Rituals and Superstititions

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I remember hearing a talk given by a historical writer who went into great detail about how she got herself prepared to write each day. Her rituals included mood lightning, music, incense, and a few historically appropriate artifacts to get her into the mood, and I remember thinking “what?! I don’t have the luxury of time for all of that, I just have to sit down and write!”. But in many ways that’s not strictly speaking true. I was thinking about it this morning and realized that, like many writers, I do have my own set of rituals and superstitions that form part of the creative process that leads to sitting down, facing the empty page, and writing.

First of all, I have to mentally prepare myself – that means from the moment I get up the words are already forming. In the shower I’m formulating sentences and by the time I’m in the car on the way back from school I feel the ghosts of my characters coming to take their seats. I’m mentally rehearsing for when I finally sit down and write…and when I do I have  a separate notebook for each new novel. I have a scrapbook too – in which I jot down historical notes and cut and paste maps or photographs. When I write in long hand, which I sometimes do rather than type, it has to always be done in a rolling-ball or  fountain pen as I hate ballpoint pens (I used to only write in ink using a fountain pen until my dog Hamish chewed it to bits…) I always write at home, never in cafes, and always in total silence.

Okay, so I admit it’s a pretty lame ritual. I’m not up at the crack of dawn like some writers who get their best work done at 4am, and if I had my choice I wouldn’t be up at 2am either (although I often end up writing this late out of necessity).  I don’t write in a shed like Roald Dahl or use ballpoint pen on A4 paper with only two punch holes (not four) like Philip Pullman. I don’t have an antique hour glass like Dan Brown that I use to mark the time (nor do I do a session of push ups or sit ups either!). I also usually write fully clothed (unlike John Cheever  who apparently wrote in his underwear). So I guess I fall on the rather dull end of the writing ritual scale.

But how about you? Do you have any  specific writing rituals? Are you superstitious (or OCD…) and insist on anything specific when you write? 

38 thoughts on “Rituals and Superstititions

  1. Other than touching the shrunken skull, lighting the incense, and saying the seven incantations of divine wisdom before I drink the magic potion of eloquence and caress the skin of the sacred lamb I really have no other rituals to speak of. Although once in a while there may be the Rum of Enchantment or the Wine of Grace invoked before beginning the sacred ceremony of creation of fictional life sacrement.

    In other words, not really.

    • Okay…the Rum of Enchantment is engaged more often than might be necessary…and the Gin of Enlightenment probably should be avoided more often than not in all honesty. The Vicodin of Peace is best blocked altogether from the Gates of Creativity…although the Coffee of Engagement will never be abandoned…ever.

  2. I’m fortunate to have the upstairs media room as my office. I can close the door & write without much interruption. I prefer morning writing hours. For some reason, I feel out of sorts if I can’t get my morning hours in.

    I edit my daily word count every night in hard copy and correct things before I get my next day’s word count in, but I HAVE TO do my “rolling edits” as I go. By the time I’m done with a book’s ending, I do one final pass before I’m ready to move on to my next project.

    One weird thing that I’ve noticed with every book is–once I get toward the end, I slow down or stall. Procrastinate. I hate to say good-bye to my characters & their world. I force myself to finish, but when I write THE END, it is sublime. I find a way to celebrate. (And yes, I really DO write THE END on every book. That’s part of my ritual, too.)

  3. I cannot seem to keep my desk neat so I usually end up at the kitchen table. Unfortunately, my husband has figured out how to connect his laptop to the big screen and every morning proceeds to play bluegrass videos. Here’s a tip…52 inches of banjo player is not conducive to good writing. Unless you’re looking for some creative cussing.

    I usually end up in a dark corner of the basement with a cup of tea.

  4. Every story I draft has its own music album to go with it. I listen to one album over and over for most of the book. It sets the mood and gets my brain going. And it’ll be something completely different for every book. Thank you, Spotify!

    • I would so love to have an album that I could identify with the book. When I’m out walking I usually have one or two songs that seem to ‘fit’ the project I’m working on and they provide some great inspiration…but as soon as I sit down to write I have to turn them off.

  5. I used to have to write in silence, but having a wife and 2 dogs and an “office” in the corner of the main living area didn’t do much for that. Instead, I learned to write with iPod and headphones in, and now I just have to worry about having a heart attack when I get that prickle on my neck and turn to see my wife right behind my shoulder. Scares the shit out of me every time.

    • Ah yes, when I say silence…I only really get it when hubby is at work and the boys are at school (and the dog has given up on the rabbits). When everyone’s home I can’t even have headphones on – not unless I want to be endlessly prodded by my boys and their endless questioning:)!

