Lolita and Vladimir Nabokov

I pulled Lolita off my shelf, thinking I might read it again after seeing it was listed on Time’s List of the 100 Best Novels, Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century, Bokklubben World Library, Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, and The Big Read. Not to mention it was a cult blockbuster film (twice), and adapted to at least two operas, two ballets, and a Broadway musical.

But I realized that I knew very little about the author. Being a writer myself, like many writers, I have a compulsion to know how other writers live, work, think, and study.

Vladimir Nabokov was born in Russia, wrote his first nine novels in Russian, became an American, wrote in English, translated his own novel, Lolita, into French, then moved to Switzerland where he spent summers, sometimes exploring for fifteen miles a day, searching for and collecting butterflies. He was also a chess composer, which has nothing to do with music.

First drafts for Nabokov were completed in pencil on index cards that he stored in card boxes. Lolita, the novel in my hand, was begun on a road trip across America where he wrote during the nights in the backseat of his parked car. He claimed it was the only place he could find peace and quiet and be free of drafts. After the card-writing was complete, he would give the index cards, in order, to his wife to be typed.

His writing schedule when at home, always of interest to me as a writer, was as follows:

7:00 A.M. Awaken by alarm, stare at the ceiling, think about the day

8:00 A.M. Shave, eat, meditate, bath, followed by writing on notecards while standing at a lectern overlooking a Swedish lake

12:00 P.M. Short walk with wife

1:00 P.M. Lunch

1:30 P.M. Back to writing, now sitting in an armchair at a writing desk

3:00 P.M. or so: writing reclined on a couch in his small study

6:30 P.M. Stop for the day and walk to the newsstand and buy a paper

7:00 P.M. Dinner

9:00 P.M. Go to bed to read

11:30 P.M. Turn out the lights and deal with insomnia

1:00 P.M. or so: fall asleep

This is how one man wrote classics. Model it at your will.

Clay Stafford is a bestselling writer in his own right, but his writing habits are not quite so interesting.