Writers’ Idiosyncrasies

Posted by Jill Van Wyke

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?


60 responses to “Writers’ Idiosyncrasies

  1. Pingback: Assignment for Sept. 7/8 | Media Editing

  2. I feel so much better knowing that I am not the only one with these idiosyncrasies that writers claim to have. As I’m writing this, I am also trying to finish a profile article for my j120 class. When I sit down to write, I get easily distracted. I can’t sit down and write an entire story, no matter how long or short, without stopping for air. Sometimes I stop when I don’t know how to finish a sentence. Or sometimes I stop when I don’t know how to continue the story. To distract myself I usually start other homework, or check my e-mail, or even get up and go running. I find these distractions very helpful. I realize that it takes me longer to write, but I have time to clear my head and reread what I have so far. I know people that can write easier when they waited until the last minute. I also know writers that need complete silence once they start.
    I think these idiosyncrasies are helpful, as long as they don’t interfere with the final result.
    This was a nice distraction, time to get back to my profile article now.

    • I completely agree. Sometimes I run into the same problem as you, if I don’t know how to finish a sentence or where to go next, I’ll get up and distract myself for a few minutes. I believe clearing your head can be really helpful in sorting out your thoughts, and ultimately getting a better story in the end.

    • I, too, get easily distracted when I sit down to write an article or paper. I find ways to put it off when I get stuck or if I’m unsure of where to go with the story. I would agree that the idiosyncrasies are helpful in many ways and sometimes the distractions lead to better results as I often come across something that would improve the article or paper.

    • I totally agree with the distractions. What should take me 30 minutes to do, ends up taking at least one hour because I get distracted by my cell phone, facebook, etc. I always have to budget much more time that what is necessary for the writing task ahead of me. I also agree with clearing your head and rereading. It is obvious in my writing, if I don’t reread, where I took breaks as I writing.

    • I am definitely easily distracted, too. I don’t really take breaks too often, though. I find that once I get going I just have to keep going. My ways of writing also make me take a lot longer to write, but in the end whatever makes for the best work is the best way to do it. I really need silence, too. I can’t stand listening to music or people talking when I write.

    • I know students who have roommates change their Facebook, Twitter, etc. passwords when they are on pressing deadline.

  3. Idiosyncrasies are writers’ ways to tap into their creativity. It is difficult to turn your writing mind on instantly, so writers use whatever whatever bizarre processes they need to achieve the right mindset. My biggest idiosyncrasy is procrastination. Until the clock ticks in double time, I can’t make myself do a darn thing. Fortunately, I can combat my lazy side well. When I’m crunched for time, I make myself do some horrible and boring activity like jogging, and I don’t let myself stop until I have my story outlined. So far this strategy has worked for me. Let’s just hope my lazy side doesn’t get any smarter.

    • I feel like you are a writer who works well under pressure. I am often like that too, because then I know it’s “now or never,” I have to get whatever I’m writing done. And while I enjoy running, I am on the same page as you when it comes to forcing yourself to do something in order to focus.

  4. When I finally sit down to write a story, it is almost always the day before it is due. For some reason, I am physically unable to get a story out of my head and onto the computer. Truthfully, it is more than frustrating. For instance, if I try and be productive and get the story done ahead of time, it’s as if my fingers and my brain are teaming up against me and won’t let the story out. (For me to be writing this blog post more than a day before it’s due is a miracle.) The next problem I face is once my laptop is open. My fingers and brain have surrendered into letting me get the story out, but the lead kills me every time. No matter what, I always have to have a lead down before I can continue on. Granted I may go back and edit the lead completely, but it’s a placeholder and absolute necessity. My idiosyncrasies may seem annoying to others, but it helps me get the job done. Everyone has distinctive habits. I’ve known a writer that can only write in a crowded place, whether it’s in the middle of a dorm hall or Starbucks, they would go crazy in the silence of a library cubicle. I’ve also known a writer the complete opposite of that. They needed the room to be silent, and their desk completely organized before the laptop was even opened. I believe idiosyncrasies are beneficial, if they aren’t too extreme, and effective in getting a great story in the end.

