Honor Your Gods

On May 8, 2012, in Creativity, Writing Tips, by Dyana
Demolition Ax and Smash

Demolish those deadlines!

Poet Jennifer Maier once gave a craft lecture to the students in my MFA program and offered ten points of advice. The first was this: “Honor your gods.”

By “gods,” Maier meant rituals. “Turn down the lights,” she said. “Turn off all distractions, or turn on some music. Light candles.”

While this sounds like the recipe for another kind of fun night in, I understood what Maier was saying. Most writers I know have a (sometimes long) series of (sometimes bizarre) rituals they feel they must complete before they can begin their work.

Today The Tin House blog posted “Super Sad True Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Part One,” in which writers ‘fess up to their pre-work rituals.

Do I write, or do I watch Grey's Anatomy? What do you think, Ax?

It made me happy to read these, because it’s too easy to worry that I am the only person out there who needs to wash her dishes before she starts working, or has a toy figure of Ax from the WWF tag team Demolition standing in support on her bookshelf (he also stood under my desk chair when I took the SATs).

But no! In fact, some of these reveals make me think that not only am I not in the minority, but I’m actually faring pretty well. Take this for example, from Sarah Rose Etter:

“I usually drink for about two weeks straight, and then right before I truly forget what it is to be a human being, I sober up, drink wheatgrass shots only for three days, and eventually the story comes to me as a sort of hallucination/miracle. That process has always worked for me. I believe it originated with the Mayans.”

When it comes down to it, the details aren’t important. Although it’s fun to hear about, I don’t care if an author feels they need to walk around the block five times, drink a certain flavor of tea out of a certain color mug, or watch an episode of Frasier before they can sit down to put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. What is helpful is to know that it’s rare that this comes naturally to anyone, and that even very successful writers have to psych themselves out sometimes to get going.

We know there’s really no magic formula, but because writing feels like magic– in that we seem to have no control over whether we’re producing good or crappy work on any given day– it’s okay to give in to a little to magical thinking.

WWF, The Mayans, whatever else…we all have our gods. What are yours? And what do they demand?

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12 Responses to “Honor Your Gods”

  1. Ross Gale says:

    I wish I had a writing pal like Ax. I just have to be inside an elite niche coffee shop in order to write.

  2. Laura says:

    I don’t do all of these every time, and I know that some of them are false gods that should probably not be honored. That said:

    Turn on the computer.
    Open the door to the balcony (in season).
    Make sure the bed is made. (I’m not in the room with it but if it’s unmade it will bug me.)
    Make coffee or tea.
    If there are dirty dishes, run a sink of hot water for them to soak.
    Wash my favorite mug, even if it’s the only one dirty, and fill it with said tea or coffee.
    Look at Facebook.
    Win one game of solitaire.
    Wash some or all of the dishes. (Or, as I think of it, get my hands in hot water.)
    Sing something.
    Regard my desk totems (many of which, I just realized, were acquired in Santa Fe).
    Regard my MFA diploma (University of Pittsburgh, ’91).
    Reassure the cat.
    Type until the words that have been building up in my head find their way out.

    • Dyana says:

      Wow, Laura, this list is impressive. How cool that you have a balcony! I imagine if I had a balcony then everything in my life would easier somehow.

      • Laura says:

        It’s possible I can’t tell the difference between pre-writing rituals and writing avoidance behaviors.
        If you ever come to Arkansas, we’ll have tea on my balcony! It’s my favorite 40 square feet of my apartment.

  3. Callie Feyen says:

    Hi Dyana! I am an incoming MFA student at SPU and saw your blog on its FB page. I thought I’d check it out and am glad I did. I read the article you referred to yesterday and got a good chuckle (and encouragement) from learning what other writers do. I guess my only “must do” is make sure my 3 and 5 year old daughters are 1)sleeping 2)playing with their babysitter or 3)hanging out with daddy so that I can get my butt in the chair and write. Well, I like to drink coffee, too.
    Good to “meet” you!

    • Dyana says:

      Hi, Callie! Thanks for reading, and welcome to the program. You are going to love it– for realz.

      Having no children of my own, I’m always fascinated by how parents, especially those of small children like yours, balance their writing and day-to-day responsibilities. Maybe sometime we could do a series of posts by writers who are parents, talking about how they make it all work.

      Nice to meet you!

  4. Debbie Young says:

    Feed the husband at 5:30 am send him off to work…
    Drink another cup of coffee with milk…
    Feed and water the goats, chickens and hogs…
    Walk/jog for 30 minutes, stretch…get ideas…
    Ruminate…
    Sit down at the computer…
    (Working on getting rid of the crap…)
    Avoid social network overload…
    Open a blank word doc…

    • Dyana says:

      Sounds like you are a busy woman, Debbie! Physical exercise is something that I’d like to incorporate more often into my own mornings.

  5. Jennwith2ns says:

    That’s it. That’s why I’m the least disciplined writer in the known universe. I have no pre-writing rituals. At least, none that ever eventually lead to writing.

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