Writing and Ritual: beware of mythologising

Note: this is a re-run (or updated version) of a post from my previous site/blog, so if it feels a bit déjà vû, it’s not you: it’s me.

Writing is fraught with danger, mostly related to myth and ritual. Obviously, as a writer I love myth and mythmaking – the lure of the woods, the charm of the chosen one – but that’s not the kind of myth I mean. In this case, I mean the dangerous myths about writing itself:

  • I can only write if my desk is arranged a certain way,
  • I need complete silence/the perfect playlist aligned to my project in order to write.
  • I must start writing by 7.30 or the day is lost.
  • I wear my lucky ring to write.
  • I have a talisman on my desk which I must never lose or I’d forget how to write.
  • I can only start writing a novel once I’ve made x amount of notes and can hear the characters talking in my head.

All of these things may help, but they are not what makes it possible for you to write – that’s you. Really, just you. Many, many writers write on trains, in chaotic cafes, at kitchen tables, in lunch breaks at day jobs – none of which allow easy access to most of these extras or props.

For a long time, I thought that I couldn’t try my hand at fiction because I’d never had the experience of a character ‘talking’ to me in my head. You read all the time of authors saying they got the idea for a story when a character made themselves known, and I believed that was the way it was supposed to be. Eventually, I saw another author I admired saying that wasn’t how they worked and I realised that it was just one possibility. I can never visualise either – can never get actual pictures into my head, so I suppose my mind just doesn’t work that way.

Coffee and notes – always useful…

The reason these stories are reported so much more in the press is because they fit with our romanticised idea of the writer as somehow special – characters pop along and talk to them as they recline on their chaise longue. The press is less keen on the ‘just get on with it’ model of writing! Obviously, writers are special – but in that, like all artists, we dedicate time to the work. There are literally hundreds of different ways of approaching that work and while it is important to identify the tricks that will make it easier for you, it’s also crucial to recognise that they are tricks and that all is not lost if you break the ornament that symbolises your current project/delete your white noise app by mistake/drop your favourite coffee mug/have to travel for work for a week.


What do you think?