15 Productivity Secrets from Very Prolific Writers
Need a little help breaking through your writer’s block? Take a page from one of these all-time greats and stimulate your creativity with a cat, a hunk of cocoa, or a bowl of rotting fruit.
1. Voltaire skipped lunch. Instead of a mid-day meal, the French titan sustained himself with chocolate and up to 40 cups of coffee per day.
2. The dark, gruesome work of Edgar Allan Poe was written under the supervision of a cat. The tabby Catterina sat on the writer's lap or perched on his shoulder.
3. Sir Walter Scott preferred to write in motion, often while riding his horse.
4. Word counts work for some writers. Anthony Trollope set a goal of 250 words every 15 minutes.
5. Victor Hugo went on self-imposed house arrest to finish The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He even locked away all his clothes, so he wouldn't be tempted to get dressed and go out. But Hugo wasn't naked—he wore the same gray writing shawl for months.
6. Like many of us, Charles Dickens sometimes worked while traveling. But he couldn't do it without his five bronze animal statues, paper knife, green vase, desk calendar, blue ink, and quills. Good thing he didn't have to work at a coffee shop!
7. Dickens also insisted on writing in a specific blue ink. He wasn't attached to the color — it just dried faster, so he didn't have to waste time blotting.
8. Lewis Carroll literally wrote purple prose. He penned his manuscripts in the same violet ink required for grading his math students at Christ Church College in Oxford. This way, he could easily switch between tasks.
9. The three musketeers on Alexandre Dumas's desk were piles of color-coded paper: pink for articles, blue for fiction, and yellow for poetry.
10. When Herman Melville needed a break to revitalize his creative juices, he worked the fields of his 160-acre farm.
11. John Milton spent the last 20 years of his life blind, but not being able to see didn’t slow him down. He'd start writing poetry in his head around 5 a.m., and an aide would arrive at 7 a.m. to take dictation. Milton called the process "getting milked."
12. With his publisher’s deadline for The Gambler looming, Fyodor Dostoyevsky hired a stenographer named Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina in 1866. The two finished the novella within a month and married a year later. Dostoyevsky dictated his work to her for the rest of his life.
13. Proust turned his bedroom workspace into a cocoon, covering his windows with shutters and dark curtains and lining the walls and ceiling with soundproofing cork. Blotting out the sun and the noise was a necessity since he slept all day and wrote all night.
14. Nothing stimulated poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller's creatives juices like the smell of rotting apples. He kept a drawer full of them in his desk. That wasn’t his only writing quirk—Schiller also enjoyed soaking his feet in ice water to stay alert.
15. Scottish biographer James Boswell was a tremendous writer, but he wasn’t great at waking up in the morning. To solve this problem, he designed a bed that would physically lift him up and set him on the floor. He never got around to building it, so servants ended up doing the heavy lifting for him.
As you can see, boosting your literary output requires some effort. GEICO’s delightful customer service, on the other hand, is a breeze!
You probably know the basics about this decadent dessert: It's rich, it's creamy, and it comes in a variety of mouth-watering flavors. (Red velvet cake batter fudge? Yes please!) But there is plenty more fun trivia to digest. In honor of National Fudge Day, we’re serving up the sweetest morsels.
1. WHEN THE DESSERT WAS INVENTED, IT CHANGED THE PREVIOUS MEANING OF FUDGE.
In the late 17th century, fudge was a verb meaning "to fit together or adjust [clumsily]." Then around 1800, the word was used to mean a hoax or cheat. By mid-century, the use of the term “Oh, fudge!” as a kid-friendly expletive had come into favor, and was often used when something had been messed up. It’s believed that the first batch of fudge was created when someone was trying to make caramels and “fudged” up. The name stuck.
2. IT HAS STRONG TIES TO BALTIMORE.
The earliest origin story for fudge dates back to 1921, when Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, a former Vassar student, wrote a letter describing her introduction to the treat. She claims that while attending classes in 1886, a classmate's cousin living in Baltimore made the dessert, and this was her first knowledge of it. She also mentions a grocery store, probably in Baltimore, that sold fudge for 40 cents a pound.
3. THE TREAT BECAME WILDLY POPULAR AT VASSAR.
Two years after discovering fudge, Battersby Hartridge got ahold of the recipe and made 30 pounds of it for the Vassar Senior Auction. In Vassar, The Alumnae/i Quarterly, they claim the sweet became so favored that “students would make it in the middle of the night, dangerously diverting the gas from their lamps for the task.”
4. STILL, IT TOOK A WHILE FOR COMPANIES TO MASS-PRODUCE IT.
Skuse’s Complete Confectioner was known as a guide for all things dessert—but the first editions of the book, printed in the late 1800s, didn’t include any recipes for fudge. In later editions, they made up for lost time, including recipes for rainbow fudge (food colorings), Mexican fudge (raisins, nuts, and coconut), maple fudge, and three types of chocolate fudge.
