Like baseball players with their rally caps or gamblers with their good luck charms, writers have been known to have their own weird superstitions. And no, we’re not talking about seven years of bad luck from breaking a mirror or from a black cat crossing your path—in fact, we firmly believe cats make great writing partners!
But because writers never know when the muses will strike (or when they won’t), or if a book will be picked up, success as a writer can sometimes seem to be based more on luck than on talent.
So you can’t entirely blame writers—including famous authors—for trying to dispel bad luck with some eccentric and strange beliefs. Many famous writers have had writing superstitions they went to great lengths to meet, convinced it was the only way to get their thoughts flowing and to produce great writing.
Well-Known Authors with Weird Writing Superstitions
- Isabel Allende, a Chilean-American writer known for her works of magical realism, begins all of her novels on the same date—January 8th. This is because she started writing her first novel, The House of the Spirits, on that date.
- British poet Edith Sitwell would lie down in an open coffin before she began writing her poetry for the day. She claimed it helped her to clear her mind and focus.
- Joaquin Miller was rumored to have installed sprinklers above his home because he believed he could only write his poetry to the sound of rain pouring down on his roof.
- Friedrich Schiller claimed that he couldn’t write without the smell of rotten apples. He kept rotten apples in his desk drawer and would inhale the smell when he needed to find inspiration.
- American author John Steinbeck insisted on writing his drafts in pencil, so he always kept twelve pencils on his desk that were perfectly sharpened and ready to use.
- John Cheever would put on a suit, ride down in the elevator among men going to their office jobs, walk to his building’s basement, take off his pants, and write. It was simply more comfortable.
- Truman Capote refused to begin or end a piece of writing on a Friday. He also used to lie down when he wrote.
- Alexander Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, had to write all of his fiction on blue paper, his poetry on yellow paper, and his articles on pink paper.
- American poet Amy Lowell bought 10,000 of her favorite cigars in 1915 in order to make sure she always had them on hand while writing. She claimed it kept the creative spark going.
Common Superstitions in the Writing World:
- Avoiding—at all costs—ending your novel on chapter thirteen or even having thirteen pages in a chapter. It’s that classic fear: triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen.
- Refusing to title a piece until it is absolutely complete. This is apparently J.K. Rowling’s only writing superstition. “I only type the title page of a novel once the book’s finished,” she said on Twitter.
- Writing with a specific pen or writing tool. The words won’t come, the thoughts won’t come—unless the special pen is used!
- Needing to wear a certain article of clothing while writing. For example: Many authors cannot write unless they are wearing pajamas. Carson McCullers, author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, had to wear her lucky sweater whenever she wrote.
- Insisting manuscripts end on an even-numbered page.
- Ensuring characters do not have the same initials as friends of the writer; otherwise, the person might suddenly have bad luck.
Writing quirks, habits, or superstitions: As long as they’re not harmful, they may actually help you focus and be productive. Who knows…you might even get more acceptances—keep your fingers crossed!
QUESTION: Do you have a strange writing habit or writing superstition?
I am a firm believer in the miracle of the deadline. I give myself one, write it in ink on a calendar because electronics are easy to ignore, and run with it. I also have several projects going at once so if I get stuck, I can hop into a different world for awhile. I also like the sound of pencil against paper.