Writers need to write in order to be great writers. That’s obvious. But most of the time, writers have other hobbies that either inform their writing, clear their mind to write, or just keep them happy to move forward in their writing journeys.
Julia Cameron writes in her book The Artist Way, “In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond…Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them—to restock the trout pond, so to speak.”
I wanted to take a look at what some well-known writers did during their non-writing time as well as share what our alums like to do during their down time.
One alum, Emily Vander Ark, tells of her own hobbies that improve her writing on her website.
- Agatha Christie accompanied her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan through the Middle East and assisted him on his digs. These journeys inspired many of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express.
- Victor Hugo was a talented and prolific artist. He produced over 4,000 drawings in his lifetime. At first painting was just a hobby, but he eventually shared them and was praised by the leading artists of his time.
- E. Cummings also painted every day, producing over 1,600 drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors.
- Sylvia Plath was a beekeeper. This hobby seems to mostly be a pastime for her and her husband Ted Hughes, but shortly before her death, Plath wrote a series of poems about bees, inspired by this hobby.
- Emily Dickinson loved baking, even winning second place in the 1856 Amherst Cattle Show with her loaf of Indian and Rye Bread. She often baked for her friends and family, even giving away her cakes to neighborhood children. Many lines of poetry could be found on the backs of recipes, having seemingly been inspired during her baking sessions.
- Leo Tolstoy was an devoted chess player, often playing with his biographer, Aylmer Maude who said Tolstoy “had no book-knowledge of it, but had played much and was alert and ingenious.”
- Ernest Hemingway is well-known for his love of the outdoors. He was often hunting and fishing, went on several African safaris and was an accomplished deep sea fisherman. These adventures inspired many of his books and short stores. He is known to have said, “In order to write about life first you must have lived it.”
- Jack Kerouac was a fantasy sports enthusiast. Though, not the fantasy football we think of today. He would often create games in his head of imaginary teams with imaginary players, recording the games in his notebooks.
- Madeleine L’Engle would often sit down to the piano when she was struggling with writer’s block. About this she has said, “Playing the piano is for me a way of getting unstuck. If I’m stuck in life or in what I’m writing, if I can I sit down and play the piano. What it does is break the barrier that comes between the conscious and the subconscious mind.”
- Mark Twain, known to be friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, was an inventor himself. He patented three inventions” the elastic hook clasp, a scrapbook with self-adhesive pages, and an educational game called the “memory-builder.”
- R.R. Tolkien was a conlang enthusiast. He was a brilliant philologist who studied many languages and taught Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. He started constructing languages as a teenager and this continued to be a passion throughout his life. In a letter to his wife he admitted that he worked long hours on his “nonsense fairy language” and tried to keep himself from it because “it does seem such a mad hobby!” But later, he went on to write his saga from Middle Earth so this hobby bread something magical in his mind.
Here’s what some of our alumni have said about their own hobbies.
Lauren Young– “People watching! I also go to church.”
Elizabeth Burton- “I ride horses. The connection with an animal clears my mind.”
Alicia Anthony– “I second Elizabeth’s answer, although now I do more watching/helping my daughter than riding, it’s still cathartic and sends me back to my pages renewed.”
Drema Drudge– “Whenever I get to feeling stale, I “cross train:” I go for a walk while listening to music, paint, or cook.”
Jessica Evans– “If I feel really stuck, I’ll revisit my current notebook for inspirational lines from other writers. This usually jogs my brain well enough to get moving again. Getting out of my work space is a great tactic, too. Lifting, running, walking, anything to get my brain out of my work in progress. Or coffee. Coffee always helps.”
Gary Walker– “Crossword puzzles. Lots of them. The clever ones force me to think of words in different ways than I normally would.”
Lisa McShane– “Cleaning my house, wallpapering, walking the dogs.”
Kellie Carle– “Going on long car rides (with someone else driving of course) while listening to music. The genre of music normally reflects the type of story I’m trying to write while the scenery clears my mind from all other distractions and I’m forced to focus on what is on the other side of my window before it disappears.”
Anna Urquhart– “Singing! It is a transcendent and inspiring practice for me to sing with abandon as often as I can. Whether alone in my car, in a church congregation, before an audience, or in my living room jamming to the Sound of Music with my daughters. I’ve actually started singing before I sit down to write. Last week it was to Sting’s “Until.”
Sara Lowe– “Taking a solitary swim has saved me from many deadline disasters. I think being able to float and think allows me time to forget about everything else and focus on what’s important.”
Julie Stewart– “Embroidery and seeing.”
Karen Chronister– “An intense workout or walking in nature sweeps away the cobwebs or cures my brain hiccups. An old movie and live music also excite creative areas of my mind that reading and writing don’t quite reach. I just got a “Lead Actor” pass to a historic “art house” cinema in Nashville that plays anything from old musicals to foreign films to Sundance indies. It’s creative fuel.”
Cindy Brady– “Climbing mountains and exploring salt marsh and estuaries.”
Kelly Theurer Martineau– “Hand sewing and knitting.”
Alice Jennings– “Study Spanish–or French.”
Therese L. Broderick– “listening to academic lectures online, yoga, TM meditation (more serious than a hobby, though), learning new languages, hand-stitching chapbooks.”
Anne Marie Fowler– “Painting, making jewelry, antiquing.”
Angela Dale Alexander– “Teaching myself to draw and making jewelry.”
Terry Price– “Photography, travel and cycling!”
Diana McQuady– “Painting, viewing art, seeing movies, travel, reading, music.”
I’m looking for contributors for the following posts:
DEAR SOARING!: Send me your questions to be featured on the blog. Other alumni will help in answering your questions.
Where in the World: Where have you gone recently? Send me a picture with information on your trip and any writing you may have done about the trip.
Awards and Accolades of Alumni: Time to brag! What have you accomplished recently? I want to help spread the word and show just how great our alumni really are.
Email me at email@example.com to be featured.
Mackenzie Jervis is a Summer 2016 Graduate. She lives in Texas with her husband, two cats, and puppy. She has way too many books, more cameras than she knows how to properly use, and a never ending need to keep moving. She write about her adventures at home and around the world at A Wandering Scribbler.