This one is going to be shorter than my usual Michener-esque meanderings, because two things have happened this week:
- We finished the book
- Rewrites are needed — bad.
So I thought maybe, for a change, we could talk about something that doesn’t cause us writers angst — the positive little rituals that help get us through our days. I thought about this today because whenever my sister Kelly and I finish a first draft, we have a special ritual. First I type a word
Then she types a word
Then we crack open an unshabby bottle of wine, preferably champagne, hug each other and get smashed. We started this ritual way back in 2000 after we finished our second book Dead of Winter. It came about because back then, as we were nearing the finish line, Kelly would routinely come down to visit me in Fort Lauderdale and we would work together in my office, back-to-back on our computers. Sort of like Ferrante and Teicher, except that Kelly’s two-finger hunt-and-peck key pounding tended to sound more like Keith Moon.
We kept to our ritual for a couple years, but then life started to intrude. Kelly’s life became peripatetic and hectic. She couldn’t easily get down to Florida. So we had to resort to ritual-by-email. I would type THE on the Word Perfect doc and then send it to her. She would type END and send it back. We’d then get on the phone and toast each other from our respective corners of the world. It wasn’t as much fun.
Then around book six or nine — I forget — Skype came into being. Now, this was a god-send for our partnership because I could call up a chapter on my screen, share, and she could see it on her screen thousands of miles away while we talked about it. And we were able, when we were finished, at least see each other as we raised our glasses.
This is also how we opened Christmas presents. Better, but it still wasn’t the same.
A couple years ago, Kelly finally made it back to our home state of Michigan, settling finally, after a couple false starts, in beautiful Traverse City. I was secretly envious because I really didn’t like living in South Florida, but I had put down deep roots. Then last year, my husband Daniel gave me the best gift he’s ever given me — he agreed to leave the place where he had lived for 40 years so I could be happier. We sold our Fort Lauderdale condo and bought a little house in Tallahassee, where we are very content. But then, came the icing on the cake. Because of the move to Tally, we had enough left over to buy a small condo in Traverse City. So I’m officially a snowbird. A very happy one. So’s the husband. He told me the other day, “Thank you for making me do this. I needed a kick in the ass.”
So for the first time in ten years, Kelly and I were in one place when we finished the book. We bought a bottle of SEX pink champagne from Mawby vineyards here in TC, typed out THE END, hugged and uncorked. The wine is only $15 a bottle but tasted like Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose.
I love rituals, especially when they involve family. Like opening presents on Christmas Eve instead of morning. Deviled eggs for Thanksgiving dinner. Celebrating our sixth-month anniversary every year with my husband because we never thought we’d make it that far. Rituals are important. They are the bonds, born of our memories, that keep us from spinning away into the lonely void.
Most of my writer friends have rituals, some silly, some serious. One of my favorite scenes from the movie Misery is the opening, where Paul Sheldon types THE END and then indulges in his own writer-ritual — gently tucking his finished manuscript to bed in his old briefcase, setting out one cigarette, one match and a bottle of Dom. Here’s the scene if you want to watch:
I can relate. Can you? Rituals help us establish a sense of continuity in a business that can make us feel ungrounded and unguarded. And if you think your rituals are weird…
Roald Dahl, when he wants to write, gets into a sleeping bag, pulls it up to his waist and settles into a faded wing-backed armchair. He puts his feet up on a battered traveling case full of logs. This is roped to the legs of the armchair so it’s always at a perfect distance.
Joan Didion holds her books close to her heart—literally. When she’s close to finishing one, she’ll sleep beside it in the same room. “Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it,” she said in a 1968 interview with The Paris Review.
The great Greek statesman Demosthenes, to get himself in the writing groove, would shave one side of his head so he wouldn’t be tempted to leave the house until he was finished.
John Steinbeck, who wrote his drafts in pencil, always kept twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk. He wore them down to nubs. His editor started sending him round pencils instead of normal hexagonal ones, because Steinbeck had developed such bad callouses.
So…whatever your ritual, wallow in it. It makes you special. It is part of your style, and I hope that something of that uniqueness, that weirdness, shows up on the page every day.
Gotta go. Rewrites await. I’m considering that if I don’t get serious about them pretty quickly here, I might have to go shave half my hair off. But that might be just the Sex talking.