Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing Attire

One of the reasons I love Judy Reeves's A Writer's Book of Days so much are the odd bits of trivia she's collected about writers. For example, in the September section of the revised edition she has an entire page detailing the quirks of famous scribes that includes Alice Hoffman's habit of repainting her office a different color every time she starts a new book (a shade that resonates with the story's theme, naturally) and Charles Dickens' habit of walking twenty to thirty miles a day (his shoe bill must have been hefty.)

What writers wear often makes interesting trivia, too. Some of you might know that Edgar Allan Poe only wore black, while Emily Dickinson dressed solely in white (Mark Twain liked wearing white, and you might have noticed Ray Bradbury attired in the same in the video I posted on in early October.) During my rookie year a couple of female pros I met advised me to get into full professional dress (suit, stockings, pumps, makeup, the works) before starting write, as this was supposed to give me a going-to-work attitude. I did try a modified version of this; while I was writing StarDoc I'd always put on a pair of my old hospital scrubs, and they did give me a bit more of a medical mindset.

According to Judy there are writers who liked to work in their underwear (John Cheever) or naked (Forrest McDonald), but I think the majority of us prefer to wear something. Because I start my work day around 5 am these days I actually write most of the time in my version of PJs -- an oversize T-shirt, shorts or (if it's chilly) leggings. Most of my wardrobe is solid-color because I find patterns a visual distraction, but as long as it's not too loud I generally don't care what color I wear.

What we have to wear (or absolutely can't wear) in order to write depends on our individual quirks. One of mine is writing barefoot; for some reason I can't so I always wear socks when I'm working. I can be superstitious about colors, though; I have one old green shirt I'll wear when I feel I need some luck -- usually during deadline week -- but I never wear the color yellow only because I dislike it so much (nothing in my wardrobe is yellow, in fact.)

I think physical comfort can be an important part of the process, too. Heavy fabric like denim makes me feel hot or weighed down when I sit for long periods of time so I never wear jeans when I write. I'll wear long-sleeved shirts when I write during the winter months but I always roll up the sleeves for more freedom of movement; I never wear rings, bracelets, watches or any jewelry because the weight and feel annoys me. I put my hair in a clip or wear it in a ponytail to keep it out of my face when I write. When I was younger and my hair a lot longer I'd stuff it up under a baseball cap before I sat down at the computer.

I know there are ladies out there who won't be seen without makeup, but since writing is a solitary art it's probably safe to go barefaced (lock the office door if you have to.) The only cosmetic I wear when I'm writing is Cherry Chapstick or some sort of flavored lip balm; this because I have an unconscious habit of biting my lower and upper lip while I'm writing, and the taste reminds me to knock it off (that one took me years of sore lips to figure out.)

Your writing attire is a matter of personal preference; if you want to suit up before hitting the keyboard because it makes you feel more professional, do it. If you don't need to dress the part, I recommend wear something comfortable that doesn't bind you anywhere. If you're feeling blue, try putting on an outfit that has happy associations, or that makes you feel good about yourself. Or if you really want to write in your shorts or your birthday suit, go for it -- all that really matters about writing attire is that it doesn't keep you from writing.

Do you have any particular quirks you indulge in when you dress to do your job? Let us know in comments.


  1. I work at a call center. There is a long lag between when one person hangs up and another picks up, so while I'm waiting for someone new to interview to answer their phone, I get a lot of writing done. I just need to count rings while writing. I also get a lot more writing done when I write with gel ink instead of some other kind of pen. A computer will slow me down as well.

  2. Hmm. Don't know if they're quirks, but...
    I do best in pjs. A nice fluffy robe helps if it's cool, but it must have pockets. Must have a place to put pens, even if I'm just keyboarding it. Feet must be warm, so yes on the socks & preferably slippers. Comfortable & loose is the order of the day.
    I'm not sure colors matter (though I also have no yellow to my name). No scratchy lace or distracting silk or satin. No makeup, jewelry, and braless is best (the girls like their freedom). And generally a cat either underfoot, vying for lap space, or picking at a loose thread.
    Okay, maybe they are quirks...

  3. I have to dress up to go to my day job in the mornings, and as soon as I come home all I want to do is kick off the heels, get out of the restrictive clothes, and sit around in my robe. I have a lightweight silk one for warm days and a fluffy fleece for cold ones. Socks make my feet sweaty, so I only wear them if I must.

