Adventures in (Unusual) Writing Rituals
Writing necessitates a lifestyle. Some people write for precise amounts of time at precise times of day and some people steal minutes here and there to get the work done. When writers sit around chatting about their writing rituals, you’ll hear talk about what, if any, music they listen to, their favorite type of pen, what beverage best suits their writing time, and if they work better at home or in a coffee shop. The normal stuff.
Most of us follow the same routines day after day, usually because they work for us. This is good. But if all of a sudden the usual isn’t working, if we feel stagnant and uninspired, why not entertain doing something really different? And I’m not talking about setting a candle on our writing desk.
I remember hearing that Agatha Christie ate fruit in the bathtub while she thought up her murder mysteries. This got me interested in knowing what other unusual writing rituals novelists had employed. I’m sure none of these writers would mind if we steal their ideas for ourselves.
- Even before Elizabeth Gilbert needed glasses, she wore non-prescription ones that made her feel smart. She’d look in the mirror and think, “Writer.”
- Toni Morrison would get up in the dark, make coffee, and wait for the sun to rise. When the light came, that was her signal to begin writing.
- Kent Haruf would pull a wool cap over his eyes when he wrote. By shutting off one of his senses, he was able to enter his story world more deeply and could keep writing without the distraction of seeing any typing mistakes. They’d have to wait until the next draft.
- Colleen Hoover has to wear a brand-new pair of socks on writing days.
- If you write your drafts by hand, try this idea from Phillip Pullman. He writes 3 pages a day, fronts only on narrow-lined paper, and then always writes one more sentence at the top of the next piece of paper. This keeps him from ever having to start the day with a blank page.
- Kurt Vonnegut says he did pushups and sit-ups all the time. (author’s note: For a while, I kept hand weights by my desk that I’d use every couple of hours. Besides getting my blood flowing, it got me up out of my seat to stretch and clear my head for a few minutes, but not too far away from my work.)
- Try writing exclusively on index cards. Play around with sequence and structure and see if this method doesn’t give you a new perspective on your work in progress. At night, stick some fresh cards under your pillow in case you need them. This method was good enough for Vladimir Nabokov.
- A.J. Jacobs takes his computer with him on the treadmill. This might not be practical at your local YMCA, but surely a pen and paper would work.
- Gillian Flynn’s writing rituals involve food. She starts her writing day with a bowl of Lucky Charms, then she pours the leftover sweet milk into her coffee, then moves on to cherry Coke Zero.
- John Green switches keyboards every draft. If his writing isn’t going well, he throws out the keyboard and replaces it with a different one.
I don’t recommend dabbling with any habits that involve half a bottle of rum (David Ogilvy), 50 cups of coffee (Honoré de Balzac), or keeping rotten apples in a desk drawer for sniffing when inspiration is low (ala Friedrich Schiller). But if it’s safe, legal, and doesn’t result in the loss of family or friends, I say give some unusual writing rituals a try.