  5. Often, I write a paragraph at a time and walk away. Once another word or sentence strikes me, I write it down and yet again, walk away. I suppose this could be annoying in a news room setting, but I don’t think my roommates mind (or notice).
    On the flip side, I do not like to be interrupted when I’m “in the zone.” I ignore questions and comments, often respond with one word answers or simply glare at the idiot who dare disrupt my thoughts.
    I also like to have a berage close at hand and a small amount of white noise to fill otherwise silent air.
    I have never noticed other writers’ idiosyncrasies. Maybe I’m too self-centered (I prefer to call it focused) about my own work? But now that we’re talking about it, I’ll probably notice every other writers’ mannerisms. Great.

    • “berage” — that should be a word, a combo of “berate” and “enrage.”

      As in: “This story berages me!”

  6. I agree that it is refreshing to hear that nearly every writer goes through some sort of prewriting anxiety or quirky behavior at some point in the productive of their piece. When it comes to sitting down and writing, writer’s block or just procrastinating getting started seem to be my biggest challenges. I thought that the section in Chapter 5 about writer’s block was especially interesting. The idea that an inability to continue writing can be caused by a simple lack of confidence is an idea I had never considered before but makes a great deal of sense.

    When I write, no matter what it is, when I come to a particular section of my story or essay that I am unsure of, I simply insert a blank (“____”); I’ll even admit that I’ve done it a few times during this post. For some reason, it is much easier for me to continue writing in whatever stream of consciousness or direction my story has taken me in than to stop writing entirely to figure out a specific phrase I want to use and disrupt the flow of my story. I also generally multi-task when it comes to writing. I will be listening to music, watching TV or online shopping as a miniature distraction for those moments where I find myself bored or stuck. Generally, I am also one of those writers who will wait until the last minutes to address a troubling sentence, phrase or quote placement. Maybe it’s the adrenaline but I become a lot more focused when I get closer to a deadline.

    I think that these idiosyncrasies can be very helpful but also slightly distracting when it comes to productivity. I think it is important to be able to make the distinction between embracing writing quirks, like inserting blanks and Amazon.com, and avoiding having to finish a story. If I find myself getting too distracted I have found that, personally, it is helpful for me to take a walk or simply just get out of whatever environment I was working in for a little while. Almost always I come back refreshed and ready to finish what I have started.

    • Many of us have commented about how we work best on deadline. Deadlines do have a way of crystallizing our thinking! Daily journalism was a good fit for me. Deadlines every day — perfect. I struggled with long-term projects. Give me three hours or give me three weeks, you’ll probably get the same result.

  7. I absolutely love jazz. But, I know a lot of people who hate it, such as my roommate. I have to listen to it when I write. It gets the creative juices flowing and relaxes me. I also don’t “plan” when I’m going to write. If I have an article due for DrakeMag, I keep in mind when it’s due, but I don’t necessarily know when I’m going to do it. I like to think about my stories before I sit down to write–let the story marinate in my head for a little while. When I understand what my focus is, what points I want to stress in my story, and know how I’m going to write it, then I get to work–with Stan Getz.
    I think that my idiosyncrasies can be productive, but can also be counterproductive. I want to work for a magazine when I’m older, and what if I can’t listen to jazz while at work? Will I not be able to write as well as I do with my “digital music player” (thank you, Working With Words). If a writer can do great work with idiosyncrasies, editors should encourage and celebrate them, which is something mentioned in Coaching Writers. But, if their idiosyncrasies get in the way, then they can be counterproductive. Writers just shouldn’t take idiosyncrasies to extreme. They should use them to their advantage, but be able to perform just as well without them.

