Mastodon The Writing Desk: Rudyard Kipling's Writing Habits

16 January 2014

Rudyard Kipling's Writing Habits

Rudyard Kipling
(Wikimedia Image)
Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers in the world in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1907, at the age of 41, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature (the first English language writer to be awarded the prize and still its youngest recipient.) Kipling also declined the honour of becoming the British Poet Laureate and refused a knighthood.

After a writing career which took him around the world, Kipling settled down at Bateman's, a mansion house built in 1634 in the rural English countryside at Burwash, East Sussex. Bateman’s was Kipling's home from 1902 until his death in 1936.  It is now in the care of The National Trust and has been preserved with all its contents. Kipling’s study, with his pens, inkwell, paperweight and pipe are still there, just as he left them.

Kipling’s Writing Habits

Kipling tended to get up fairly late in the morning and would soon retreat to his study. The room was at the heart of the house and was also his library, with two walls lined with an eclectic mix of books from poetry to Pepys, naval history, bee-keeping and angling. He worked at a 17th-century walnut refectory table under the window.

He would write for several hours at a time. He was a heavy smoker and liked a messy environment, referring to his desk as ‘my dunghill’ and often screwing up the paper he was writing on and throwing it into a large Algerian wastepaper basket.

Despite his love of his untidy desk, his maid had the task of ensuring it was always laid out in a special way, with cleaned nibs on the pens and fresh supply of best quality black Indian ink in his inkwell (on which he carefully scratched the names of all his books as they were published.) As he was quite a small man, his chair was raised to the correct height for his desk on little wooden blocks.

His desk is also set out with boxes of pen nibs, rubber bands and clips. 
On his writing table sits a huge Imperial typewriter ‘The Good Companion’, of which he often complained "the beastly thing simply won't spell." Kipling only used it occasionally, asking his secretary to type out his handwritten manuscripts.

Kipling's Inspiration and 'hatching ideas'

When he needed inspiration Kipling would go for long walks in the local Sussex countryside developing ideas in his mind, which he called his ‘hatching.’ He also kept what he called his day-bed In the corner of his study, where he would sit and wait for inspiration. He once explained he was listening for his ‘daemon’ that inspired his writing and had a mantra, which was ‘drift, wait, obey.’ 

When ideas came to him he would leap up and write furiously.Kipling loved the process of writing. He would often prepare four or five drafts and once lost an entire chapter of one of his books in the mess. When he was happy with a draft he would leave it for a while, then go back to it with good black Indian ink on a brush and ‘paint out’ anything he thought wasn’t necessary. He said he always knew when a piece was finished because he heard a ‘click’ in his head.

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