and feeling grateful that I”m not sitting at my computer pulling my hair out.

    When I sit down to actually write the story, my room has to be clean, with everything in its place (I might be slightly OCD). I have to write it on my laptop in my room, with Incubus or Coldplay playing at low volume.

    But this is typically how I dive into any project… whether it is writing a paper, article or starting a design project.

    • Don’t lose those late-night-before-falling-asleep inspirations! They can be gold. Keep a voice recorder at your bedside (or, many phones have recorders, too). It’s faster than writing down your ideas, and you don’t need to turn on a light. Research shows that creativity flourishes when our minds are quiet, drifting, relaxed. I don’t have many (any?) of those quiet moments during the day. For me, they only come right before sleep.

      • Keeping a recorder handy is something I have never thought of. Good idea! However, I feel like my roommates might get a little irritated. I usually end up jotting a couple of phrases down in the dark, which means they are illegible in the morning. I like the texting idea too. I think I’m going to start doing that.

  20. Kimisha Chambers

    I have never thought about my own writing idiosyncrasies until now. Right when I start to write my lead (I always start with trying to figure out a lead because it feels as if some invisible force is holding me at gun point, telling me I can’t move on unless I have a lead) I have to have a pep talk with myself. I tell myself, “Self you need to get this article done today, no procrastinating, you can write great stories if you just focus, focus, focus.”

    Then I stare at a blank white Microsoft Word document. I write my name, the date and class number. I write a sentence. I delete that sentence. Write another one. Delete that one. Then I just type nonsense and delete it also. After mulling over what my lead is going to be for like ten minutes, I’m on youtube for like an hour looking up “Scarlett takes a tumble” type videos.

    To be honest, my story is usually not even started until the next day. This habit of procastinating or my writing idiosyncrasy kind of scares me because there is no way I could be able to make deadlines and have a good article at the same time. Which is why I chose magazines over newspapers, but I still need to find a new writing quirk.

  21. It seems like just about everyone has a grab bag of quirks and idiosyncrasies when they write. I personally need to drink a ton of water when I sit down to write. At my job this summer, our office was provided with six Culligan water jugs every month.

    They should easily last a month. Once I arrived, those six jugs were gone about halfway through every month.

    I also can’t listen to anyone talking, or else I’ll just start typing what they’re saying. Strangely, I can listen to people singing though. In fact, I need to be listening to a favorite album in order to even get off the ground (The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds always does the trick).

    • I’m the same way as far as music goes…it has to be something I love and have listened to a million times, otherwise I get distracted by what’s going on in the song rather than the story.

      I think the water thing is funny. Wouldn’t you have to go to the restroom in the middle of writing your story? (Although I guess that would be a good excuse to take a break.)

      However, I I do understand the drinking while writing issue. I have to have a Coke either before or during writing.

  22. I can definitely relate to a lot of these — one must for me is having all of my notes and interviews out and organized (but organized usually means scattered around my desk/the floor in what looks like a mess) and the other is quiet. I try to write for a while and at least make some sort of an outline/half written piece all the way to the end of the story.

    I’m always tempted to stop mid-way, especially if I’m at a stand still, and do something else for a while, but i’ve found that when I make it all the way through my first outline/draft is much more coherent. After I get through this I go on facebook, or just do something else completely before going back to the draft. Of course I’m usually right in the middle of something else, or in the shower or something when I have a new idea for a lead or remember an awesome quote I need to add in to the second page. Van Wyke-i know what you mean about those late night moments, there’s definitely been times when I’ve actually gotten out of bed to write something down or added something i’d forgotten to my story.

    I really try to put a lot of effort into the first draft so that editing and re-interviews are easier. I’m always glad to have a good start rather than try to salvage something right before its due. But editing always includes reading out loud and going back and forth between notes.

  23. I absolutely can not start with a lead. Usually I write down whatever I’m thinking, then go back and make an outline. The outline is essential. I can not collect my thoughts without one. And then I use my outline and sort of fill in the information. Only then can I go back and write a lead and fix everything up. I also like to be in a secluded place with no noise or only noise that is not directly related to me. For example, I work so much better in Starbucks or Caribou than in my house because, even though the noise level can be the same, whatever is happening in Starbucks is not interesting to me and I can ignore. Also I get great coffee, which is a plus.

    Sometimes before I can get a story organized I’ll sort of have a conversation with myself on paper and just write it however it comes to mind. Then at least the information ends up in the right order and I can do grammar later. Which is actually fun because I love fixing grammar mistakes. I would say these idiosyncrasies are productive because if they weren’t I’d never get a story done and I do finish eventually.

