The Rituals of Writing

It struck me this week that I have certain rituals I engage in before I actually start the process of writing. It got me thinking about the role of rituals and their possible benefits and contribution to the writing process. Where do they come from and why do we engage in rituals in the first place?

We associate certain activities with the ritual of writing, which may include words, gestures and objects incorporated into a set sequence. Rituals go beyond individual actions and are to be found in many group activities. Every culture has its own rituals associated with important events, such as wedding ceremonies, celebratory events, funerals, worship as well as rites of passage. In time these rituals are woven into the very fabric of a society and form a key part of the culture and traditions of that particular community.

Most athletes, either as individuals or teams, have their own rituals they engage in at the start of a game or race. Ritual 3The example that immediately springs to mind is the blood curling sounds of The Haka performed by the New Zealand rugby team. It was traditionally a war cry or dance and is used by the All Blacks to get the team psyched up for the game and at the same intimidate their opponents; intimidate it certainly does!

What about writing rituals? What purpose do they serve? It would appear that writing rituals involve the environment in which we write, time associated with the process and, of course, our behaviours. It is vital for our environment, or nest as some writers refer to their writing space, to be conducive to the act of writing. A common theme shared by many writers is that the writing envitonment has to be a consistent space. However, I have also found that changing the space facilitates a different experience and therefore different ideas. It might also be due to my wandering lifestyle that I have learnt to first and foremost create an internal writing space irrespective of my physical environment. The writing environment also includes various objects, which may seem to us as though they possess some magical powers necessary to the ritual of writing.

Rituals associated with time include the time of day we feel at our most creative, whether that is early in the morning, late at night or certain times during the day. Associated with time is the need for beginnings and endings. Without boundaries time becomes intimidating and even paralyzing whereas defined chunks of time for writing are manageable. We do not always have the luxury of selecting a specific time for writing and we may therefore need to write whenever we have some spare time, even if it is less than the ideal time or space.

Finally, there are our behaviours associated with writing, which may seem not only eccentric but also bizarre to anyone observing our behavioral rituals.Ritual 2 These behaviours are normally repetitious and may seem unrelated to the actual process of writing. These actions, even though mundane, serve to set the scene and get us into the right frame of mind for creative thinking. Writing rituals help to reduce the anxiety of writing and engender a sense of being in control of the activity of writing. Furthermore, it also creates discipline and structure without which there would probably be no creative output. One of my all time favourite examples of eccentric writing rituals is that of the poet Friedrich Schiller who found inspiration from the smell of rotting apples underneath his desk! It reminded him of when he was young and very much in love, wandering through the apple orchards.

To begin with, RitualsI always make a pot of coffee before sitting down in front the computer. The making of coffee is, of course, a ritual in itself. I also need silence so that I can hear the whisperings of my muse. The silence also allows me to read out aloud what I have written so that I can hear whether it makes sense or not. It also helps to bring my writing to life. However, there are times when I find that the sounds of soft classical music or opera help to stimulate ideas. Today is one such day and as I’m writing the exquisite, haunting melody of violin strings playing the theme of Schindler’s List fill my writing space. Eugene was passionate about music and the soft sound of music revives my memories of him, bringing him into my writing space.

In previous postings I reflected on the nature of our muse and I believe that ritual in all its many forms, is the domain of our muse. I also think they are essential if we are to entice our muse from her resting place and to deliver an award winning performance on the creative stage. No doubt you have your own rituals of writing that is necessary for you to begin and maintain the creative process of writing.

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