5. AMERICANS MAY HAVE STOLEN THE CONCEPT FROM THE SCOTS.
Fudge is thought to be a descendent of tablet—a medium-hard confection from Scotland. The two treats use similar ingredients, but fudge is richer, softer, and slightly less grainy than its European cousin.
6. THERE'S A WORLD RECORD FOR THE LARGEST SLAB.
The 5760-pound behemoth was crafted at the Northwest Fudge Factory in Ontario, Canada in 2010. It reportedly took a full week to make, and while ingredients aren't available for this record, the previous record holder contained 705 pounds of butter, 2800 pounds of chocolate, and 305 gallons of condensed milk.
7. MAKING FUDGE TAKES SOME SCIENCE.
Early fudge recipes were prone to disaster, with one 1902 magazine explaining "fudge is one of the most difficult confections to make properly." With candy thermometers not becoming commonplace for several years, most recipes required boiling and hoping for the best. Eventually more foolproof recipes were created that included corn syrup (which helps prevent the crystallization that can result in a gritty texture) and condensed milk or marshmallow crème.
8. IT'S NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT THAN FONDANT.
Fudge is actually a drier version of fondant—not the stiff, malleable kind so often seen on cake decorating shows, but the kind found in candies like peppermint patties and cherry cordials.
9. A TINY ISLAND IN MICHIGAN CONSIDERS ITSELF THE FUDGE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.
There are upwards of a dozen fudge shops on 4.35-square mile Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. (Permanent population on the tourist destination: just shy of 500, per the 2010 census.) The oldest candy shop on the island, Murdick’s Candy Kitchen, opened in 1887, while May's Candy claims to be the oldest fudge shop.
10. MACKINAC ISLAND CRANKS OUT OVER 10,000 POUNDS OF FUDGE DAILY DURING PEAK SEASON.
For production, fudge makers ship in about 10 tons of sugar each week and roughly 10 tons of butter each year. Every August, the island hosts the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, complete with events like Fudge on the Rocks, where local bartenders craft fudge-y libations.
11. FIRST LADY MAMIE EISENHOWER WAS A HUGE FUDGE FAN.
She even crafted her own recipe—named Mamie’s Million-Dollar Fudge—which her husband, Ike, quite liked. It included chopped nuts and marshmallow crème.
12. THE HOT FUDGE SUNDAE WAS CREATED IN HOLLYWOOD.
C.C. Brown’s, an iconic ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard, was credited for dreaming up the idea to drizzle melted fudge over ice cream in 1906 (earlier sundaes had other syrups, like cherry). Sadly, the shop closed in 1996, but the treat remains popular.
13. THE BRITS HAD A SWEET NAME FOR FUDGE.
A description of fudge, found in the 1920 tome Harmsworth’s Household Encyclopedia, read, “A sweetmeat that hails from America, but is now popular in other countries.” (To be fair, in the UK the term "sweetmeat” is applied to a variety of sweet treats.)
14. AT ONE POINT, YOU COULD BUY A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF FUDGE.
Harry Ryba, known as the fudge king of Mackinac Island, once offered to mail out a lifetime supply of the candy—three pounds a month—to any customer willing to pay $2250 upfront. “A lifetime, being yours or mine, whichever ends sooner,” he said, per The New York Times. Not a bad deal, considering he passed away at age 88.
15. FUDGE CAN KEEP FOR A LONG TIME.
Airtight packages of the confection can be frozen and stored up to a year without losing any flavor, which means that you can feel free to give in to temptation and buy a larger chunk while on vacation this year. And about that lifetime supply…
Today is the 60th anniversary of the death of English chemist Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant and dedicated scientist best known for the honor denied her: the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA. Here are 15 facts about her.
1. SHE KNEW HER CALLING EARLY, BUT HER FATHER RESISTED EDUCATING A DAUGHTER.
Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born in London in 1920. She was one of five children born into a wealthy Jewish family. She decided she wanted to become a scientist at 15, and passed the admissions exam for Cambridge University. However, her father, Ellis, a merchant banker, objected to women going to college and refused to pay her tuition. Her aunt and mother finally managed to change his mind, and she enrolled at Cambridge's all-female Newnham College in 1938.
2. SHE ATTENDED COLLEGE WITH ANOTHER WOMAN WHO DIDN'T GET FULL CREDIT FOR HER WORK.
Bletchley Park cryptanalyst Joan Clarke was a few years older than Franklin, but they were both at Newnham in the late 1930s. Clarke would go on to be recruited for the war effort, cracking the German Enigma codes. The full scope of Clarke's work is still unknown, due to government secrecy.
3. HER SCHOLASTIC ACHIEVEMENTS WERE DENIED BY HER UNIVERSITY FOR YEARS.
Azeira, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Despite Newnham College having been at Cambridge since 1871, the university refused to accept women as full members until 1948, seven years after Franklin earned the title of a degree in chemistry. Oxford University started granting women's degrees in 1920.