    • I agree with you Katherine when you say that idiosyncrasies can go either way. If a writer is able to produce great work with those idiosyncrasies, more power to them. If they get in the way, though, I think it’s the job of the editor to aid the writer in overcoming such idiosyncrasies in order to still produce good work even if there isn’t time for their idiosyncratic writing methods.

    • “marinate” — I like that term.

  8. I believe I have a slight case of OCD, and this definitely affects how I organize my utensils before I begin writing something, but in a positive way.
    There are two things that I need in large quantities and in a variety of sizes and colors: Post-it notes and writing utensils.
    Regular notebook paper does not cut it for me. I always need millions of Post-it notes nearby. I use the different sizes for different tasks. For example, I jot down phrases, page numbers, and any random thoughts that come to mind on larger Post-its, and I use the smaller flag Post-its to specifically point to a line or keep my place on a page. Even as I was reading the blog post, I was writing down ideas on big Post-its about how I was going to respond. Also, Post-its are recyclable, so I do not feel guilty about going through thousands of them over the course of one weekend.
    After I have my Post-its lined up on my desk, I take out my writing utensils. Some people are picky about whether they are going to write or take notes with a pencil or a pen. Once that is decided, they have to choose which type they are going to use. A mechanical pencil or a traditional wooden pencil? A blue ballpoint pen or a black fountain pen? In my case, I cannot settle for one medium or one color of any writing utensil.
    I have ink pens, felt-tip pens, colored pencils, highlighters, and permanent markers all at the ready. They are in rainbow order, and each color gets assigned to a certain subject. For instance, I will use warm colors for quotes, and each person that speaks will be a particular color (such as red, orange or yellow).
    My system may seem like a bit much to other people, but it works for me. It keeps me organized and focused, which is the most important thing when I am writing.

    • This I gotta see. We want a picture!

    • I’m not going to lie–I didn’t even read Kristen’s post, but I am here to tell how she really writes or edits anything and everything!

      Fist, she puts on her “thinking pants.” AKA BLUE ZEBRA SWEAT PANTS (she may refer to them as zubaz). She must have on some form of white noise whether it be television, hippity-hop beats or Sara, our roommate–any noise will do. FINALLY, she must randomly spit out SNL quotes, four to five words from any random song or just random noises every five minutes or so.

      Basically, to accomplish anything in this room, you must adjust to this abnormal lifestyle of colorful pants and constant obnoxiousness (word?) from all of us. All idiosyncrasies are accepted in room 470 (except silence)!

  9. I think it’s important to respect the tendencies and quirks of writers because you can’t change or alter the way someone approaches their job. If you ask me, I’m quite full of idiosyncrasies, not so much in the way I do things but rather the kind of emotional mood I need to be in in order to write. I’m a much better write at late hours of the night, when the brain feels a bit numb and your emotions are razor-thin. That’s when my neurosis and writing anxiety kicks in and that’s when I’m a better writer. However, I must say this pattern in my writing is reflected more when I’m writing prose or writing an essay or something personal. Article writing comes a lot easier to me, I just need to focus, find a good lead and once I have my quotes I’m good to go.

    Most of the writers I know don’t have any of these neurotic tics, but they can’t function until they have all their information, a good lead and generally work better on deadline. I think that idiosyncracies serve as a way for writers to find a comfort zone, often times repetition creates a sense of security and that’s why writers are among the most special kinds of human beings.

  10. Idiosyncrasies are great. I think that’s what makes the journalism world so unique. It’s a definite offshoot of english writing and the way we view that has everything to do with each author’s tendencies in their writing. So by each person having their own styles, voice and creative process, it goes a long way to show how unique each person and writer is. They make people want to come back, and not only that, it makes the office/writing setting more fun.

    I have a few: I need sound. I’m actually better at writing when there are a bunch of people around. And if not, I listen to music on shuffle to get variety and maybe set me on a certain path. I brainstorm on my own before I start writing. And I write in segments, so I set goals for each writing session.

