Did you always wear the same socks on game day in high school? Have you ever worked on a project all night and slept through the next day? Panicked before a test because you forgot your lucky pencil?
We all have our quirks, but it’s no coincidence we’re so familiar with stereotypes like the “eccentric genius,” the “tortured artist,” and the “mad scientist.”
One study found people with very creative professions were about 25 percent more likely to have a mental illness like bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia.
Why is that? The answer’s not all that clear. U.S. neurologist James Fallon—not to be confused with the late night talk show host—believes it’s because the same part of the brain is responsible for creativity and mood swings.
Is that the root of the “eccentric genius” caricature we all know? There’s no doubt some of the most ingenious minds in history had work habits that would strike most people as fairly bizarre.
These hyper-creative writers, artists, and inventors had some pretty awesome—and some not so awesome—habits. Don’t try these at home.
Famous for his eccentricity, the inventor and engineer claimed he never slept more than two hours and once worked for 48 hours straight. He also allegedly performed toe exercises regularly, believing they stimulated his brain.
He also had strong affections and aversions to certain things. For example, he loved pigeons and used to roam through New York City parks, rescuing hurt ones, taking them home, and nursing them back to health.
He apparently liked numbers divisible by three, and wouldn’t even stay in a hotel room with a number that wasn’t a multiple of three.
Reportedly, he hated pearls, once sending his secretary home for the day when she wore them.
Thomas Edison invented the practical light bulb, “feuded” with Nicola Tesla, and apparently had some strong opinions about soup.
In her book The Creative Habit, choreographer Twyla Tharp says Edison wouldn’t hire a research assistant who seasoned soup before tasting it, so having candidates over for soup was part of his interview process.
Quentin Tarantino has given us classics like “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill,” and “Inglourious Basterds.”
He also often likes to write screenplays longhand. “I buy a bunch of red felt pens and a bunch of black ones, and I’m like, ‘These are the pens I’m going to write ‘Grindhouse’ with,” he told Reuters.
In a recent interview, he explained his reasoning, saying, “If you were going to try to write a poem, would you do it on a computer?”
Apparently, he does make exceptions, though. In a different interview, he revealed he once went to great lengths to track down his ex-girlfriend’s old 80s word processor, even though she had given it away. Having written Reservoir Dogs and Pulp fiction on that word processor, he couldn’t stand the idea of writing Kill Bill without it.
Renowned American author, screenwriter, playwright, and actor Truman Capote wrote classics like In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
He mentioned in an interview he always refused to start or finish a piece of work on a Friday. He also admitted to refusing to call anyone whose telephone number added up to an unlucky number, hating yellow roses, and never allowing three cigarettes to burn in the same ashtray.
“It’s endless, the things I can’t and won’t. But I derive some curious comfort from obeying these primitive concepts,” he said.
— Sparta Digital (@SpartaDigitalNQ) August 25, 2015
Beethoven had some unconventional ideas about composing. According to his student and secretary Anton Schindler, he used to go to his washstand and pour big pitchers of water over his hands, “bellowing up and down the scale or sometimes humming loudly to himself.”
Apparently, his neighbors weren’t too happy about the splashing water. No word on whether they complained about the singing.
Fun fact: one of his most unique inventions is a self-defense wig. Yes, you read that right. The wig includes a weight; you simply swing the wig at attackers to hit them.
He famously likes to work or relax in a bathroom built with no nails and tiled in 24-karat gold. He claims it blocks radio and television waves, allowing him to think more creatively.
He has other, more dangerous creative processes as well. He believes he is more creative when deprived of oxygen, so he sometimes dives underwater and records his ideas there. He says some of his best ideas come to him “0.5 seconds before death.”
We’ve heard of procrastination, but that’s ridiculous.
Rumor has it Spanish surrealist painter, Joan Miró, like Nakamatsu, frequently put his body under extreme physical duress in the name of creativity. He reportedly used to deprive himself of sleep for days in order to trigger hallucinations or visions that would inspire his work.
Possibly to make up for lost sleep, Miró also apparently practiced what he called “Mediterranean yoga,” a five-minute power nap after lunch.
Dalí has always been famous for being eccentric. He used napping as a creativity technique too.
Supposedly, he used to nap sitting up holding a metal key over a plate. When he started to drift off, the key would slip out of his hand and fall loudly on the plate, waking him up immediately.
That brief moment allowed him to experience the transitional state between waking and sleep, which many people believe makes us more susceptible to minor hallucinations that spark creative ideas.
One of the United States’ most famous founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin used to take “air baths.” According to the Smithsonian, in 1768 he wrote to a friend, saying he liked to sit at his open window in the mornings “without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season.”
Apparently, he avoided regular baths in an effort to avoid getting sick, and believed fresh air was safer than water.
With all the geniuses who have passed through human history, there’s not enough space to pay homage to all of them here. You could write a whole book on the strange activities of the ancient Greeks, for example. And Hollywood is full of brilliant but eccentric actors.
What genius’ fascinating, hilarious, or straight up weird habits am I missing? Sound off in the comments below!