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A couple weeks ago, I saw a great post by Courtney Maum on Tin House’s blog called “Super Sad True Habits of Highly Effective Writers: Part 1” (yes, there are two parts). Maum asked writers to reveal their weird writing habits and rituals, partly, I think, to prove that she’s not the only writer afflicted by this pseudo-superstitious approach to getting the words on the page, and the answers she received were at once bizarre and hilarious. From obsessive compulsion to hedonism, these writers hit just about every mark on the writing rituals weirdness spectrum. A few of my favorites:
Adam Levin (Hot Pink, The Instructions):
“I eat one 6 oz. serving of Fage yogurt with a teaspoon of honey and fifteen whole almonds, then respond to email while drinking cup of tea #1, glasses #1 and #2 of water, and smoking cigarettes #s 1-3. After that, I get more tea, more water, and then try my best to stop counting stuff.”
Justin Torres (We the Animals):
“There are about 13 songs for which I know every word sung, every breath, every pause. These songs cover the range of human experience. I sing these songs into an air microphone, and dance before an imagined, disinterested audience in an imagined smoky bar. I’m pouring my heart out, dancing sadly, or grandly, and no one cares. I find this prepares me perfectly for the day’s work.”
Janice Erlbaum (Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, Have You Found Her):
“I go into the bathroom, smoke half a joint, and stare at myself in the mirror until I figure out what needs to be said that day. Then I sit down at my desk and wind up writing something totally unrelated.”
William Giraldi (Busy Monsters, Fiction Editor Agni):
“My office/library is a bunker of books, maybe 2000 titles stuffed into the medium front room of our Boston condo. I’ve put a firm mattress on the floor, and I write cross-legged sitting against a bookshelf. But before I begin, I stack five-foot piles of books around the mattress, so I’m buffeted and bulletproofed by books (plus my toddler can’t see me in this mini bunker). If I’m writing criticism, I move the stacks of Wilde and Pater and Dr. Johnson near my head; for a short story, I’ll move the stacks of Hemingway and Conan Doyle and Flannery O’Connor; for a memoir, the 12-volume edition of Casanova, plus Grant and Graves; for a novel, stacks of Cervantes, Sterne, Nabokov, George Eliot, and Saul Bellow. By some medieval abracadabra I hope that the talent in those pages makes its way onto my own.”
Alexi Zenter (Touch, The Lobster Kings):
“I’m a big believer of simply getting your ass in the chair, but most mornings my ritual consists of getting my daughters off to school and then making a Starbucks run. I’m actually pretty embarrassed to admit the Starbucks run, not in the least because I order a Venti Decaf Mocha Frappuccino Light, otherwise know as a crappy milkshake. A lot of times I pretend I’m ordering it for my wife.”
I noticed that a lot of the rituals involve some form of procrastination, which naturally got me thinking about my own writing rituals. I think I might do things a little differently if I weren’t currently living as a guest in someone else’s house, but for the past month and half or so that I’ve been back in Seattle, this has been my ritual: I wake up when my boyfriend is about to leave for work and I eat a bowl of yogurt/granola/raisins/chocolate chips; I then spend an hour or two checking the main social media platforms I participate in (Facebook, Twitter, BlogLovin’, and Pinterest) so that I’m all caught up and (in theory) have nothing to distract me once I start writing; I then put make-up and a kickass outfit on, and curl my hair, because I can’t be productive if I don’t look presentable; around 11am, I then walk to a coffee shop that’s about half a mile away from where I’m staying, settle into a chair on the second floor that faces a window, plug my laptop into the wall and open Worpress so that when I come back to my seat with an 8 oz. latte (which I always set to the right of my computer screen) I’m ready to dive in to writing immediately. I put earbuds in my ears, even though I don’t listen to anything most of the time, I spend two to three hours writing and then I pack up and walk home. I guess it’s a pretty boring ritual compared to some of the others, but it works for me.
Ever since reading Maum’s post, I’ve been thinking about why writers create these rituals for themselves, and I think there’s a simple answer and a more complex answer. The simple answer is that writers are prone to avoidance when the time actually comes to sit down and write (which is a whole other topic in itself), and rituals, no matter how silly or superstitious they may be, create a routine that serves to train one’s brain into a creative and productive space in conjunction with those rituals. The more complex answer is that perhaps writing is sacred to people who write, and writing rituals for writers are akin to what sacraments are for Catholics: an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual significance of writing. Writers observe their rituals because it’s an expression of the seriousness and reverence with which they approach the task of writing (even if the rituals themselves are kind of silly), and every time one of these rituals is carried out, it’s a reminder of why they chose a writerly life. But maybe that’s just me trying to assign a greater cosmic meaning to something that is simply a result of quirkiness.
What’s your take on writing rituals? Important? Idiotic? Innocuous?