    I can’t think of any quirks I’ve seen in other writers, but I think the “tics” are important because everyone is different and has certain ways of producing their best quality work. Most people do their best when they are comfortable and so it’s important for writers to do whatever weird thing it takes for that to happen, like the guy in the book who only had two shirts, green and brown. The idiosyncrasies get a writers creative energy flowing in the right direction.

  24. Erin Hogan (M/W)

    My writing idiosyncrasies are somewhat productive to the writing itself, though not always very beneficial to my sanity.

    I always procrastinate a story I have to write until the last minute. If I have several “less-important” assignments or tasks, I do them before I start a story that’s due the next morning. I write best at night, as is often the case when you procrastinate as badly as I do. A psychologist once told me that I procrastinate because I’m such a perfectionist. If you limit the time available to work on a story, you force yourself to draw the line. If I started a story at 9am that was due at 5pm, I would spend the entire day on it and accomplish nothing else. So, I have to begin it closer to the deadline to set limitations. When I know that I only have limited time, I somehow become less paralyzed. I know I don’t have the time to wait for the words of a perfect lead to come to me or edit 101 times as opposed to 100 times.

    My other idiosyncrasy is organization. I highlight and color code pieces of my notes that fit together or cover the same topic. Then, I review all of my notes and pick out what I think is the “real story.” Then I write out words and phrases that seem to describe the “real story” on paper and rewrite them in different ways in a blank word document until I think I have a decent lead. (Though, that is no guarantee it will not be changed drastically later.)

    On my paper with my lead phrases, I write out an outline of the different sections of the story (and indicate which color they are in my notes.) Only then can I begin to write.

    Also, I must be in “my” room, on “my” laptop. It would bother me to try to write a story on a computer in Cowles or on a friend’s laptop. Also, I tend to pause periodically to read phrases aloud if I’m struggling to find the right words.

    I don’t know of many other writing idiosyncrasies. I know a lot of people can only write in the middle of the night or have to go to sleep, only to wake up with an idea.

    I think that most idiosyncrasies are productive. They serve as ways of making writers feel most comfortable and at ease. Every person’s brain functions differently and requires different environments or practices to operate at optimum productivity.

    • Your explanation of your procrastination is so enlightening. I do the very same thing and now it makes so much more sense to me! See, procrastination isn’t always a bad thing.

    • Oh man, isn’t that the truth? I’m a bit of a perfectionist myself, and I’ve definitely seen the dark and the bright sides. I remember one time when I had a big story due early the next morning. I’d been dreading going back through this thing because I knew it wasn’t very good. I spent the day running errands and catching up with people in the hallway/cafeteria/anywhere that wasn’t my desk, just because I was dreading editing the thing. I finally sat down to edit it around 9 that night, and ended up re-writing almost the entire thing. I stayed up all night, hopped up on Cheetos and caffeine, and turned it in the next morning. I was so tired that I couldn’t even feel my face when I got back to my room. I think working under pressure really helped me out in the end. Needless to say, I was exhausted, but I was soooo much more pleased with my story.

    • It’s not procrastination — it’s “pre-writing”! Doesn’t that sound so much better?

  25. Talk about idiosyncrasies, shall we? And perhaps, to be more specific, shall I talk about the idiosyncrasies of an ESL writer? Would that be of interests to you all?

    Oh wait, should I put an S after interest? Where’s my dictionary? A grammar guide? Maybe I should do some googling to see what native speakers use.

    My idiosyncrasies are similar to many of you. I need absolute quietness. I can’t write when my roommate is watching the fantastic Paula Dean because I get hungry. Then I’ll raid on my food cabinet and munch on something.

    Wait a second, should that be “raid on” or just “raid?”

    Oh, and we haven’t even touched on Stephen Colbert. When he’s yelling the word of the day at my face, I simply CAN’T write.

    Then there’s this urge to transcribe everything from my mini recorder before I start writing. I’m well aware that I am a bad short-hand writer. Actually, I know no short hand. For me, it’s always printing. That’s when a recorder comes to play. I need it because I hate missing a good quote or an important information. Although I know so well I have to spend a massive amount of time to transcribe.

    Hmm, was massive the right adj. for amount of time? And should that be time or times?

    Also, I struggle to find a good lead, but I’ll just skip it and write the rest of the article instead. This is absolutely counterproductive for me because I lose the focus of my story. I can ramble on…

    Ramble on? Maybe ramble about?

