The Ritual

I’ve been thinking over the last few days about my own habits that facilitate my writing process, and some patterns have emerged.

For starters, there has to be music playing somewhere in the background.  Lately I’ve found that when I can’t focus and have to turn the music off, it’s better to stop writing for the time being.  When I can’t tune out the music and channel it, there’s really no point in trying.  Conversely, I need silence in regards to my surroundings.  The music is for the ambience, and “silence” refers to everything else.  I can’t write with a TV in the background.  There can’t be a lot of movement or commotion going on around me.  If I’m writing at my computer, I’ve probably got my headphones on and am completely oblivious to everything else.

There is a ritual of sorts, though.  Before writing, I get a glass of a non-alcoholic liquid (usually soda), I turn up the music, and then I pace.  I’ll walk around and occupy myself with something else for a few minutes.  I’m not really conscious of what I’m doing during this phase – my head is a million miles away in the moment of the story I’m about to enter.  I’m focusing, channeling, seeing what I’m about to write happening before me like a slow motion movie.  I’m hearing the words these people are saying.  After a few minutes of this, I close the door, sit down and crack my knuckles (a bad habit I can’t shake).  And then I either start pecking away at the keyboard or pick up my pen and start scribbling.

That’s another thing – if I’m writing by hand, I have to write with a pen.  Never a pencil.  I find I become too preoccupied with the lead and having to resharpen the tip every page or so (I’m particular about my writing utensils, and I absolutely must have a fine, sharpened point).  My pen must have a good flow but not prone to bleeding and smudging.  My current favorite is the Uniball Jetstream.  I write in print.  Never cursive.  I underline for italics, and double-underline for, well, underlining.  Titles are in all-caps.

On a good day, two or three hours will pass without my awareness.  The album that’s playing will have repeated three or four times and I’ve listened to none of it but heard it all the same.  That’s the beauty and necessity of the music – it’s a channeling technique much like a seer goes to a stone.  Think of it like a form of meditation.  Once it clicks and you fall into that wonderful creative space, time ceases to exist, and you’re off on a journey of your own creation.  And this is all while you’re sober.

I’ve started writing the second draft of imagiNATION.  It’s going more smoothly than I imagined it would.  And, the best of it is, it’s moving along at its own pace.  I’m not forcing it.  That in itself is a relief and a blessing.  It was upon my reflection of my own writing ritual that I decided to set some parameters for myself.  These are little quirky things to which I must adhere every day when I sit down to work on this story.

So now we come to the rules:

  1. Write by hand in that snazzy notebook and nothing else.  Don’t type a single word until it’s done.
  2. Listen to whole albums only, and only one album on repeat per session.  Mixes don’t work very well for me.
  3. Headphones are preferred.
  4. Minimum of one hour writing time per day, every day.  More if possible.
  5. And finally – let the story be what it wants to be, and not what I think it should be.  I broke this rule before, and that’s why I’m rewriting a 108k word novel from scratch.

And with that, I am off to write for my second hour today.  I’ll most likely be listening to the album Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright by ASHES dIVIDE, though I’m also in the mood for something by TOOL as well, so we’ll see.  Oh, and I’ll probably light some candles, too.

For now, it’s your turn.  What’s your writing ritual?  Hit the comment box and let me know.  Happy writing and weekend, folks.


5 thoughts on “The Ritual

  1. “Bitch nigga, gun trigger
    Dick’s bigger, why fuck?
    Killer, blood spiller
    Bitch, steal a mac truck
    Bad luck fuckin’ with this black buck
    Bigger Thomas, I promise
    Leave a corpse in the furnace”
    -Saul Williams

    eh? eh? Are we on the same page here?

    I have no writing ritual. I just have to write shit down as it comes to me or I lose it. If that means using my cellphone notepad in the middle of class, or getting up out of bed at 4 and turning the computer back on ’cause I can’t sleep, that’s what I do. But I gotta have silence. No music. Obviously I’m writing to a beat in my head (oh I’m a lyricist by the way, dunno if I’ve ever mentioned it before) so I can’t have any external noise ruining it. Which is hard during the day, with my roommates in the house. That’s why most of my writing is done in the wee hours of the morning.

  2. I have no ritual, but I generally prefer silence over music while writing. However, when I do listen to music while writing, it tends to be ambient or some other easy-listening genre. Submers by Loscil has been getting a lot of play time lately.

  3. Now that I’m finally able to listen to music while writing again, I prefer softer stuff with less intelligible or non-existent lyrics, dreampop, shoegaze, ethereal, post-rock, stuff like that. For a while, I was listening to only classical. Everything but Beethoven’s 5th and 9th did the trick.

    As far as actual rituals go, I usually go into iTunes and hit “refresh” on my party shuffle, edit together a quick playlist of sounds I want, and then go to my desk. At this point I handwrite everything. It kills my desire to overstudy and re-edit lines. I use Pilot Precise pens, which I’ve been using almost exclusively for the last 10 years for drawing and writing. I print everything because my cursive often turns illegible to where even I can’t read it. I mostly use college ruled legal pads at this point, though I still use my sketchbook for fragments that pop into my head.
    I’ve been trying your way, writing everything prior to typing, for a while now. It works pretty well. At least I have more raw material to work with and don’t get stuck after a certain point.
    The 1 hour a day rule is nice, but I haven’t been able to follow it regularly. I do find that if I keep up with writing everyday, my enthusiasm and quality of writing shoots up.

  4. Postrock, postrock, and more postrock for me at the moment with regards to music. I’d name bands but honestly they all meld into each other after a while. Though I do have to thank my work-buddy Zak for giving me a ridiculous stack of music over the past few weeks.

    I don’t have any rituals per se, the only requirement when I sit down to write something is that I gotta be not kidding myself. In other words, I’ve got to be sitting down to writing, not sitting down to slack off and do other stuff while pretending to be writing. It’s a mood thing, and it doesn’t happen very often, though I find, like AR, that it happens a lot more often when I get into a routine of a little each day. Routine is a double-edged sword, however, in that if I get into a routine I’m good with keeping it, but if that routine is interrupted for any reason, I fall very easily out of it.

  5. I don’t have a ritual so much as a set of conditions.

    -Be fed, or have refreshment at hand.
    -Have checked email and whatnot for important messages, nothing left to nag.
    -Read back through a paragraph or few of the previous session to set or refresh the working tone.
    -No music. (Ever since I’ve been a “serious musician” I can’t listen and write at the same time.)
    -Have a comfortable seat.
    -Write for at least an hour, unless there’s a prior engagement or the creative gears start grinding. In the latter case, downshift to entering hand written notes from elsewhere / elsewhen into appropriate files, or sift unfinished work to see if anything’s asking to be worked on.

    In recent years I’ve found an appropriate setting is more conducive to writing than any sort of ritual. It’s best if it’s separate from where I do other living things, eating and sleeping and whatnot. Mixed associations with a place clog my creative arteries. Here I don’t have an office, though once or twice a week I go write at a cafe, which is more suitable than our bare apartment. Usually I’ve got a small room to plaster with inspiring images (sketches, art that suits my stories, actors or whatnot who kick ass). The only real rule is that everything must lead to working; nothing can be allowed to distract me. It’s bad enough I distract myself.

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