  6. I need life churning around me, so I’m a Starbucks writer. When I work at home I babysit my dog and cat (letting them in and out) and have Fox News blaring in the background. I swill coffee. I guess I’m lucky, stories push their way to the fore and make me write them.

    It all becomes white noise that insulates me from my self generated distractions. No I’m not crazy, but two of my other personalities are.

  7. I am always amazed at the discipline and tactics most writers seem to have. I have neither. I don’t have a set schedule or word count or even one place to work. It’s wherever I feel like taking the laptop be it my bed or my coffee shop whenever I feel the need. On Fridays, I often go to the tiny bar of the Riverside Hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I go just before happy hour and the bartender knows to give me one glass of wine and a bowl of nuts and she leaves me be. As the workers fill up around me, noisy and happy, it creates a great white noise. I don’t know why but I usually hit 800-1000 words in this environment. Maybe it’s my version of TGIF.

    • As much as I prefer the quiet of an empty house to having kids underfoot while writing, I actually am with PJ: I do my best writing somewhere with white noise.

      But then again I also cheat: If I need an extra to fill out a scene, like a waitress to bring drinks, or someone to get shot in the first volley of alien gun fire, I look around, find someone that looks interesting and work them in as the needed body. I was once stumped for a name so when my waitress came by to refresh my pint I asked her “Hey, who was your worst boyfriend? First name only, I need it for this character”.

      I get such horrible blocks on details like that….

      I also go a little batty when left unattended for long periods.

    • PJ. Floria. A muggy day and the double shot of bourdon you have in front of you has water bead on the outside
      A swarthy man walks up to you and says, “Hello.”
      You say, “Hi Steve. Whistle if you need me. You know how to whistle don’t you. You put your lips together and blow.”
      You, of course are Lauren Bacall and Steve is Humphrey Bogart.

  8. On my own I’ll add that I can’t write in spurts. I takes me about 20 minutes to get really going on something and then I can just let the scene go where it will. But if something breaks up that time, I get lost and it takes me that kind of time to get back into the last head space I left off in.

    Sadly this kind of mindset is a total Fail Whale when the 5 year-old is around as he averages 22 minutes between crises.

  9. I have a particular chair, in a specific spot, angled in a specific way to catch the light just right. My wife recently rearranged the furniture in that room making my sweet spot inaccessible. Needless to say, the muse has left the building.

    • Oh no! I have to say since the move, I don’t even have an office. Just boxes and mess so no sweet spot for me yet either!

  10. The degree to which potential distractions intrude on me is usually a good indication of how confident I am with what I’m doing. When I’m “in the zone,” nothing this side of a gas-main explosion under the house is likely to register. I once wrote in Florida during a tropical storm. The thunder claps were forceful enough to shake pictures off the walls–and did. I was operating on battery power to not risk frying my hard drive, but since the lamps stayed on, no problem.
    But if something’s wrong with where I’m going, something unresolved, then simple things I would not otherwise hear–people mowing lawns, roofers on the case two doors away–can make concentrating very difficult.
    As for writing rituals, the simple thing I do each morning with a fresh goat hardly seems worth mentioning.

    • Barry – that is so true. When I’m really into ‘the zone’ I don’t notice anything but as soon as the writing gets a bit labored I can hear every little thing!

  11. With six kids I never had the chance to be alone or quiet. I write in spiral notebooks and when I can I put everything on the laptop. I am a bit OCD, I don’t want any scratch outs or mess ups on a notebook page, re-writing to semi-perfect. I am a nut over colorful pens, sticky notes and high lighters. My biggest ritual is often music, period or music my character likes to get me in the mood.

    • Sticky notes are my friend…though I often find them stuck on walls, desks and furniture and do you think I can read the little gems of wisdom I wrote (usually in a hurry or in the middle of the night)? Nope.

    • Clare–
      I use them as well, but being in my dotage, I often don’t remember what the notes refer to. But that’s OK, because I now subscribe to Norman Mailer’s metaphor for memory in old age: it’s a Swiss cheese. The holes are an inevitable, necessary part of the edible, useful part. In this way, concerns over memory loss are easily dismissed.

  12. I used to think I needed music to write, then realized that I just liked music while I wrote. What I have always needed and now have is Google Drive. I can write anywhere with it, anytime. I even use it to jot down ideas in the middle of the night, so that when I wake up I can develop such threads as ”WA er DDS JT ” or ”wdrtundeesgt”.

  13. I used to think I needed music to write, then realized that I just liked music while I wrote. What I have always needed and now have is Google Drive. I can write anywhere with it, anytime. I even use it to jot down ideas in the middle of the night, so that when I wake up I can develop such threads as ”WA er DDS JT ” or ”wdrtundeesgt”.

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