    …for pages without realising it. An alternative is to spend the same amount of time I spend on rambling rewriting [delete] rewriting [delete] and rewriting a lead. You know, I have to choose the better of two evils.

    What? The better of two evils sounds wrong. But then what is the right way to say that phrase? I’ve heard it before. Could it be “the lesser devilish of two evils?”

    Alright, I’ll stop at that. You probably know by now what my worst idiosyncrasy is. It’s very distracting, and I can’t help it. The words, phrases, tenses don’t come naturally to me as they would for many of you. So, yes, I spend a lot of my writing time correcting my own grammar. I can’t go on if I feel like my grammar isn’t correct.

    Or, maybe, should I say “my grammars?”

  26. I cannot begin to write until I have all the important quotes from my notebook typed out with the persons name and contact information at the top. (I am also a color coder).

    Like Jill, I have to spend several days, if permitted, mulling over the story in my head until I cannot stand another moment without putting it on paper. In order to write I have to listen to music, but never anything new. I have been stuck on Radiohead, KT Tunstall, Tori Amos and the Shins for several years now.

    I don’t usually start with a flowery lead, rather I write a quick hard news l news lead and jump right into the story. I tend to get the news out of the way, so I can spend most of my time honing in on the human aspect of the story. When I am working on a story I rarely take phone calls and get short with people when they try to initiate conversation. Just a forewarning.

    One of my editors this summer could not work without having something sweet to munch on. And when he was writing he was zoned in so completely that it was impossible to ask any questions. It was as if everything bounced off of him because he would not respond. He also had a habit of leaning so far back in his chair we always thought he was going to fall.

    I think idiosyncrasies are all characteristics of creative beings. It is when we are comfortable and able to block out the world that we can analyze it’s needs and begin to contribute.

    • If I must write to music, it’s Radiohead. Their music easily fades to the background without being too distracting.

  27. Neat desk.

    Comfortable pants.

    These are my two necessities to produce my best work, and the rest depend on what exactly I am writing for. I’d say it’s pretty idiosyncratic in itself that I require different things for different pieces of writing. Silence is nice for essays that require reflection, but I really get my word groove going if I’m writing something research-based along with some music. The volume stays at a level where I can’t quite hear the words, but I can’t hear my air conditioning vent either.

    In general, I also like to start with a free-flowing pouring down of words onto my blank document. I look around at my neat desk, my hair, and out the window as I type; I don’t look at the computer screen. (It’s more fun that way; it’s kind of like a surprise when I finally do look.) From this, I make an outline that I undoubtedly revise later, but I have my ideas down and am ready to move on and find new information and expand my thoughts. I wish I had a few more specific idiosyncrasies that really helped me write, but I don’t think I have honed my writing routine perfectly yet.
    Maybe I’ll try a bit of the gum-chewing and pen-arranging I read about in the other posts. I haven’t seen many strange writing “tics” myself.

    From what I have read and experienced, I think most idiosyncrasies are beneficial because they get the writer “in the zone.” (The garbage can thrower in the book is a definite exception.) They might look strange from the outside, but if they promptly produce high-quality work while not bothering others too much, they’re just another unique part of a person that makes them a good, productive writer and interesting person.

    • PS: I often discover my lead later in my process. “Discover” is the imperative word: it often takes its sweet time coming to me, and when I finally find it, it’s perfect. (At least, until I think of a better one!)

    • I know many writers who write with the brightness on their monitor turned all the way down so they can’t see what they’re writing. They just want to get it all down on the page, without that inner hypercritical voice whispering at them to fix this or that.

  28. I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to music when I write. Very loud music and oddly enough, not the music I’d tend to listen to any other time. When I step back and think about this habit of mine it really is the opposite approach of other instances that require concentration and creative thinking.

    In addition to loud music, I tend to jot down notes before I start a story. This is usually a multiple day process. Once I have a substantial amount of notes I then highlight items that are a ‘must’ to include. After that I crank the obnoxious music and begin!

  29. Matt Vasilogambros

    I usually wait until last minute to do my stories, for when I’m in a rush is when I am my best. I have my music blaring, to drown out other noises. When I start typing, I mouth-out what I’m writing down, sometimes mumbling the words (which would probably be quite annoying to anyone sitting next to me, I’m sure). In regards to which parts of the story I have to write first, I always start with the lead and cannot do anything else until that is done. So, I usually start thinking of the lead while I’m interviewing people or a day before I want to finish the story. I keep a notepad next to my bed and I write down ideas (usually when the lights are off and I’m in that twilight when you’re right about to fall asleep – I feel I’m most creative during that time).

