"What's your writing ritual?" a friend recently asked.
We're both writers—she has published articles and short stories and is thinking of trying her hand at technical writing. I've been doing technical and marketing writing and editing, and have been attempting to publish short stories and articles.
She lives in Australia and I in the US. We communicate via email, sporadically. So my failure to reply immediately wouldn't worry her. She wouldn't know how I'd reacted to her question. Ritual? I had no writing ritual. I didn't know I needed one.
I know about the Importance of Writing Every Day and of Keeping a Journal. But I didn't know about Writing Rituals. How embarrassing.
Maybe this is why I haven't completed my novel, and why my short stories return, rejected. I've not been performing the necessary rites to entice my Muse, or to appease the writing Imps who throw distractions in my path.
So, I set out to create a ritual.
It took a while to figure out what the appropriate rites would be. Should I perform some physical exercise before writing, to get the blood pumping and the endorphins racing? Should I meditate to achieve a state of inner peace that would let inspiration channel through me? Should I, as another writer friend does, wear a symbolic item of clothing (she writes Westerns while wearing a cowboy hat)?
I suspected the Imps were distracting me again, but I was sure this was Important, that getting the ritual right was paramount to my success as an author. So I contemplated and experimented, and finally decided on the Writing Ritual for me.
Before beginning my serious writing, I would light some candles, read an inspirational quote, and close my eyes to focus my energies on the passages I was about to create. That should put me in the proper frame of mind. Besides, the idea of writing by candlelight had a romantic, authorial feel to it.
Of course, this meant I had to find the right book of motivational quotes, and to decide if I would pick ones at random, or choose one for each week or each chapter. I have several books of quotations. Deciding on the right one took time.
Then the candles. Scented or unscented? Pillars? Votives? How many? This required research into aromatherapy, to learn what scents would encourage creativity... or perhaps tranquility... or maybe passion when writing love scenes.
Then to pick the place to write. I'd been doing all of my work in my home office. But, on reflection, this was clearly not a good idea. The writing I do for clients -- marketing and technical work -- is quite different from the essays and fiction I want to create during my serious writing times. So a search for the perfect writing space was next on the agenda.
The dining room table? Too close to the kitchen, with all its temptations. The back deck? Too many distractions -- flowers to tend, plants to check, slugs to hunt. The bedroom? Ah, that would work. I set up my laptop, my candles and my book of quotes on the table next to the window. A latte and a cookie would provide sustenance. The view of the garden would provide inspiration.
At last, I had a ritual! This would surely improve my writing.
But then I began to worry. What would happen if I established the ritual, and then wasn't able to perform it? Would my Muse take offense and abandon me? I spend one month out of every three at my boyfriend's flat in Australia. I'd have to take my candles and quotes with me, and find a writing space there. He has no garden view, but I would have to hope that my Muse would understand.
Elated with my success at overcoming this lack of a Writing Ritual and hopeful that it would prove to be portable enough for my lifestyle, I emailed my friend. I described what I'd come up with, and asked what her ritual was.
"My ritual?" she replied. "Oh, I just go into the bathroom with paper and pen, and block the door closed with my foot so the kids don't bother me."
I see. The Imps strike again. But I have a stockpile of candles now. And so does my boyfriend.
© Copyright 2000 by Karen Babcock