Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

The practice of writing is an arcane and and mysterious art. The muse is fickle, the tap is sluggish, and the struggle is real. So, what do we writers do to keep the wheels turning–or get then going to start with?

Stephen King famously takes a multivitamin to start his writing day. Ernest Hemingway stood to write at his typewriter. Truman Capote never started or finished a manuscript on a Friday.

We’re a superstitious lot, what can I say?

I’ve known people who type with elbow gloves on, people who have to handwrite everything first before typing it up, people who need a cocktail or a cigarette to appease the gods.

I, myself, have a number of complicated rituals because I, myself, over-complicate everything as a rule. I’m pagan, also, so there’s a great degree of complicated ritual tied up with that.

  • I almost always have a drink, be it coffee, tea, soda, or *sigh* I’m trying to get better at water. But never alcohol, alcohol slows me down, even in small quantities
  • I usually have some sort of snack, usually a mix of dried fruit, nuts, and jerky. I’m on a reduced-carb diet right now, so I try to keep cookies and cakes and such reserved for my reading in the afternoons.
  • I work best when my cat is in the room
  • I usually have a scented candle or incense going. The one I use for Martinette and Siren Song is something like Driftwood something or other from Yankee
  • Sometimes, I’ll have a dedicated playlist or a movie franchise that I know well enough that I won’t be distracted and more serves as background noise and ambiance. Right now, I’m playing the first 3 Pirates of the Caribbean films on a loop
  • Sometimes, I’ll put on a full face of makeup because it can make me feel more professional and put together, or I’ll just do a facial to wake myself up
  • I also keep a planner that I fill out every morning to set the tone and schedule, even though I know there’s hardly no chance I’ll be able to stick to it. But t does help me work out what my priorities for the day are

Once I have all of that, then I can start writing! That’s a lot of work to go through before we even start, so why do we do it?

My theory is that it’s hard to be creative when you have things hanging over your head, or at least, it is for me. I can’t let go of the world and think freely if I’m watching the clock or listening out or hungry, or whatever. So I have to get those things out of the way first. Do the schedule so I can see what exactly needs to be done, let the cat in so she won’t scream outside my door all day, grab some snacks so I can power through without hunger pangs.

Most of the other things are triggers. When I have my ambient noise, my mood scents, my clean or made-up face, that means it’s work time.

And then the drinks–especially the caffeinated ones–and the snacks are for focus, energy, and stamina. Plus, pausing every few minutes to take a nibble or a sip gives your brain a chance to catch up with itself and regroup. You can read over what you’ve just written, see if it flows, and then move on.

Now, editing is a different kettle of fish, altogether. I don’t necessarily need really any of that. Yeah, the cat because she’s annoying when she’s needy; yeah, the tea because tea makes me less depressed; maybe the makeup because I see editing as the ‘work’ or ‘business’ side of writing, as opposed to the pure, primitive, messy affair that writing new stuff is. When I’m editing, usually, I can listen to music or watch other tv shows or movies (still things I’ve seen before because I still have to check continuity and flow of my story), I can take frequent breaks so I don’t need trail mix, and i can do it in chunks throughout the days and weeks, so I don’t need to get fully immersed and plan my schedule around it. Writing is a full sensory experience for me, and I do need to be mind and soul in my story, or I can’t do it properly. Editing is more about making sure it makes sense and sounds decent.

So, that’s what I do. Do you have any rituals that you use to get in the mood to write? Do you know of other interesting ones?

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