15 Productivity Secrets from Very Prolific Writers

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Need a little help breaking through your writer’s block? Take a page from one of these all-time greats and stimulate your creativity with a cat, a hunk of cocoa, or a bowl of rotting fruit.

1. Voltaire skipped lunch. Instead of a mid-day meal, the French titan sustained himself with chocolate and up to 40 cups of coffee per day.

2. The dark, gruesome work of Edgar Allan Poe was written under the supervision of a cat. The tabby Catterina sat on the writer's lap or perched on his shoulder.

3. Sir Walter Scott preferred to write in motion, often while riding his horse.

4. Word counts work for some writers. Anthony Trollope set a goal of 250 words every 15 minutes.

5. Victor Hugo went on self-imposed house arrest to finish The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He even locked away all his clothes, so he wouldn't be tempted to get dressed and go out. But Hugo wasn't naked—he wore the same gray writing shawl for months.

6. Like many of us, Charles Dickens sometimes worked while traveling. But he couldn't do it without his five bronze animal statues, paper knife, green vase, desk calendar, blue ink, and quills. Good thing he didn't have to work at a coffee shop!

7. Dickens also insisted on writing in a specific blue ink. He wasn't attached to the color — it just dried faster, so he didn't have to waste time blotting.

8. Lewis Carroll literally wrote purple prose. He penned his manuscripts in the same violet ink required for grading his math students at Christ Church College in Oxford. This way, he could easily switch between tasks.

9. The three musketeers on Alexandre Dumas's desk were piles of color-coded paper: pink for articles, blue for fiction, and yellow for poetry.

10. When Herman Melville needed a break to revitalize his creative juices, he worked the fields of his 160-acre farm.

11. John Milton spent the last 20 years of his life blind, but not being able to see didn’t slow him down. He'd start writing poetry in his head around 5 a.m., and an aide would arrive at 7 a.m. to take dictation. Milton called the process "getting milked."

12. With his publisher’s deadline for The Gambler looming, Fyodor Dostoyevsky hired a stenographer named Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina in 1866. The two finished the novella within a month and married a year later. Dostoyevsky dictated his work to her for the rest of his life.

13. Proust turned his bedroom workspace into a cocoon, covering his windows with shutters and dark curtains and lining the walls and ceiling with soundproofing cork. Blotting out the sun and the noise was a necessity since he slept all day and wrote all night.

14. Nothing stimulated poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller's creatives juices like the smell of rotting apples. He kept a drawer full of them in his desk. That wasn’t his only writing quirk—Schiller also enjoyed soaking his feet in ice water to stay alert.

15. Scottish biographer James Boswell was a tremendous writer, but he wasn’t great at waking up in the morning. To solve this problem, he designed a bed that would physically lift him up and set him on the floor. He never got around to building it, so servants ended up doing the heavy lifting for him.