Before any of you start scratching your head, wondering if you really know me after all, I’m talking about a literal closet, not a figurative one. It all goes back to one of my personal rules: if I hear something mentioned three times on three separate occasions then I need to pay attention because Someone is trying to tell me something. In this case, I read or heard that a writer needs his or her own spot to write. I surveyed my house and quickly determined that cleaning out the front room or the new upstairs bonus room before writing would result in a twenty year delay between sentences. I was forced to admit that the only room I could call my own was my closet.
Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf be proud?
I would feel weird about writing in my closet, but I used to write stories longhand while sitting in my closet at home when I was in junior high and high school. Since I became so absorbed in in my writing, it was a good idea to sit in a way no one could sneak up on me and accidentally scare me out of my wits. Even though I’ve evolved into being able to write in a variety of environments, I still prefer to write with my back to a solid wall.
One day I emerged from my closet and thought to myself, “Self, surely you’re not the only person who does weird things in order to write. And I KNOW you’re not the only person who talks to herself, so don't freak out about that.” My self suggested I do a little research to find out other “weird” things writers do. Here’s what I found:
Vladmir Nabokov wrote standing up and composed his stories on index cards.
Truman Capote insisted on writing while lying down with coffee and a cigarette. Of course, then he traded out the coffee for tea, then the tea for sherry. . .
Phillip Roth paced while he wrote, keeping a lectern handy. Robert Browning, also a pacer, supposedly paced a trail in the carpet.
William Faulkner preferred to write at night and was quoted as saying he always keep the whiskey handy. (Which explains a lot. . .)
John Cheever left his home each day with a suit and went to a windowless basement, but he did most of his writing in his boxers. This must be a trend because Victor Hugo had his servants take his clothes away while he wrote and Jessamyn West writes in bed before getting dressed, too. James Whitcomb Riley takes the cake though; he had a friend strand him in a hotel room without clothes so he couldn’t go to the bar until he finished writing.
Ernest Hemingway had to sharpen twenty pencils before he started to write his 500 words for the day.
Raymond Carver sometimes wrote in his automobile. (I’ve thought about hiding from my kids there. . .)
Several writers cited the bath tub, including Ben Franklin and Agatha Christie, who supposedly got great ideas while sitting in the tub and eating apples.
Shelby Foote, Civil War historian, insists on writing with a dipping pen and inkwell.
Several authors write in their bathrobes including John McPhee who goes so far as to tie himself to the chair with his sash.
In the opposite camp Benjamin Disraeli preferred to write in evening clothes.
Henrik Ibsen hung a portrait of his mortal enemy over his desk.
Isabell Allende would light candles for her dead relatives before starting to write.
Of course, Dorothy Parker, as always, takes the cake. When asked the best place to write, she answered, “In your head.”
Friedrich Schiller, a contemporary of Goethe, wrote with red curtains drawn and rotten apples in his desk to “arouse him.” ( His imagination. They aroused his imagination. Sheesh.)
So, what’s the point, you may ask. I already knew I was a little weird. Did you know, however, that rituals like these help stave off writer’s block? There’s something about the act of having an established place and an established routine that helps train your mind and let it know it’s time to write. Habit staves off anxiety.
In the interest of helping everyone find his or her groove, let’s share some of our own rituals. After all, I just came out of the closet.
Information taken from the following web sites:
Other examples taken from the wonderful The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes (pp. 135-140) If you haven’t read this book, it’s a really quick read full of inspiration.