Mason Currey's book about the daily routines of scientists, painters, writers, and other creative people looks interesting. Sarah Green collected a list of common practices among some of the book's "healthier geniuses".
A workspace with minimal distractions. Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. William Faulkner, lacking a lock on his study door, just detached the doorknob and brought it into the room with him -- something of which today's cubicle worker can only dream. Mark Twain's family knew better than to breach his study door -- if they needed him, they'd blow a horn to draw him out. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office; only his wife knew the address or telephone number. Distracted more by the view out his window than interruptions, if N.C. Wyeth was having trouble focusing, he'd tape a piece of cardboard to his glasses as a sort of blinder.
I love reading about people's workspaces; here's an old post about George Bernard Shaw's rotating writing room. (via myself apparently?)
In a short post yesterday about where writers do their business, I mentioned that Witold Rybczynski had written about the writing room of a famous author that was purposely set away from the rest of his house. I grabbed my copy of The Most Beautiful House in the World off the shelf just now and found that I'd turned down the page containing the relevant passage back when I read the book a few years ago. The author I was thinking of was George Bernard Shaw; here is Rybczynski's description of his writing room:
But Shaw too was a builder, and the writing room that he erected in his garden was a Shavian combination of simplicity, convenience, and novelty. He called it "the Shelter," but it was really a shed, only eight feet square. It contained the essentials of the writer's trade -- a plank desk, an electric lamp, a wicker chair, a bookcase, and a wastepaper basket. Beside the desk was a shelf for his Remington portable -- like [Samuel] Clemens, Shaw was an early amateur of the typewriter. There was also a telephone (modified to refuse incoming calls), a thermometer, and an alarm clock (to remind him when it was time for lunch).
Shaw's writing hut had one other curious feature: the entire building was mounted on a pipe so that it could be rotated to take advantage of the sun's warmth at different times of the day. But the tiny building was so loaded down with books and furniture that the feature was probably never used. Pictures and more on Shaw's writing hut at BBC News, the National Trust, and Cool Tools.
Rybczynski also mentions that Samuel Clemens wrote most often in a hilltop gazebo he'd constructed for that purpose away from his luxurious house..