4. HER RESEARCH ON COAL HELPED THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY.
After graduation, Franklin got a job at the British Coal Utilization Research Association (BCURA), where she researched coal and charcoal, and how it could be used for more than fuel. Her research formed the basis for her 1945 doctoral dissertation; it and several of her later papers on the micro-structures of carbon fibers played a role in the eventual use of carbon composites in air- and spacecraft construction.
5. HER MALE COLLEAGUES WERE HOSTILE AND UNDERMINED HER RESEARCH.
Franklin had a direct nature and was unwilling to be traditionally feminine. One reason she left Cambridge to work on coal was that her doctoral supervisor did not like her and believed women would always be less than men. When she was hired in 1951 at King's College, London, to work on DNA, she clashed with researcher Maurice Wilkins, who had thought she was his assistant, not his equal. Meanwhile, Franklin was under the impression that she'd be completely independent. Their relationship got worse and worse the longer they worked together. Wilkins went so far as to share Franklin's research without telling her with James Watson and Francis Crick—even though they were technically his competitors, funded by Cambridge University. Watson was particularly nasty about Franklin in his 1968 book, The Double Helix, criticizing her appearance and saying she had to be “put in her place.”
6. HOW EVENTS UNFOLDED IN THE DISCOVERY OF DNA'S STRUCTURE IS STILL DEBATED TODAY.
Many books have been written hashing over events, either criticizing Watson and Crick, saying they stole Franklin's research, or defending the duo, saying her research helped them but that Franklin would not ultimately have reached their conclusions on her own. Though Franklin and Watson never became friendly, Crick and his wife welcomed Franklin into their home while she was being treated for ovarian cancer.
7. HER WORK MAY HAVE LED TO HER UNTIMELY DEATH.
Franklin died of cancer in 1958. She was 37. Though genetics likely played a part in her illness, her work with crystal x-ray diffraction, which involved constant exposure to radiation, did not help. She is not the first woman in science to risk her health for her research. Marie Curie died from aplastic anemia, which has been tied to radiation exposure. Many of Curie's personal belongings, including her cookbooks, are too radioactive to handle even today.
8. HAD SHE LIVED LONGER, SHE MAY HAVE QUALIFIED FOR MORE THAN ONE NOBEL PRIZE.
Maurice Wilkins (on left), Francis Crick (third from left), and James Watson (fifth from left) accept their Nobel Prize in 1962.
Keystone, Getty Images
The first, of course, would have been awarded with Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, had they been made to share credit with her. (Pierre Curie had to ask the Nobel Committee to add his wife to the nomination in 1903.) As for the second, chemist Aaron Klug won the prize in 1982, carrying on work he and Franklin had started on viruses in 1953, after she left King's College. Because of the rules at the time of her death about awarding prizes posthumously (and in 1974 all posthumous awards were eliminated, the sole exception being in 2011), Franklin has none.
9. DESPITE BEING DENIED HER PRIZE, SHE'S BEEN HONORED BY MANY ACADEMICS.
In 2004, the Chicago Medical School renamed itself the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. She has also had a number of academic programs, auditoriums, and labs named for her. In 2013, Newnham College principal Dame Carol Black helped install a plaque commemorating Franklin at the Eagle Pub in Cambridge. Crick and Watson, who already had a plaque in the pub, drank there often while working on the DNA project, and allegedly boasted about discovering “the secret of life” to other patrons.
10. SHE IS THE SUBJECT OF SEVERAL BIOGRAPHIES.
The first, 1975's Rosalind Franklin and DNA, was written by her friend Anne Sayre, largely as a reaction to Watson's The Double Helix. In 2002, Brenda Maddox published Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA.
11. AN OBJECT IN SPACE IS NAMED AFTER HER.
In 1997, amateur Australian astronomer John Broughton discovered an asteroid, which he named 9241 Rosfranklin.
12. AT LEAST ONE HISTORY RAP BATTLE IS ABOUT HER.
It was produced by seventh graders in Oakland, California (with some help from teacher Tom McFadden). And it is delightful.
13. SHE HAS BEEN IMMORTALIZED ON THE SMALL SCREEN AND THE BIG STAGE.
In 1987, BBC's Horizon series aired The Race for the Double Helix, starring Juliet Stevenson as Franklin. Jeff Goldblum played Watson. In 2011, playwright Anna Ziegler premiered a one-act about Franklin called Photograph 51. It opened on the West End in 2015, starring Nicole Kidman as Franklin.
14. THE 2015 RUN OF PHOTOGRAPH 51 RE-IGNITED THE OLD CONTROVERSY.
While Kidman got much praise from critics for her turn as Franklin in Photograph 51, Maurice Wilkins' friends and former colleagues have taken exception to a scene where Wilkins takes a photograph—the titular Photo 51, which showed evidence of DNA's structure—from Franklin's desk when she isn't there, saying he would never have done something so dishonorable.
15. THE PLAY MAY COME TO THE BIG SCREEN IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS.
In 2016, the West End production's director, Michael Grandage, told The Hollywood Reporter that he hopes to turn the play into a film, with Kidman reprising the role.