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The collections of the Morgan Library & Museum contain a manuscript of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, written in a fever of creativity in six weeks in the fall of 1843. This manuscript and assorted letters were featured in the museum’s Charles Dickens at 200 exhibition, which ran from September 23, 2011 to February 12, 2012. Through the online exhibition, you can examine the manuscript page by page, which was apparently written in a single draft.

The letters are fascinating reading, and they provide insight into his creative habit. The following quote is from a letter to Sophie Verena, a young German novelist, who dedicated her first book to Dickens:

In reply to your second question whether I dictate, I answer with a smile that I can as soon imagine a painter dictating his pictures. No. I write every word of my books with my own hand, and do not write them very quickly either. I write with great care and pains (being passionately fond of my art, and thinking it worth any trouble), and persevere, and work hard.

And further advice in support of a vigorous exercise regimen:

You must remember that in all your literary aspiration, and whether thinking or writing, it is indispensably necessary to relieve that wear and tear of the mind by some other exertion that may be wholesomely set against it.

It is comforting to know that this most beloved and prolific of authors had his troubles with writer’s block just like the rest of us. In 1862 he told Wilkie Collins:

Sometimes, in a desperate state, I seize a pen, and resolve to precipitate myself upon a story. Then I get up again with a forehead as gnarled as the oak tree outside the window, and find all the lines in my face that ought to be on the blank paper.