    • Setting goals for each writing session? I’m intrigued. What kind of goals do you set? A word count? A section of the story? An amount of time?

  11. After reading these two chapters, I feel a lot more comfortable about the way I am when I write. For me, I need silence and an uncomfortable chair. These help keep me focused on the writing as well and assure I’m not falling asleep.

    From an editors point of view, I would have to agree that editors should be trained psychologists as well. It’s not always easy to see where a writer is coming from without getting inside their head. You have to know the way the writer thinks to be able to coach and edit in a way that would be beneficial to that particular writer. The quote that I enjoyed from chapter 4 was, “Good editors watch good writers . . . like a trainer preparing a boxer for a big fight.” This, to me, explains how an editor comes to understanding their writers.

  12. I think most writers, in any capacity, have idiosyncrasies. Not coming from a “journalist” viewpoint, I still find that I have certain rituals and habits that seem to help me center when I’m writing. And I can definitely see, after reading these two chapters, why it’s important to understand a writer’s quirks and work with them rather than against them.

    Mine are all fairly slight, I think. I definitely need a variation of music; I always write for class on my laptop, and I’m constantly shuffling between songs and making mixes of different tracks. It’s the variation of tone and tempo that help me work. I think it wakes my brain up and helps me stay along the course. And while I write final drafts on my laptop, I MUST outline on lined paper by hand before I can even begin. I need that physical action of writing out my thoughts and the flow of my paper before I can think about starting my draft.

    • How elaborate are your outlines? Mine are usually half a page, but I’ve seen some from other writers that stretch for pages and pages.

  13. All writers have– and need– their idiosyncrasies. I certainly do. I agree with Skylar that idiosyncrasies make writers unique. Their quirks affect their style, whether they write and rewrite, or submit after one draft. I find my tics to be helpful. I have a lot of them too. For example, I need to have a glass of water and a snack that comes in small pieces (and therefore last longer), like popcorn or grapes. And I must have ChapStick within reach- I am obsessed. As far as actually writing the story goes, I am a last-minute writer. I can’t type the second graf until I have the lead down. I walk around for two weeks writing the rest of the story in my head. Then, the night before it’s due, I’ll work on the lead for two hours and pound out the body in 30 minutes. I find I do my best writing at 2 a.m.

    It’s important for editors to be able to work with writers’ idiosyncrasies. It will make them more effective as coaches, and help the writers do their job more effectively.

  14. I do the exact same thing. I MUST have music on or there’s no way I can even begin. I can’t listen to slow music because then I don’t get into a productive mode. It needs to be fast, up-beat music to get me going. I also will just sit down and write everything that I know about the story. I write a really sloppy lead (if you can even call it that) and then I spend way too much time writing the lead once I have organized the rest of the story. I frustrate myself, but that is how I’ve always been. I also have an outline next to me to make sure I stay on track, even though I’m just writing a very, very rough draft.

    I agree with Emily, in that all journalists have these ‘tics’ or ‘idiosyncrasies.’ Some might say that they are counter-productive, but I think that they must all be productive. They serve as a kind of motivation for the writer. It shouldn’t matter what the writer needs to do in order to start writing, as long as the story is well-written and in by deadline.

  15. Professor VanWyke, you are most definitely not alone when it comes to writing in your head first and foremost. I find that if I’m especially interested/engrossed in a story, the more often I find myself writing sentences over and over again, moving words around until it sounds just right (however, I don’t physically mouth the words to avoid total embarrassment).

    I’m definitely a writer who can take a very long time to develop and write a story if the deadline allows. I’m actually fairly comfortable just sitting down at my computer and staring at the screen until something–anything–flows out. I also work fairly well under pressure. Sometimes, I think I actually think I do my best work under pressure. I write more concisely, I choose words more efficiently and I edit much more effectively.

    I agree with Skylar when he says that idiosyncrasies are something that make journalism so great. It’s the odd writing methods that help writers hone in on their work and produce a piece that has their voice.

