Everybody has their quirks—and creative types are no exception. From a bestselling author who overcomes writer's block by hanging upside-down to one 18th-century poet who found rotting fruit to be a source of inspiration, here are the strange habits of six famous writers and artists.
1. Salvador Dalí's Hypnagogic Habits
Salvador Dalí saw naps as one of his most important tools for productivity. But it wasn't just a matter of trying to get more rest; instead, the artist honed his creative side by harnessing the power of the hypnagogic state—the moment right before you fall asleep. Think of it like being in a brief state (lasting maybe a second or so) between consciousness and dreaming, where strange new ideas can come to you while you're still aware enough to remember them. For a surrealist painter like Dalí, these creative visions helped fuel his work.
To take advantage of this state, Dalí would sleep with a spoon placed between his thumb and forefinger and a plate on the floor directly in line with the spoon. His theory suggested that the moment right before he fell asleep, his body would relax, thereby dropping the spoon from his hand to hit the plate. This would create a noise that would wake him up in the midst of his hypnagogic state and allow him to use what he experienced to create art.
2. Dan Brown's Gravity Boots
Countless authors have battled the scourge of writer's block during their careers. Some have a standard routine to fight it—like going on a hike or listening to some classical music—but Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown takes an upside-down approach to the issue by suspending himself by the feet in a pair of gravity boots. This method is known as inversion therapy, which is typically used to relieve back pain. But for Brown, it helps him clear his mind and gets the blood circulating to his brain so he can crank out bestsellers like Inferno.
3. Virginia Woolf's Standing Desk
Though she didn't go upside-down like Dan Brown, novelist Virginia Woolf was particular about the position she wrote in. The Mrs Dalloway author chose to work standing up at a desk that was around three and a half feet high. While standing desks were nothing new at the time, Woolf's reasoning had little to do with comfort or ergonomics. Instead, she chose the position in order to feel at the same level as her sister, Vanessa, a talented artist who often stood all day for her craft.
“This led Virginia to feel that her own pursuit might appear less arduous than that of her sister unless she set matters on a footing of equality, and so for many years, she stood at this strange desk and, in a quite unnecessary way, tired herself,” Woolf's nephew, Quentin Bell, said in a biography about the writer. Other writers, like Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens, were known to stand while working, but those habits likely weren't born out of sibling rivalry.
4. Pablo Picasso's Revolver
We often try to emulate our role models' habits, even if they aren't always the most logical. Artist Pablo Picasso found his inspiration in French writer Alfred Jarry, who was known to carry a loaded gun with him at all times and fire it during inappropriate social occasions. Following his lead, Picasso started walking around with a blank-filled Browning revolver of his own—at one point, he apparently even inherited Jarry's old gun after his passing. Picasso, it's said, would "fire" at people who questioned the meaning behind his paintings because he found them dull.
5. Pablo Neruda's Green Ink
Pablo Neruda—a diplomat, politician, and Nobel Laureate—wrote some of the most important poetry of the 20th century. But it wasn't just what Neruda wrote that's notable; he was also particular about how he wrote it. It turns out that the Chilean poet preferred to do his writing in green ink because he believed the color represented hope.
6. Friedrich Schiller's Rotting Fruit
German poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright Friedrich Schiller had more than papers and writing utensils at his desk. When writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe went to visit Schiller's home one day, he was overwhelmed by the stench of rotten apples in his desk. Since Schiller wasn't home at the time, van Goethe asked Friedrich's wife, Charlotte, why the decaying fruit was allowed to sit in his drawer. She informed the perplexed von Goethe that the smell was an inexplicable inspiration to her husband, who needed the vile aroma to be productive. Von Goethe, on the other hand, nearly fainted after a few whiffs.