Writers are renowned for being eccentric creatures, and one of the aspects that shows our curious caprices are the things we do in order to write. Our inexplicable superstitions to ward off the dour fog of writer’s block. Our instinctive little rituals to centre ourselves, to call forth inspiration. Moving forward on the page with blind intuition, a finger held up to sense from which direction the winds of creativity are blowing. Invoking the Muse. Or muses if you happen to be polytheistic – there were nine of them, after all. The nine gracious daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne ( memory personified), each embodying her own unique field of inspiration, art or endeavour. My favourites would be Melpomene, Goddess of Tragedy, Terpsichore the Muse of Dance and Urania, ruling over astronomy.
Here are my rituals. One for each of the Muses …
1. The absolute necessity of the pen on the page, as my dowsing rod, to capture the first ideas for a piece (never fingers on a keyboard).
2. Aesthetically pleasing, unique notebooks to embrace and keep warm my fledgling ideas. Plain ones do not say “play with me”. As often as possible, I carry one with me.
3. Black ink pens. Blue ones remind me of school days and shopping lists. It may sound precocious, but I cannot write creatively with a blue pen!!
4. A pot of black vanilla tea and the little jug of milk on a tray at my elbow, sipped from one of my collection of antique china tea-cups. The ritual of preparing this, I believe, prepares my mind for writing. And I recently discovered that vanilla is an aphrodisiac – so perhaps this is how I seduce myself to the page.
5. Non-intrusive, ambient, music in the background, but not on headphones: this would interfere too much with the particular rhythms of a piece; unless I find something that perfectly complements the piece I’m working on. I wrote a story listening only to Bonobos’ album “Northern Shores” recently.
6. Journal entries written at stream-of-consciousness speed to clear my mind of personal concerns and clutter if I stall. Or sometimes, before I begin my creative work. ( (I’m with Anais Nin here – journalling is the foundation of a writing life, a writing mind.)
7. The peaceful solitude of my living room, or the soothing background hubbub of a favourite local cafe as my ideal writing environments. In Writing down the Bones another of my writing heroines, Natalie Goldberg advocates writing practice in cafes; immersing yourself in the hither-thither flow of humanity, the enlivening scent of coffee.
8. Rewarding my writer-self for publications or other successes. A bunch of flowers, a vintage teacup, a new notebook. Or perhaps a new book from a favourite author, or a writing workshop. Writing-oriented treats help keep the well of creativity free of weeds and algae, and the water from becoming stagnant.
9. If I consciously decide to sit down and work on a piece of erotica… the desire for sensuous textures against my skin directs my wardrobe choice, and (small) decadent treats on my tongue set a mood. One of my favourite wicked stories was partially sustained by a divine box of Belgian raspberry and chocolate truffles, savoured over the four days it took to write!
So there, laid bare, are my petits rituels .They are what I use to remind myself that writing time is sacred time, magic time. These little gestures demarcate my writing time from everyday reality, and allow myself to fall in deeply to the write-time dimension. That mysterious place where time and space can stretch out or shrink. Where clocks stop as if it’s the last day of the world. Or melt, like in a Dali painting. Where you can have conversations with yourself that are revelations to yourself. And you emerge from that place, like Alice from Wonderland, not quite yourself, and yet more yourself.
What might be your writing rituals? What are the secret codes, and magic spells you invoke to enter your own personal write-time?
Commit them to the page. Let them be your own Book of Spells…