Thursday, September 23, 2021

Writers' Rituals

Here's an article by Stephen Graham Jones that cautions writers against falling into the habit of depending on "rituals" to start a writing session:

The Case Against Writing Rituals

By "rituals," he refers to elements along the lines of a favorite mug, a particular type of pen, or, as he admits having succumbed to at one point, a "lucky" hat. He also includes in that category needing a quiet environment or a certain block of time to generate wordage, things that I wouldn't have thought of as rituals. He has trained himself to write anywhere, for as long a time as the situation allows, with whatever tools may be at hand. He also discusses a more insidious habit, a routine of reading e-mail and checking social media pages before easing into a creative session. I wouldn't have called that behavior a "ritual," either, but on reflection it does qualify for the label. I admit to a similar tendency to feel I must clear away the daily computer chores that don't require much thought before diving into the work of writing. Too often, getting through the minutiae leaves less time for actual work than I'd expected.

Somewhere Isaac Asimov recounts an interview when he was asked whether he performed any pre-writing rituals. After a puzzled inquiry about what the interviewer meant by "ritual," he answered something like, "I put paper in the typewriter" (or, later, turn on the word processor). As anyone who's read his memoirs or autobiographical essays will recall, Asimov really could write anywhere. When forced to travel, even for nominal vacations, he took his "work" with him. That's one factor he credited for his prolific output.

Maybe Stephen Jones's disapproval of rituals isn't completely justified, though. Can't they have a sort of placebo effect? Mightn't it be helpful to have an established process that primes the creative part of the brain to get into gear?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. I agree in theory it's better not to have a pen or place to motivate your muse, but I also think you're right that sometimes these things can inspire you to write. So not inherently bad. I prefer to get my writing done first in the morning, then deal with everything else I have to do later. Otherwise my brain is too exhausted to cooperate. Good article.

  2. I can't do anything first thing in the morning. :) It takes me a couple of hours after waking up to recover from being a zombie. Sometimes I do a bit of the day's writing in the late morning, which makes me feel as if I have a "boost" already when I start the main writing session in the afternoon. But if I wait TOO late, yeah, both the time and the motivation may run out.