Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rituals and Writing

An established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite
a system or collection of religious or other rites.

any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.

a specific act, as hand-washing, performed repetitively to a pathological degree, occurring as a common symptom of obsessive-compulsive neurosis

Writing for me is many things, but above all, it is both a psychological necessity and a spiritual practice. So of course I have created rituals to mark the writing process, necessary in my mind in a religious sense and in a mildly OCD neurotic sense.

Every writer's reason for creating is different, and every writer's process of writing is different. Some writers can sit down at their desk/at the coffee shop/on their couch/on a bus, with no preamble, and dive headfirst into their world. That writer is not me.

It's not that I can't just start writing, or that I can't write outside my office. But creating a space, both physically and through ritual, where I can be creative and I can offer thanks spiritually is something that's hard to do sitting on a bus. Plus, my office is a lot quieter than a bus. And it doesn't smell bad. And, usually, there's no crazy people rambling in the corner.

At first, the rituals were a way to quiet my mind, to shift from my workday into my writing, or, more often, shift from sleep into early-morning writing. It was sometimes a lovely way to procrastinate, when I was blocked, or when I was anxious. Sometimes it still is.

But the rituals have morphed, in meaning if not in substance. I still start my music (has to be the same playlist, tailored to the story), and have a sip of coffee (with hazelnut creamer). I still light a candle (green Coventry Creations Brigid, or orange Zena Moon Candle for Writing), say a prayer of thanks, take a deep breath. But I think now, because it's so ingrained, the ritual is an offering to the creative process.

Once a book is done, I have a whole different set of rituals. I create a playlist for the book – almost never the same as the playlist for writing. The former is supposed to be evocative of the story and the characters; the latter is the music I listen to in order to help me write. I've taken lately to creating a cover for the book. I play the "who would you cast"* game. And, of course, there's the ritual sacrifice to the query gods.

Do you have rituals you go through before, and after, you create?

* For the record: Paul Bettany for Jonas and Rachael Weisz for Meredith in The Pilgrim Glass and Justin Long for Sam in The Hummingbird.

ETA: Don't forget to check out Heather's writing rituals post!


  1. This is awesome! I love your ritual. And way to go on the playlists.

  2. I'm totally there on the playlists. And I find they sometimes change once the book is done.

    This was lovely to read!

  3. S - Thanks :) Gotta have the ritual, on so many levels.

    Anna - Thank you! I'd love to see some of your playlists! Can you write to music? I have to do instrumental to write to.

  4. Thanks for posing this question; it's a fun one to contemplate.

    I don't know if it's a ritual per se, but I can only sit down to write for a multi-hour stretch if I find some sort of marathon (or block of very similar shows) on TV to serve as background noise, and it has to be very late at night. (Occasionally I play music on top of the TV noise if a particular song offers the promise of inspiration.)

    When I run out of words, I walk a 1.5-mile loop to the National Cathedral and back, sometimes getting weird looks from raccoons and the police. After that 25-minute stroll, I can answer a question: Do I have more writing in me, or is it time to go to bed?

    This screwy set of habits and rituals is so place-specific that I sometimes wonder what will happen when I move, someday, to a new neighborhood or apartment.

  5. Jeff - Fascinating...I can't imagine writing with the TV on. I guess I'm a little too easily distracted for that. A good friend lived in some apartments a block from the cathedral and could see it from his kitchen. What a glorious thing; you're fortunate to live so near.