  16. I can see bits and pieces of all the idiosyncrasies mentioned in my own writing habits. I need time to think about my work before I begin and I like to listen to music or have a game on while I write. However, when I begin writing, I find myself not worrying about grammar or punctuation and I just write whatever comes to mind. Doing this helps me get an outline of the story and I learn what I like and don’t like about it. After having it down on paper, it is easier for me to go back and add detail and clear up any confusing or poorly written sentences.

    One particularly interesting idiosyncrasy (and annoying, if you happen to be in the same room) was one that my former boss had. While he was writing anything, whether a story or an e-mail, he would read the words aloud as he wrote them down.

  17. My own idiosyncrasies drive me mad. I cannot sit and write a smoothly flowing story; I have to pound out everything in my head in a nonsensical manner as fast as I possibly can and then go back later to piece everything together into a functioning story. Writing this way makes me feel as if I have to pull the story out of my head with a tooth and nail; but once it is out, I really enjoy creating a functioning work from random bits of information.
    To sit down and write, I have to have complete silence.
    Every time I revise I must be in a slightly new location or at least have walked away for a while. Otherwise, I’d say my demands to write are few.

    I think idiosyncrasies can be both detrimental and beneficial. Complete silence is great for one’s thought process. Noise can affect the way the story is going. For example, if the tone of the story needs to be relaxing, but one is writing in chaos, that could affect the writing style. However, some of the idiosyncrasies mentioned above (such as needing a million little snacks or a pencil in just the right spot) can be a bad thing; what happens when there is a deadline and the writer can’t find that pen or the store is out of that particular snack? Those types of idiosyncrasies can be burdensome on everyone involved in getting that story to press on time.

  18. I must have a lead. Once I have a lead, everything else just seems to flow nicely into place. No lead, no second graf. Ever.

    I’ll also pump myself up for an article. I used to wrestle and I remember having to always psych myself up to get out there. I would jump in place, slap my legs, thighs, arms, chest and talk myself up. The coaches would slap me around a little, too. Weird, huh? Well, that little ritual has followed me into journalism. However, I haven’t encountered a professor or editor like my wrestling coaches.

    That’s a good thing.

    I pump myself up mostly when I’m alone but a few things escape if I’m in a classroom or any other setting with people.

    I think getting a good lead is why I have to get pumped up. Writing a good lead is kind of like making a big play or getting the winning takedown: you have to dig deep.

    • I’m just relieved to know I’m not expected to hit you to get good work out of you.

      Along your must-have-the-lead-written lines, an alumna, @NDN_JBuzzacco, weighed in on Twitter: “I…can’t write w/o having a lede. People don’t read from the middle, so I shouldn’t start there.”

  19. When I’m writing I like to have some form of background noise- radio, tv, etc. I have to write with a pen and I like to have food or drink at hand. Sometimes these can be distracting and I have to shut myself in the closet to get work done.

  20. To write a story, I really need to feel the crunch of an impending deadline to get myself in gear. I need to know that I only have x amount of time looming to finish this before I will really start to work. In addition, I also need to have well-organized notes to work from and a quiet place without too many distractions. I think that my idiosyncrasies are mainly productive because they aren’t outrageous or demanding requirements. However, crunching before a deadline could be counterproductive because sometime I might not be able to get my work done in time or maybe the quality of my work suffers as a result. I have seen other writers use a color-coding system for their notes. I think this is pretty normal and simply serves them to stay organized.

    • I agree with the having a deadline to an extent. I love having the pressure of something coming up and be required to get it done. I do this thing with really long deadlines (like a month or longer) where I realize how far in the future it is, and I set a date to start working on it and leave myself a week of not working on it before diving in. It’s like buffered procrastination.

    • Deadlines are definitely a favorite of mine as well. I totally agree about having to know the certain x-amount of time. Knowing that I need to finish at a certain point helps to narrow my focus. And I’m kind of good at procrastinating most of the time. Oops.

