I love the idea of writing rituals. The word ritual suggests something more than just a routine or a habit, like getting up before dawn in order to have time to write, or putting pen to notebook every morning on the commute train. It implies a little bit of ceremony, or the invocation of a morsel of magic that will enable you to craft prize-winning, best-selling prose--or at least get to the end of the first draft. A ritual is something you must have or do in order for the writing process to succeed.
Some rituals revolve around clothing--or the lack thereof. For example, I've read that while writing Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo stripped down to his birthday suit and made his valet hide his clothes. That way he couldn't leave his house until the day's writing was done. John Cheever would put on a suit and tie each morning, take the elevator down to his office in the basement of the building where he lived, take off the suit, hang it up, and write in his underwear.
Other writers can't write unless they have particular tools or supplies. Travel writer William Least Heat-Moon reportedly relied on cedar pencils made by Native Americans, while Philip Pullman insists on using ballpoint pens and lined, two-hole-punched paper.
A lot of rituals involve music, although Katherine Anne Porter insisted she wanted "perfect silence." Novelist Caroline Leavitt has said, "I have to have music, but it can’t be really good music. It just has to have a beat to keep me going. (I'm mortified to admit I have listened to the Carpenters many, many times.)" May Sarton would have disagreed with that choice. When she wrote, she liked to play music from the 18th century; no later time period worked for her. The legendary copywriter David Ogilvie, one of the inspirations for TV’s Mad Men, observed: "If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy."
Which brings us to food and drink as ways for writers to tap into inspiration and keep their noses to their grindstones. Many writers can admit to using caffeine to power them through the day or chocolate to reward them when the writing’s done. Truman Capote (who made a ritual of lying down to write, in contrast to Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, who wrote standing up) depended on cigarettes and a sequence of beverages to get him through his writing day: "I've got be puffing and sipping," he once said. "As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis." Some authors' needs are simpler. Alexandre Dumas stimulated his creativity by eating an apple each morning. The quirky part: he had to eat it while sitting under the Arc de Triomphe.
As I said, I love the idea of writing rituals, I don't have any of my own. Well, not many. I require a mug of hot tea on my desk, and NPR or a bit of instrumental music on my sound system. I sometimes indulge in a bit of solitaire while waiting for le mot juste to bubble up my mind. But I don't burn candles or recite Homer's invocation of the Muse before I get started. Do you think something like that might help? I could use a gush of copy now and then.
How about you? What are your writing rituals?