5 Habits of Great Writers (And What They Tell Us About the Brain)



Whether or not you consider yourself a writer, chances are, you probably have your own writing habits. At the very least, you likely have some ritual that helps you formulate ideas and foster productivity. Here’s what some literary giants did to churn out words and ideas — day after day. When you’re one of these phenomenal writers, fresh inspiration has to come every day.

Stephen King

In addition to his habit of sometimes writing up to ten pages a day, the prolific author and proclaimed “master of horror” listens to metal while he works. Bands like Metallica and Anthrax are among his favorites. Sure, for some people music might be distracting, but in the brain a key element is at play when music is heard, according to a study in Science. Music elicits our emotions by setting off activity in the nucleus accumbens, the same region of the brain that releases dopamine during sex and eating. It does so while engaging the amygdala (which processes emotion), and spreading to areas of the prefrontal cortex that are involved in abstract decision-making, all of which are the elements needed to create a suspenseful thriller.

Victor Hugo

The genius behind “Les Miserables” had a reason for closing the blinds when he took up his pen and parchment. Hugo chose to write in his own skin. While what writers wear may vary, not everyone may be up to trying this approach. A Finnish study, however, has shown that nudity may have some beneficial effects on the brain. Regions of the occipital and temporal lobe, which can recognize and process images of people in a given environment, were able to spot naked bodies faster than images of people wearing clothes. This suggests that nudity accelerates the brain’s processing and stimulates neurons. Of course, you could always opt for loose fitting clothing instead. It is typically recommended for EEG scans as it allows the neurons to flow freely.

James Michener

The author wore Bermuda shorts and sandals behind the typewriter. On the other hand …

Sue Grafton

The novelist insists on maintaining an air of professionalism by wearing only freshly pressed pantsuits when she gets ready to write in the morning, treating writing as if it were any other nine to five office job. Not only is she giving a degree of professionalism to the craft, but also to the brain. A study on embodied cognition showed that test subjects who were dressed as doctors reported heightened levels of attention and performed better on a cognitive assessment test than the control group.

Virginia Woolf

In her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” the legendary British writer famously speculates on how many great women writers there could have been, had they been afforded a room like the study she wrote in every morning. It wasn’t so much the room that mattered, so long as the writer had a place to pursue her thoughts. A study published in NeuroImage suggests she might have been onto something. Researchers from fields of radiology, neurology, and architecture scanned the brains of patients as they took in beach and urban scenes. They noticed that when shown a calm beach, regions in the patients’ brain were seen connecting with each other and working in sync. Working hunched over an easel, as Woolf did, is of course totally optional.

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