    • See, “procrastination” is such an ugly word. Let’s call it “pre-writing.”

  21. thegeekswereright

    I think idiosyncrasies are more often helpful than they are a hindrance. For me personally, I need to plot out where I’m going with whatever I’m writing before I can commit to the story entirely. An outline is always helpful and silence, for me, is like death to my voice. Music in the background (as long as it isn’t too distracting) can work wonders. So I would say that these “tics” are most often productive, although I have been privy to a few cases in which they mean a story is late or incomplete. From an editor’s standpoint, knowing your writers and their “tics”is how you combat situations like that. So I would still argue that you’ll always have a better story if the writer’s been allowed their little quirks.

  22. I think that everyone has their own style and it’s fun to read about all of our little tricks! For me, I have to sit cross-legged at my desk and just start typing. My stories never make sense at first, I just type up the quotes I like best and then random parts of the story. I read through it and then usually take a quick mind break. Then I go back and finish it.
    I can’t have any music, I have to have a Diet Coke, and I have to work really hard to stay focused (AKA no facebook, email, twitter). I’m easily distracted, which does not work well when I’m trying to get something done. But, I’ve found my little tricks that help me get the job done!

    • I can’t have any music either! Whenever I try listening to music while writing simultaneously, the music usually wins out. I sing along and lose focus. Sometimes I reward myself with a song after I finish a lead or paragraph! 🙂

  23. I think idiosyncrasies are a representation of our personalities. I know that I have a very random and disorganized person and these traits are shown in my writing sometimes. As far as my idiosyncrasies goes, I have many of them. I cannot write if anyone is in the room with me, especially if they are within eye shot of what I am writing. I also have to have some noise. It doesn’t matter if it is television, radio, etc. However, this noise cannot be via earphones, however, because I must be able to hear and see everything in my surrounding.

    After teaching English in China for a year, I have seen some strange things that some of my students did while writing. I had one student that was always taping a pen on the table with his left hand while writing with his right hand. It drove me nuts that he did this, and was able to do this. This was the one that I noticed the most.

  24. I don’t know if this is an idiosyncrasy or not, but I can’t write until I’m in the right mood. With every story I’m assigned, I can go out and do the interviews and reporting right away. However, when I get home, I can’t always start writing right away. A lot of the time I have to just forget about the story and do something else or I’ll think about the story while doing something else. Either way, I have to do something else. I have to have a feel for the story and just live with the words and pictures from the story in my head for a while before I’m ready. I usually have to write the title last because it’s after I’ve summed up my story. But if it’s a story I’m struggling with, I find that writing my title first helps show me the main point of the story and gets me going.

    I think that my idiosyncrasy produces my best writing. I’ve never had a deadline that was so close that I couldn’t wait until I was in the mood to write. But then again, deadlines kind of work for me – I like the pressure.

    I’m not sure that I’ve seen any tics in other writers, but that’s just because I haven’t observed other writers getting ready to write. I think that these tics help a writer get focused in whatever way that helps. Writers without routines are like famous sports players without their superstitions. Everything has to be just right or you just feel off and can’t produce your best work.

  25. When possible, I prefer to have all my reporting done before I do any sort of writing. There’s nothing that bugs me more than having to stick in new quotes right before deadline. It ruins the flow. I can usually crank out a decent article just by joining quotes with out any sort of organization beforehand. I just go with the mental flow.
    When I need to concentrate and finish quickly, I need absolute quiet. If someone so much as coughs, I glare at them until they leave. Not the nicest quirk, but they sure leave me alone.
    I find my idiosyncrasies productive for me. It’s probably a good idea to make an outline before writing, but when I was a kid my mom stressed outlines too much so I boycott them now. Most people like background noise, but no noise works better for me.
    I’ve seen people need chewing gum when on deadline, need a cigarette, need to cross their legs, oh, and need COFFEE. Who doesn’t have that idiosyncrasy?
    I think idiosyncrasies are like lucky charms. Their only purpose is to calm your mind. While chewing gum may not send electric waves to your brain, it puts you in the mindset that it’s time to write. If I have all my reporting notes in front of me and no background noise, I know it’s time to write because there is nothing else needed and nothing to distract me.