    In regards to other writers, I’ve seen other writers not be able to start without taking their shoes off (for they are most comfortable that way. That’s about it, though.

  30. I think I must’ve put the “idio(t)” in idiosyncrasies. I have about a million little things I have to do before I can write, and none of them make any sense. They differ with the mood I’m in, too.

    Sometimes I’ve got to work in absolute silence; sometimes I’ve got to run to the busiest café I can find (Mars is a favorite). One day I might feel the need to go for a run, when on another I’ve got to put on my fluffy slippers and sip a latte on the couch.

    A lot of times, when I’m feeling particularly stuck, I like to hop the first bus headed downtown to get lost in the city. Watching a movie, balancing my account, playing Scrabble, walking, doodling, cooking, alphabetizing my CD collection—I do whatever it takes until my head is clear enough to write. If that doesn’t work, the deadline definitely does.

    I used to be one of those, “If it’s not perfect, then it’s not happening…” people. Making it happen, then, can be torture. When I actually sit down to write, I usually already know what’s going down on paper.

    The first words are usually the hardest. It can be absolute hell to start a story. It can be even worse not to be able to finish it. Recently, I’ve started writing the middle of my stories before moving on to the beginning. This, a year ago, would’ve been writing heresy. Start at the beginning, and when you’ve reached the end stop—those were the rules.

    Now it’s kind of like quilting—I take special care of each section, making sure the pieces fit well together, and cutting all loose threads. I’ll admit it—I tend to agonize over even the most trivial details. This can be very debilitating, but it can be a gift, too. Notes help me get through the rough patches—transcribing interviews, jotting down key phrases that pop into my head, etc.—until I’ve got a good sized lump of information to work with.

    With a little kneading, I can sculpt the story into something beautiful and finish with a nice glaze. Whether it’s a giant wave or slow trickle, I always know the words will eventually flow onto paper.

    Perhaps it’s because I can understand that it’s part of the process, but most of the time I find the habits of other writers endearing and, at times, extremely helpful. If I’m lucky, I can look to one of those kindred spirits for a tip or two to get going myself. If nothing else, it makes for a good chuckle.

    Whatever the case, these idiosyncrasies serve the writer by helping him or her serve the reader. A good writer will do what it takes to make a story shine. So what if that means jazzercise at 2 o’clock in the morning? It’s good to get a little revved about a story.

    • Writing in sections, or “chunks,” is a great approach for many writers. You work on one part at a time, in no particular order, and then move on to another chunk. Once you have all these disparate chunks written, you put them in a logical order, knit them together with some nice transitions, and then work on your beginning and ending. I’ve seen this tactic work for many people.

  31. Vanezza Van Buskirk

    Idiosyncrasies…

    This may sounds contradicting, but sometimes when I write I must have constant background noise whether is be a TV, music, people, etc. Other times, it must be completely silent. When I need silence I also need to be alone.

    I feel that both idiosyncrasies can be productive and non-productive. Sometimes when the TV is on I catch myself tuning into it or if a song is playing, I might start to sing along and get very distracted.

    These “things” that we do to write better or what not must serve a strong purpose. They seem to be what allows us to accomplish our writings. Without them, maybe no one would be able to write at all…

    I usually have a hard time getting starting, but once I’ve gotten through the beginning, my writing usually takes off.

    It’s funny how people have their own quirks they must to before they accomplish a task. Once it becomes so routine, it’s unnoticeable.

  32. Vanezza Van Buskirk

    I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments on how many people feel their idiosyncrasies are weird. Much of the behavior doesn’t even seem to be that strange.

    It appears to be quite normal to have some form of a “distraction” going on while writing. Maybe that is a secret tip to great writing??

  33. As for my own idiosyncracies, I admit I have to check all my email, facebook updates, etc. It might be a side-effect of growing up in an internet-saturated society, but I can’t focus until I’m sure all the information I need to know is out of the way.

    I’m also one of the blaring rock music people Prof. van Wyke mentioned. Honestly, the perfect stuff for me to write to is Green Day or Flogging Molly — stuff I’ve listened to so many times I don’t need to pay close attention to because I know all the words, rhythms, even guitar strumming, by heart. Sometimes, if I’m really into the story, I inadvertently start to hum along to the song and/or type along with the rhythm. It usually annoys people around me (oops).