    However, I do like jewelry. I like to play with a ring when I sit back to think. Sometimes I even paint my nails and type between coats. Maybe it's because I'm young(ish), but looking at pretty, sparkly things makes me feel at ease. I'll probably grow out of it in a few years :p

  4. I feel kinda weird because I don't have quirks about what I wear when I work. I write in whatever I happen to be wearing when it's time to write. And since I always dress for comfort, I don't have to worry about that. :shrug:

  5. Ren Benton9:45 AM

    I wonder if Alice Hoffman had someone else paint her office. Last time I painted a room, it was eight hours of hard physical labor that left me sore all over for a week, and years later, my eye still zooms to every little imperfection in the finish every time I'm in that room--none of which I find especially conducive to good writing energy.

    I try not to be too superstitious about writing circumstances because I know too many people who can't write unless everything is Just So. I don't get a lot of Just So in my life and need to be able to write wherever, whenever, with whatever distractions and discomforts may coexist with the opportunity.

    When I have a choice, I prefer a particular type of pen (never trips me up by skipping and comes in a variety of pretty! colors!) and a particular type of 6 x 9 spiral notebook (not a lot of hand movement because the page is narrow; size also discourages filling in empty spaces with not-in-this-scene thoughts that then get lost before they get where they belong).

    And doing the first couple of drafts anything but by hand is unthinkable. That's my one nonnegotiable quirk, I guess. The computer is clinical and sterile (as well as limited by either location or battery life), and I must be wild and free to create! (cue wind machine and jungle sound effects)

  6. I wear loose, comfy clothes anyway, so no changes when I sit down to write, though I absolutely can't wear a bra...way too binding, body and mind.

    I have a big fluffy pillow I sit on when I actually get down to the serious writing. It's not so much a quirk as a balm for the backside after long stretches in front of the computer.

  7. Keita Haruka1:17 PM

    I work in local government as an environmental officer, so I'm outside most of the time. That pretty much necessitates casual wear. I prefer jeans (comfy and offers decent protection against nature and industry) and t's. Which is lucky for me. Being gay, I have a keen sense of personal style. I also have an aversion to formality. You'll never see me wearing a suit, not even at the corporate and political do's I sometimes have to attend in the line of duty. For those, my only concession to formality is a switch from blue to black jeans. As for when I write...I wear whatever is handy, up to and including my birthday suit. :P

  8. Hey! try putting a red bangle in your hand. It might happen that you end up writing something different-entirely feminine. Think about it! What you wear changes you attitude, fills you with emotions of peculiar nature.

  9. I tend to write in coffee shops, so I do have to be clothed and while I suppose no one would stop me if I showed up in my pjs, I do feel the need to make a bit of effort for being in public. But I have to be comfy to write, so usually I go with jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie if it is cool out. Sometimes I like to go with loose skirts and billowy tops. My hair always has to be out of my face. One thing that is pretty consistent is that I usually like to wear a necklace when I write (specifically a coconut shell turtle necklace I bought at a craft fair has become my good luck charm -- but any other necklace will work as well) because I like to fiddle with a necklace when I pause to think while writing. One thing is for certain, no matter what I wear, when I am getting ready to go out specifically to write, I tend to put more thought into what I feel like wearing than on days when my primary focus will be school or work. I have to make sure I am dressed to suit my writing mood.

  10. I used to detest heels... then I started wearing them in the corporate workplace and realized the extra inches made me feel a bit more kick-ass. Now I wear them whenever I need a bit of an attitude lift, even at home. I am by no means a stiletto girl, but all my boots have nice chunky heels and soles and even my clogs give me an extra inch or so. A few minutes of pacing in heels manages to get my imagination going a lot quicker. Socks are also awesome, but pacing in them tends to make me want tea and cookies.

    On a totally random tangent about the color yellow, I was watching clips of the cartoon justice league last night with my 6 yr old son. One of the clips was of the Flash taking on the Green Lantern. Apparently GL's only weakness is the color yellow (the color of fear). The Flash managed to break through his force shield and nail him in the head with a bowl full of lemon Jello. Much hilarity and a firm lecture on NOT throwing food ensued on our side of the computer screen.

    So your dislike of yellow made me laugh out loud at work. :D You are in good company!