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.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?