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Three famous women writers and their writing routines

Jane Austen

(1775-1817)

Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Mansfield Park (1814) is a great example of someone that managed to thrive in a setting that seems to oppose the myth of privacy and solitude of the artist. Austen didn’t write in her room; there were seldom any opportunities for privacy in her cottage in Chawton, England. She lived with her mother, her sister, a close friend and three servants, in a household that would constantly be flooded with guests. Consequently, Jane Austen grew used to writing in small sheets of paper that could be easily hidden or covered when an unexpected guest made an appearance. Austen rose from bed before any of the other women in the house, played the piano, and organized the family breakfast to take place at nine in the morning. Breakfast was one of Austen’s main tasks in the household. After that, she settled down to write in the family’s sitting room until the afternoon. Her afternoons were spent reading aloud from novels, moments in which Austen would read her writings to her family. The vast amount of time that Jane Austen managed to invest in her writing was, in part, thanks to her sister Cassandra, who shouldered the majority of Jane Austen’s household chores. This was a major alleviation for the author, who once wrote “Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton & doses of rhubarb.”

Sylvia Plath

(1932-1963)

The marvellous poet behind The Bell Jar (1963)and Ariel (1965) struggled to set a daily routine for writing. Unlike her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes, Sylvia didn’t have a room of her own. At the beginning of her writing career, she dedicated a significant amount of time to the editing of Ted Hughes’ poems; Sylvia’s biographers often claim that her husband’s literary success came at the price her recognition as a living poet. It was only near the end of her life, having divorced from her husband, that she managed to carve out a chunk of time for writing in her daily routine. She used sedatives to go to sleep, and would wake up at five in the morning; she would write until her children woke up. While working like this for approximately two months in the autumn of 1962, Sylvia managed to finish nearly all of the poems in Ariel. Sadly, her poetry gained momentum in the literary circles of the era only after her death in 1963. One can only wonder how prolific she could have been had she had the time to write more systematically, without the burden of having to make compatible her role as a mother with her career as a poet.

Simone de Beauvoir

(1908-1986)

A fundamental part of the canon of feminist literature, Simone de Beauvoir had an unquestionable genius and a strict writing routine. Her success can be credited both to her intelligence and systematic approach to academic labours. Mornings were usually the hardest moment of her day, she told The Paris Review in 1965, but she managed to have some tea and then, hopefully by 10 o’clock, start writing in her desk. This starting time was set in stone. The rigidity of Beauvoir’s writing schedule has been accounted for by her friends and lovers: she wrote religiously until one in the afternoon, and after having lunch with her friends, she frequently went to Sartre’s apartment and worked on her writing there until about nine; she had no issues picking up the morning thread of her writing in the afternoon writing sessions. Beauvoir and Sartre shared a rigorous routine of reading and writing, and often shared their ideas with each other very openly. Once the clock struck nine, she joined Sartre in whichever political event was on his schedule, or else went to the movies or drank scotch and listened to the radio together. Simone de Beauvoir was a workaholic, and yet a paramount example of someone who managed to reconcile a fruitful intellectual career with an active social and amorous life.

Author’s note: most of the biographical information present in this article was taken from Mason Currey’s exploration of  writer’s daily rituals in “Daily Rituals How Artists Work.” This book is a very interesting read,  be sure to check it out if you can.