By Ronda Simmons
So, I’m in my office staring at a blank screen. I can’t figure out what’s wrong. My dog is sleeping at my feet, a hot cup of tea sits next to my keyboard, and the house is quiet.
Why can’t I write? I’m not hungry, or itchy, or tired. I am not expecting company and have nothing on my schedule. The dog doesn’t need or want my attention, thank you very much.
Then it hits me. My clock has stopped.
My grandmother’s antique kitchen clock lives in my office. Its gentle ticking brings me back to summer mornings at her house, memories of freshly percolated coffee, warm cherry pie, and a day of adventure ahead. It puts me in a headspace where life is easy, and all my anxieties and insecurities melt away like butter on a hot biscuit.
I rewind the clock, glance through my notes, and find the hole in the paper, as Steven King describes writing in Misery.
I’m not the only weirdo out there. Other writers have had their writing idiosyncrasies. Maybe you can relate.
- Virginia Woolf always wrote standing up. Why? Because her sister Vanessa was an artist who painted standing up and Virginia let her sibling rivalry dictate her posture. Whether that explanation is correct or not, she did write A Room of One’s Own this way in 1929.
- James Joyce wrote laying down with crayons while wearing a white coat. His eyesight was poor, and the white fabric reflected light onto the page. To read what he wrote, he needed big blocky letters, hence the crayons. Despite this handicap, he wrote Finnigan’s Wake while entirely horizontal.
- Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words every morning before it got too hot to write. His friend and arch-nemesis, William Faulkner, had no strict schedule but would write whenever he felt like it, taking long walks to clear his head when he needed to. Contrary to popular belief, Hemingway never drank while writing. Still, Faulkner liked to have a glass of whisky on his writing desk.
- John Steinbeck had to have one dozen perfectly sharpened pencils at his desk, or he could not begin.
- Truman Capote could not start or end a project on a Friday and would not stay in a hotel room if the room number contained “13.”
NCW members are no different. We all have our quirks and rituals. Hey, whatever works!
- Amy Rivers, Director of NCW and author of All the Broken People, writes with movies playing in the background. She likes the cadence of the speech, which keeps her calm.
- Joe Siple, however, writes best in a dark, cave-like basement room with no lights on and no distractions whatsoever. He’s written some excellent books this way.
- In the afternoons and evenings in her office, Laura Mahal writes in her office surrounded by pictures, mementos, and other such “clutter” that would probably drive a minimalist to distraction. Still, it makes her feel grounded and cozy. When Laura is on a roll, she’ll write until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. 2020 was an excellent year for Laura’s literary success, so she has definitely found her groove.
- Sheala Henke writes every morning at 5:00, just like Ernest Hemingway. Sheala’s weird habit is to write a book until it’s about 70% done, then put it away and start something else. When that second piece is at about 70% completion, she’ll pick up and finish the first one, then begin a third, then go back and finish the second one. She’s working on novel number nine at the moment, so her method works.
- Eleanor Shelton‘s routine is to check real estate ads in the morning before work. Somehow seeing those perfectly staged rooms and beautiful estates reminds her of the writing life’s potential rewards. Once she’s perused the ads, she’s ready.
- JC Lynne laughed and laughed. Having recently moved to a farm, she maniacally asked, “What writing?!”
You may have specific environments or rituals that help you get into the mood to write. Some authors light candles, some must have a cat, others need complete quiet, others require the gentle murmurings of a coffee shop. Find whatever works for you, but don’t forget E. B. White’s advice: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”