The Fascinating & Unusual Hobbies of 14 Famous Writers

How hobbies help you strengthen all your skills

Why Hobbies Made Them Better Writers

I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they’re any good at painting, but because it helps their writing. It forces them to look at things. Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things…

Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.

Your brain, it turns out, isn’t a fixed mass that shapes your behavior. Your behavior also shapes your brain. If a gardener takes up a serious interest in engineering, for instance, her neurons form new pathways between previously isolated regions.

It may well be a mistake to do just one thing. If you practice multiple things you actually get better at any one of those things.

1. Dame Agatha Christie, the archeologist

2. Victor Hugo, the artist

3. H. G. Wells, the war gamer

A photo from H. G. Wells’s book Little Wars (in the public domain) that demonstrates war gaming.

4. Sylvia Plath, the beekeeper

Today, guess what, we became beekeepers! We went to the local meeting last week…We all wore masks and it was thrilling…Mr. Pollard let us have an old hive for nothing which we painted white and green, and today he brought over the swarm of docile Italian hybrid bees we ordered and installed them…I feel very ignorant, but shall try to read up and learn all I can.

5. Emily Dickinson, the baker

6. Leo Tolstoy, the chess player

7. Jack Kerouac, the fantasy sports enthusiast

He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

8. Madeleine L’Engle, the pianist

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. The conscious mind wants to take over and refuses to let the subconscious mind work, the intuition. So if I can play the piano, that will break the block, and my intuition will be free to give things up to my mind, my intellect. So it’s not just a hobby. It’s a joy.

9. Flannery O’Connor, the aviculturist

10. Mark Twain, the inventor

11. P. G. Wodehouse, the golfer

Whenever you see me with a furrowed brow you can be sure that what is on my mind is the thought that if only I had taken up golf earlier and devoted my whole time to it instead of fooling about writing stories and things, I might have got my handicap down to under eighteen.

12. J. R. R. Tolkien, the conlang enthusiast

One of Tolkien’s constructed languages. Image courtesy Ssolbergj.

13. Ayn Rand, the stamp collector

If I feel tired after a whole day of writing, I spend an hour with my stamp albums and it makes me able to resume writing for the rest of the evening. A stamp album is a miraculous brain-restorer.

14. Beatrix Potter, the mycologist

The Takeaway

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.

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