Writing Bites

It’s endlessly fascinating how and where great writers create their masterpieces—perhaps in part because writing is so damn difficult we figure there must be some secret place these guys go or some divine muse they tap into. As an emerging writer myself, any crumbs of information or inspiration I can glean are invaluable.

This Guardian newspaper black-and-white photo series of writers with their typewriters is something I return to regularly. It comforts me that the greats did what I do daily, which is to sit and think and attempt to tap out thoughts via a word processor. It takes away a bit of the mystery and reminds me that there aren’t any secrets to writing—just lots of slog.

These photos also give some insight into those writers who do their best work surrounded by stuff—other books, older drafts, and coffee cups. Me? I need to have a space completely free of clutter.

And stimuli, if I’m being honest. Save for a single white orchid and my laptop stand, my desk and office are empty of anything to look at or play with. The walls are art-free and the blinds are pulled down so I can’t see out the window. The latter also has something to do with my propensity for developing migraines and the unfortunate backlighting-glare the window casts over my desk.

It’s never occurred to me, though, to wonder what those writers ate/eat while they pen great works. Most of the iconic photos show them existing on a steady diet of cigarettes and coffee. Then there’s the general notion that many writers are fuelled by alcohol.

Turns out some writers consume/consumed slightly more than that, although the quirky variety of foods of choice displayed here visually also made me chuckle. I’ve long been infamous among family and friends for my strange eating habits, and my writing diet sees me exist fairly steadily on things like Diet Coke, dried apricots, pistachio nuts, milk bottle lollies (the proper, expensive lolly shop-bought ones; not the nasty supermarket imitators), steamed green beans, pumpkin soup with lashings of sour cream and salt, and strawberries.

Sounds like a not entirely awful mix, but I tend to eat only one or two of them at a time. Seems my eating habits are no more odd than many of my more famous and successful counterparts. Byron had a propensity for vinegar. F. Scott Fitzgerald combined apples and Spam (the faux meat, not the emails).

Steinbeck didn’t believe fresh is best, with stale coffee and toast on the cards (although I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was probably because he was so absorbed in his work and so inspired and free-flowing in his writing that he forgot about his food until it was in such a state).

Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler eats raw carrots (which I give the thumbs up, also being a fan), but leaves the leftover tops around his desk (which I give the thumbs down—see previous para about not being able to write with clutter).

Emily Dickinson’s home-baked bread sounds like heaven, and Joyce Maynard’s lime popsicle eating makes writing almost sound fun. I’ll be aiming to adopt these two in coming months—let you know how I go (and if it helps my writing).

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.