    No matter how good my lead may seem when I start, I always drastically change it by the time the story is finished. I seem to go off in a different direction than I originally planned whenever I start writing, so about 98% of the time the lead just doesn’t quite fit with my story by the time I reach the end.

    I also have a tendency to just stare at something randomly when I write (I caught myself just now looking at an arbitrary bookshelf in the library). I’m not thinking about what words I’m going to write next, nor am I studying whatever it is I’m looking at…I think I’m just giving my eyes a break from the computer screen for a second.

    Strange? Maybe. Cathartic? Definitely. I guess writers are just weird…why else would we spend our careers legally stalking people, putting ourselves through whatever it takes for a story, then subjecting ourselves to agony while racing a deadline, all for a middle-class salary? Must be something in the water.

  34. I usually don’t think of myself as someone with weird writing idiosyncrasies, but I definitely have several conditions that help me produce my best work. First off, I like to check all my regular websites (Facebook, Twitter, news, ESPN, etc.) before I start writing. If I don’t, I’ll likely use that as an excuse to take a break at a lull of thought.

    I’m also fairly particular about sound. I like to listen to music, but it has to be something that I’m not very familiar with. If I know the words, I think about them rather than the words I’m typing. Other words (talking, TV, etc…) are blocks when I’m trying to write.

    Lastly, I have a hard time not writing my story or paper in the correct order. Rarely can I write a lead or a conclusion as a separate entity. I think this is something that I’m going to try to work on this year, however, because I think it could improve my writing if I could write them well out of order.

  35. I typically don’t consider myself quirky in my writing. I, like yourself, feel a desperate need to be comfortable with the topic I’m writing with, which means for me hours of research or interviews, self discussions, conversations with friends regarding said topic, and eventually, writing it down. I typically don’t give a lot of thought to whether the lead is particularly interesting to begin with, as long as I can get on a roll. When I do, I have the strange tendency to get extremely warm physically. Whether it be from the excitement of really getting started on an article or simply a reaction to my typing, I guess you could say I’m “hot for writing.”
    This has been true since high school – my parents would come upstairs to find me half naked writing a final paper. A little awkward. But it works.

  36. I am the distraction king of the world! I know what distracts me from creating my best work, so I usually try to generate an environment most suitable for concentration.

    First, I know that if there are other things going on around me, I cannot write. To remedy this, I usually hunker down in my room, away from other people. Contrary to what one might think, I can’t stand complete silence. I need to be away from other people, but I need suitable background noise, such as a box fan or my favorite semi-melodic music. Lately I have been digging the new Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson album, and my usual fallback is always Ryan Adams. I must admit that the all time best music to write to is foreign. I listen to “Amatoria” by the Argentine singer-songwriter, Federico Aubele. When the lyrics are in another language they become less of a distraction, but satisfy the desire for background music.

    Second, I get cozy. Usually my favorite office chair and gym shorts are called in for duty. I cannot think about my writing if I am constantly thinking about how uncomfortable the chair I am sitting in is, or how dinner seems to make my pants shrink.

    Third, I grab a cold one. By cold one, I mean a delicious glass of Coca-Cola. Let’s face it; we’re all addicted to caffeine.

    Finally, I turn of my WiFi. I cannot explain it, but there is some sort of gravitational pull from Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, etcetera. These websites have a tendency to sit in the back of my mind. For some reason, I always expect to check them and find something new and intriguing. Well, when I check them about every 20 minutes and find nothing, one would think I would learn. Apparently not. WiFi, off!

  37. When it comes down to actually cranking out a story, I can’t have any distractions. I have to be in a noiseless environment, with nothing on my desk, preferably facing a blank wall. However, the hours and even days before a story I completely fill my mind with information. I can spend hours looking up facts and doing research. Sometimes I have to watch three episodes of my favorite TV show or have an hour conversation with my roommate. I just fill up my mind and then when deadline comes, I spill it all out.

    Lately I’ve been trying to organize my stories better before I write them. I’ve tried creating outlines, but usually I either already have the outline in my head or I deviate from the plan anyway. I’m working on trying to find a system that works the best for me.

    However, when it comes down to crunch time, nothing beats a diet coke and cigarette break at 3 in the morning to keep me going!

  38. I get distracted by everything when I am writing, but I need it to be that way. I usually write in 10 minute bursts before something else distracts me.

    I write my best late at night and I always need my favorite music of the moment playing, and right now that is Emery.

    It probably takes me a lot longer to write than a lot of people, but I have to have those distractions every 10 minutes or I freeze and can’t think of anything to write down!

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