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Writing Rituals: Spiritual or Simply Habits?

Bestselling authors reveal rituals that turn on creativity.

This is a season of rituals: lighting Hanukkah candles and Christmas trees, wishing on stars, and promising to do better in the coming year. It's not really what you do, but the spirit of renewing hope that is so powerful. It's the same with writing fiction. Each morning before I turn on my laptop, I take a walk in the woods with my dog. Then, I light a candle to burn away resistance and give a nod to my little one-armed Buddha (imperfect and smiling). For some authors, there's something spiritual about starting each day the same way. Others simply look at these habits as a way to turn on the creative part of their brain. Here are some rituals from other authors:

"I do get attached to a particular computer, and I get used to certain keyboards. For me, a keyboard is not unlike a piano - it has to feel right when you play!"
- Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers

"I always write my first draft in longhand, in lined notebooks... I have a certain cheap pen I like and buy by the dozen. Stylist. Black ink. Fine point."
- Sue Miller, The Lake Shore Limited

"It is a rare week that I am not on an airplane, and sometimes I am on as many as six in a week. There is a moment on every flight when the pilot always comes over the load speaker and tells everyone we will be starting our initial descent soon. From that point until wheels hit the tarmac I have to be writing, doing a kind of glimmer brain dump of everything that has been hanging around in my memory, taking up space."
- Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted

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"I have a lot of writing rituals. First, I have to have music, but it cant be really good music. It just has to have a beat to keep me going. (I'm mortified to admit I have listened to the Carpenters many, many times.) My office is a huge mess by the end of the day, but it has to be clean when I sit down to work, which is probably just an avoidance tactic."
- Caroline Leavitt, Pictures of You

"I write best in my underwear and my fuzzy slippers with my heater on full blast no matter the season, and all of my dogs asleep in my office. Also, since I'm totally manic and focus can by an issue for me, I prefer to write with a mild hangover. Kinda like a knuckleballer will throw on his off days so that he has a dead arm come game day, I like my mind to be working slower than normal when I write." - Jonathan Evison, West of Here

"Get up. Get very strong coffee, preferably Starbucks. Four hours of correspondence (email, Facebook, Twitter); walk obsessive black Lab, get more coffee - the oxygenation and caffeine serve as a demarcation line, letting me know administrative stuff is over and writing time is about to begin. I whine longhand a lot in my black notebook about how hard it is to write, and then I write." - Jenna Blum, The Stormchasers

"My only writing ritual is one shared by lots of writers: I get up extra early in the morning - 4 or 5 AM - to try to get in a few hours of uninterrupted work. Many writers feel they're at their most creative first thing in the morning, though I can't say this has worked consistently for me. Also, I seem to need a nap most afternoons. Can't imagine why." - Alma Katsu, The Taker

"At the end of each writing day I think, What do I want to write about tomorrow? I ask questions about the bare bones of the scene or chapter: Who needs to be here? What's the mood? Are they inside or outside, alone or in a crowd? What should be resolved or undone by the end of this scene? Then I put the questions on my pin board and close up for the day. In the morning, not only do I know where to start, but I've given my subconscious mind a chance to scribble in the details."
- Susan Henderson, Up From the Blue

"I like to bake when I'm at a tricky place in my writing. I find kneading, stirring, and measuring deeply meditative and relaxing. I sort of talk to myself as I work, musing over the process, recipe, or cook book, if there is one-- and the internal monologue seems to be good for all kinds of thought-work; it's liberating and helps give me new ways of seeing things."
- Diana Abu-Jaber, Birds of Paradise

"When a scene is stuck, I move-to my chair to write in longhand, down the stairs to make a cup of tea, out the door to walk the dog again. I move, or I hold very still. The rituals are a small nod to normalcy in what is otherwise a life spent bushwhacking in the wilderness." - Carol Edgarian, Three Stages of Amazement

Jennifer Haupt writes about people who find faith beyond religion and use it to change their lives, their communities, and some sometimes even the world. Jennifer contributes to magazines including O, The Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Parents, and a variety of philanthropic publications. You can read more of her work at www.jenniferhaupt.com and check her out on Facebook.

 

Jennifer Haupt is a writer based in Seattle, Washington. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Readers Digest, and The Christian Science Monitor.

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