Do you have a writing ritual? Is there something you have to do every time to ease yourself into your work? Does your desk need to be set up a certain way? Is there a certain type of music that needs to be playing in the background? Do you need the soothing fragrance of lavender, rosemary or peppermint to help you close the door on the rest of your life and slip into the world of words?
Many writers have a ritual or a tradition they use as a strategic way to help them slip into their work mode. It can be a repetitive action or a significant object that helps them focus, imprinting in their mind that it’s time to settle into work, setting up the boundary against the distractions of family, friends, jobs and errands. A regular ritual can help connect your mind to your task. Some writers write at the same time every day; some ease into their working mode by doing a few non-writing tasks, like checking emails or opening letters; some have their environment set up a certain way, like Feng Shui, opening the flow of creative energy. Anything that helps the writer slink off into their own creative world can be their writing ritual.
Some engage in ritual without consciously knowing; others step into their space and deliberately seek out their tradition before starting to write. The writing ritual is personal to each writer and it can be anything from always having a cup of tea on hand, or having the sounds of nature twittering in the background or using the same pen when editing. The ritual becomes their talisman that guides them to their objective.
What are your writing rituals?
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”
I used to be able to get away on some weekends to write. I would hole up in a quiet cabin on the island for 48 hours of my own creative time. Some writers have the privilege of living in one place for half the year, and then moving to a different place for the other half. It’s such a romantic notion to dream of flying off to another place to engage in your art. Most writers do not have the means or the time to run off to a cabin in the woods, or secrete themselves away in a quiet hut on a tropical island with the ocean whispering on the sandy shore – most of us have regular jobs, family and financial restrictions; it’s a rare and special treat when writers can pop off to a peaceful location all on their own, away from the hustle of everyday life, and focus solely on their art.
The world is noisy – it can be difficult to focus when phones are ringing, when construction outside your building reverberates against the windows, when the roar of traffic interrupts an insightful moment – you get the picture. If I can’t remove myself physically to find the stillness to work, I have to remove myself mentally. I learned to create a space in my mind where I can travel when I need to get away to write. Drawing on real life, I can recreate the tranquil energy I crave. I can build my own intimate cabin in my mind. Every writer can do this; it’s the power of the imagination. A few moments of meditation can help me move into that space. Sometimes I use music and aromatherapy to help shift my mind to that location. In this way, I can create a room of my own at any time, in any place.
It’s not luxurious – it’s a simple space reserved inside me to escape the clutter of daily life. Virginia Woolf says “a woman must have money and a room of her own in order to write fiction”. I agree with one half of that statement – while money has its conveniences, I don’t think the lack of it should prevent anyone from writing. You don’t need money to write – all you need is a space of your own, and if you know how to unlock it, then you can visit it anytime.
There’s always an area of writing that will present a challenge – plot, characterization, setting, context, grammar – any number of techniques can cause even the best writers some grief. It can become a grim task to carry on in the face of the desire to succeed in a competitive industry. Writing engulfs several processes that should blend together to create a whole; if a story is lacking in one area, it can taint the whole project. So how do you manage the demons that taunt you?
The solution is easier than you might think: practice. The more you write, the more you will perfect the skill to slay your demon. You can do this through daily writing exercises that target the area you need to improve, or by attending groups or classes to get feedback on your work. It’s difficult to be objective about our own creations, and harder still to find the weak spots, so it’s a good idea to have others review your work. It will take some effort, but in time you will improve. Writing is not an easy task; it needs to be a challenge to elicit satisfaction. It’s unlikely a writer will ever become an expert in every area, but they can learn to recognize their weakness and cultivate the skills to reinforce it.
Don’t let your demons rule you – become the master of your own vulnerability and slay the beasts that mark you.
This week I had the pleasure to visit Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada, the homeland of author L.M. Montgomery. She is best known for bringing to life the story of Anne of Green Gables. She was one of my favourite writers in childhood and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to walk the island she called home, exploring her old haunts. Sweeping fields sit atop red cliffs stretching over the shoreline; pockets of forests stand proudly over iron rich ruddy soil; the crisp sea breeze lifts long prairie grasses, their golden plumes dancing over the ground. This was her playground, and these were the images that inspired her short stories and the creation of Anne Shirley. It was astonishing to learn that I recognized these very images in her words long before I had the opportunity to see them.
I thought back to all the places I lived. I moved several times as a child, but I brought a piece of every place with me and even now, they emerge in my stories and poems. I believe many writers are influenced by their environment, the places they’ve visited and lived; their stories spring from the places they call home, and readers indirectly identify with the images embedded in their work. Our environment, in the past and the present, reveals the truth of where we’ve been and where we are today, and that’s what makes our stories so poignant and memorable.
This journey exposed an enchanting characteristic of my own work that I have only just begun to utilize. It’s amazing the stories your environment can tell.