In the April 1892 issue, there’s an article written about Walt Whitman's passing, and the influence he had in Europe. In that same issue, there’s an announcement calling for the formation of The American Society of Authors, which happened the following month.
To read the history of our profession not from those looking back, but from those who actually lived it has given me a sense of connection and community beyond any I’ve felt before. It’s also a lot of fun to see how writing was talked about and taught almost 120 years ago.
In the June 1893 issue of The Writer there's an article on the “Methods
of Authors: Favorite Habits of Work.” In other words, how writers write. It
talks about whether an author writes in the daylight or at night, uses a skeleton (outline) or not,
whether they depend on any stimulants,
like coffee, tea, or tobacco, as well as several other considerations of the writing life that bind authors of the 19th and 21st centuries together.
Among the authors profiled was Louisa May Alcott, who died five years before the article was written. Not only did she make do without a computer, but her most famous work, Little Women, was published two years before the first typewriter was sold commercially.
It seems she did just fine without them.
The Writing Method of Louisa May Alcott
(by Dr. H. Erichsen, “Methods of Writers,” The Writer Magazine, June 1893)
The method of Louisa May Alcott was a very simple one. She never had a study; and an old atlas on her knee was all the desk she cared for. Any pen, any paper, any ink, and any quiet place contented her.
Years ago, when necessity drove her hard, she used to sit for fourteen hours at her work, doing about thirty pages a day, and scarcely tasting food until her daily task was done. She never copied. When the idea was in her head, it flowed into words faster than she could write them down, and she seldom altered a line. She had the wonderful power of carrying a dozen plots for months in her mind, thinking them over whenever she was in the mood, to be developed at the proper time. Sometimes she carried a plan thus for years.
Often, in the dead of the night, she lay awake and planned whole chapters, word for word, and when daylight came she had only to write them down. She never composed in the evening. She maintained that work in the early hours gives morning freshness to both brain and pen, and that rest at night is a necessity for all who do brain work.
She never used stimulants of any kind. She ate sparingly when writing, and only the simplest food, holding that one cannot preach temperance if one does not practice it. Miss Alcott affirmed that the quality of an author’s work depends much on his habits, and that sane, wholesome, happy, and wise books must come from clean lives, well-balanced minds, spiritual insight, and a desire to do good.
Very few of the stories of the author of “Little Women” were written in Concord, her home. This peaceful, pleasant place, the fields of which are classic ground, utterly lacked inspiration for Miss Alcott. She called it “this dull town,” and when she had a story to write she went to Boston, where she shut herself up in a room, and emerged only when she could show a completed work.
What are your writing methods?
- Do you prefer writing in the sunshine, or by artificial light?
- Do you use a lead pencil or a fountain pen?
- Do you create a skeleton first?
- Do you use any stimulants to spur the creative process?
- Do you compose the sentences and stories to completion in your mind before committing them to paper, or let your ideas flow out as they may?
It's comforting to know, that while technology has dramatically changed the instruments we write with, the writing process, in many ways, remains the same.
Here's the full Writing Methods article from 1893:
I've had some requests for the entire book, so here it is: