No, what I want to discuss today are those rituals associated with writing. Every writer has one, or fourteen. Certain actions, thoughts, words, prayers that must be done before you could even contemplate sitting at the keyboard.
For example, Stephen King goes for a long walk just about every day. (Or at least, he did. I think he still might, though I doubt it’s as long.) This helps him clear his head, focus his thoughts; it gets him away from outside distractions so he can reach what is called by some flow : that special place where you’re so into the story you lose all sense of time, outside disturbances, who you are. All that you are is the story. (But I call it the “zone;” you know, getting into the zone.)
When I started writing a year ago, in that “I want to get published” serious way, I didn’t have a single ritual. I just sat down and wrote. But as time went on, I grew some. Like evil little parasites. I started with smoking a cigarette when I first sat down, which usually would burn away because I’d fall into the zone instantly and I’d forget about it. Then I needed to have a cup of coffee along with the cigarette. Check my email, myspace, and other internet accounts before even opening the word processor. Then I had to have the right music on, which had been there from the start but not nearly as important as it would become. On top of it all, I changed what time I wrote. Where before I wrote anytime, generally sitting down in the morning and writing til I could no more, and any other time when the whim came upon me, I started only writing in the afternoon when the kids were taking a nap (or playing in their rooms.) And so on and so forth.
While everyone has their own particular rituals, I have come to realize that mine weren’t there to help me write, but rather inhibited me. If I had a neck ache, not enough to cause severe pain but just annoy, I couldn’t write. Too distracting. If the kids were up and running round causing havoc, again, couldn’t write. Which is just ridiculous. One of my first stories published was written in an hour while the kids were bouncing around the room!
My rituals have become excuses not to write.
I really love writing. But it is hard. Not just dealing with rejection, reformatting manuscripts to suit the guidelines of different mags, or struggling through writer’s block. Creating is just as hard, if not harder. The human mind thinks of a thousand or more words per minute, and the best of us can type maybe 100 of them down before the mind has moved on. Writing a story is less about creativity and more about focus. Keeping the mind trained on the idea at hand–whether haunted houses, monsters or a werewolf in sheep’s skin–requires an immense amount of discipline and self-control. (I mean, just look at kids these days. Can we say “concentration” is not a part of their vocabulary?) Everyone can be creative; writer’s focus theirs.
*Note* Of course, all opinions made within this blog are generalizations and do not apply to everybody. So if you think you’re different, by all means, be who you are. I can only speak of my experiences and my interpretation of others’.
I have to adjust my beliefs about what helps me write. The cup of coffee isn’t important. And the music is just background noise. Helping me fall into the zone. The only thing that matters is my fingers on the keyboard.
Now hopefully this blog will work as a springboard. I’m feeling pretty primed now; just need to turn the key.
But before I go, for all those writers out there, what kind of rituals do you practice, whether consciously or unconsciously, before you write? Think about the little things you do before sitting down at the keyboard. Do you chew on your pen for a while, staring into space, contemplating plot? Chew a piece of gum until it’s flavorless glue?
Here’s some links about writer’s rituals. Enjoy the reading.
Right Writing Rituals – written by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. She discusses other writer’s rituals, her own, and finding ones that help.
Who, What, When, and Where of Writing Rituals – written by Kathleen O’Shaughnessy, Connie McDonald, Harriet Maher and Ann Dobie. Many more writer’s rituals, discussed in deeper meaning according to environment, time and behavior. (Really interesting read for those writer’s who are curious about why they do the things they do.)
Writing Rituals – written by J.R. Murdoch. Offers some helpful tips about building and then paring down the ritual that works for you.
And just for fun . . . a headless chicken.