Rituals have been around for about as
long as man has walked the earth. Every culture, every religion,
every government, every sport, every one us us, have our share of rituals, many of
which are functional and some that, let’s face it, are just plain
Writers aren’t immune to such things.
Do a quick Google on "writer’s rituals" and you’ll get over
a million and a half hits. In fact, one website I found — an
education site — suggested that teachers should encourage their
students to cultivate productive writing rituals. Which only makes
They can even save your life.
In Misery (or at least in the movie
version — I confess I haven’t read the book. So sue me.), Stephen
King (or William Goldman, who wrote the screenplay) uses a
ritual in the climax of his story. Early on, the protagonist, writer
Paul Sheldon, celebrates finishing a book with a glass of champagne
and a cigarette that have been carefully laid out for that moment.
Later, Sheldon uses that very same ritual to help him overcome his
captor, the psychopathic Annie Wilkes.
I, naturally, have rituals of my own.
Whenever I sit down to write, I make sure that I have some sort of
white noise going, most often the recorded sounds of Niagara Falls.
I call it my Back to the Womb method of writing and have found that
it’s extremely difficult for me to start without it.
I even keep the audio file on my laptop
so that I can listen to it while I’m on the road.
Once I’m set with the white noise, I
spend ten to fifteen minutes checking mail, reading favorite websites
and blogs, before I finally shut the browser down and get to work.
Work means going back to the beginning
of the chapter I’m on and reading it aloud, making small changes as I
go. Then, hopefully, by the time I’ve reached my stopping point,
I’ve come up with something worthwhile to say.
If I’m stuck, it’s back to the browser
to cruise more websites or to look for the answer to some bit of
research that might help get the brain working.
While the ritual itself remains the
same, I find that the starting time changes, depending on how close I
am to deadline. At the beginning of a book, when I have months of
freedom ahead of me, I usually write whenever the mood strikes me.
Then, as I start feeling just a little crowded, I tend to go to bed
early and wake up about three a.m., when the house is quiet (except
for my waterfall) and there are no distractions.
During crunch time, like now, I find
that I can get more work done if I take a nice long nap around five p.m., get up at about eight, have dinner, then start to work and
keep working into the wee hours. This doesn’t do much for my social
or family life, but fortunately the kids are out of the house now and
I have one of the most understanding wives in the world.
My ritual is pretty tame. I know there
are obsessive-compulsives out there who have some pretty odd rituals
like checking the locks three times before they go to bed, or
smoothing the left corner of the hallway throw rug every time they
pass — and I’m sure that many writers have little quirky things they
feel they have to do before they get started.
As John Schumaker said, "Without cultural sanction, most or all of our religious beliefs and rituals would fall into the domain of mental disturbance."
So that’s my question to you today.
What are your writing rituals? The stranger the better.
Don’t be afraid, we won’t laugh. At
least not too much.