  26. When it comes to the newsroom, I have insane OCD. I began my journalistic career as a freshman in high school, and thus began the idiosyncrasies. They started out slow, and then continued to grow. My biggest one would be my lead writing routine. I cannot write a story until I have my lead set. In my mind the lead is one of the most important parts. When I was a journalistic newby, I had no idea what a lead even was. My first story came back ripped apart by a red pen. Those early experiences taught me that a writer must think. That sounds simple, but to me, it is the essence of journalism. I must think my lead through completely and have it set before I even begin to develop the rest of the story. This helps me to determine the clear focus, which is very productive despite any time left. Fellow journalists have told me to break this habit, but I am pretty content just as it is.

    Many writers that I’ve been on staff with in the past are very particular about the kind of music they have playing. A beloved sports editor blasted ‘Eye of the Tiger’ every time she needed to focus intently. The graphics editor preferred Celine Dion. To each their own, right? Writing is such an individual craft. We each approach writing, reporting, editing, differently. I think our idiosyncrasies only help to further develop our writing abilities. The way someone else writes probably wouldn’t work for me, and vice versa. That’s the beauty of writing: no one is the same.

  27. My idiosyncrasies:
    -I require complete silence
    -Before I can write I have to first check my email, Facebook, Twitter,etc.
    -I need a coffee, followed by gum
    -I too need to have lip balm at hand

    I think these things aren’t necessarily counter productive, because I realize I do them and thus plan out extra time to complete my work. I view idiosyncrasies as a mental hurdle that I have to get over in order to reach my destination. Once they are complete, my mind is more free to focus on the task at hand, and I am not distracted by incoming messages that could be coming to me.

  28. Just to add my own problems/quirks to this: I’ve gone through some phases. There was the seance phase with candles and cigarettes (college, of course). There was the easy chair phase, where I would sit for 12 hours on a Sunday—every Sunday—writing. There was the headphone phase (still in that one, actually). The write backwards phase. Write in chunks phase. Write from the beginning phase. Fill in from the quotes phase. The Diet Mountain Dew phase (so sad that it’s over). The Tom Jones phase (don’t ask). The Pearl Jam phase. The folk music phase, followed by the death metal phase. The email check phase. The FB check phase. In the Twitter check phase now (How do you think I ended up here?). And finally the put my kids to bed phase. Damn, that’s a long list.

  29. Jill, I am the same way with sorting the ideas in my head before I sit down to write. I also agree with Lizzie about having all reporting done before writing. It is really annoying to have to fill in information and possibly have to re-organize an entire article just so the flow fits.

    As for idiosyncrasies, I personally do not have one. I prefer quiet and peaceful place to sit and write on a laptop, but have been able to crank out writing in a room full of noise or music blaring in the background. I also agree with Tim that having a good lead is a must before moving on in the article. I have to write chronologically; jumping around the article doesn’t do it for me.

    Sorry for posting so late, as I was stuck in Colorado/Nebraska away from civilization the past weekend.

  30. Just reading through this post I notice the little crazy habits I follow religiously. I find myself with the urge to read through any information I have in front of me before starting to write. In this case, it took a while! The room usually needs to be quiet, although depending on the writing assignment a little iTunes is nice – until I start singing along to every song that plays. Just as so many others already mentioned, I often find myself procrastinating. Write a paragraph, check Facebook; write another paragraph, check a random blog; write a sentence, check my email. It’s a never ending cycle. There are always a million little thoughts buzzing through my head that tell me to stop writing and do something less productive.

    The next time I sit down in front of my laptop screen, I will only think about the little quirks and habits that go into my writing.

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