I’ve heard of writers having all sorts of curious habits ever since I was in high school, but I have never really been obsessed with rituals and habits until recently, though I was always around plenty of other writers who had them.
My roommate in college, for example, wouldn’t sit down to write a single word until she had cleaned up the room, vacuumed the floor, checked that all hangers in the closet were facing in the same direction, and made a pot of coffee that she sometimes drank, sometimes not. The coffee was the indicative element that it was ok to start writing.
I have another friend who makes extensive playlists for different moods and characters. I’ve observed her writing a number of times, and she likes to do it with her earplugs firmly secured and her iTunes turned to her list of choice.
A writer of note revealed during a conference that she starts off her writing day by re-reading out loud the last section of the work she did the day before. But a good friend from graduate school confessed the rather convenient need to down a couple of glasses of good scotch before he could get into the mood for writing.
For years I escaped the need to adopt a writing ritual. I don’t keep a lucky feather in my desk, like one of my favorite writing teachers, nor any other lucky talisman. I can write with a clean or a dirty house. I prefer to write in silence, but sometimes a little bit of music helps. I trained myself to write with the television on and off, and since I don’t ever have an office that’s clean enough to keep my laptop, I’ve also trained myself to tune out noises and voices — which means that sometimes my husband has a one-sided conversation with the lump on the chair, getting in response only the ticking of computer keys and the occasional, often belated, “Huh?”
But one thing does remain steady with my muse: the time of day during which I can actually produced digestible prose. Unfortunately for me, I can get up as early as five in the morning, write through noon, and force myself to sit with my words all day, but nothing, nothing that I write before four in the afternoon is ever worth salvaging. I can start to write something decent usually no earlier than high tea time, and I don’t really get going until past nine.
“I know what you mean, babe,” says my husband when I explain to him why, even though I may have spent all day alone and undisturbed, I have to rush away from dinner and sit at my computer during the only hours of the day when he can get to spend some time with me. He understands. He was, and still is, an arts photographer. When he go this MFA, he used to spend all night in the darkroom, developing his film. He firmly believes that all artists are more productive at night because that is the time when most people go to sleep. During the day, he says most people participate in what he calls an “energy grab” during which our psychic creations are subjected to all sorts of anxieties, pragmatic concerns and other art-destructive practices.
A writer that I recently had to interview as part of a search committee claimed, during a teaching demonstration, that he firmly believes there is a magical hour for every writer. “Mine,” he said with a doleful expression, “is unfortunately four in the morning.”
And now I wonder: is everyone’s muse on a special circadian cycle?