I have a ritual when I write. I think most writers do. Mine is something I have perfected over the years. It begins when I am still in a dream state, just before I rise in the morning, so that when I awake I just fall right out of bed and begin it. I couldn’t always do it, not when my children were growing up, certainly. And I can’t do it if something is expected of me before noon. Also, it’s impossible for me to continue to do it if I’ve done it for more than five weeks in a row, because if the ritual becomes too predictable, then it becomes an absolute bore. I can’t bore myself when I write. When and if I do, God have mercy on those around.
What is important to me is that I sleep until I wake. Years of unnaturally being awakened in the morning by nuns in long flowing habits, all but throwing cups of ice water on my face, in the six or seven boarding schools I attended while growing up, has taught me that my mind, when compelled to do things it abhors, strikes back. It refuses to preform cheerfully, gladly or willingly in any way. When it is forced against its will, it mopes. My blood flows like a river heading upstream, my reasoning stops being reasonable, and it crushes my little gray cells. And my feet refuse to arrange themselves flat on the floor.
However, if I wake when I please, life is so different. If I am allowed to come out of my slumber at will— that is, easily, gradually, progressively— my body gently begins throbbing with desire to begin the day. I lie there letting anticipation, excitement, enthusiasm fill me to the brim. It’s only then that I rise. And I rise with such desire that sometimes I don’t even feel my feet touch the floor, as I glide to my office not too far away, sit in my chair, and begin to write.
Still in my nightdress, which I will stay in all day, I write and drink bottles of water I have stored nearby. I’ll take a moment here and another one there, to brush my teeth, wash my face, and run a comb through my hair. I will also go down into the kitchen, make a bowl of cereal with berries on top, and walk around mindlessly as I eat, before heading back up to my writing again. Undisturbed, I can write for hours, ignoring the phone and the messages and emails that flash across my screen. I even have the capacity to disregard the occasional knocking at the front door.
Since it is something I wear all day, my nightgown/nightdress/ pajamas have to be elegant and somewhat stylish. Not only do I have to look at myself on occasion, but I have a husband, too. It is for this reason that the search for the exact right attire is essential. In the last seven years I have narrowed it down to wrinkle-free cotton French designs that look like smart striped men’s shirts. It seems I can only find these on the Left Bank in Paris across from Les Deux Magots; at Beauchamp Place in London; and on Madison Avenue somewhere near 76th Street, in New York City. Needless to say, I covet these pieces of my daily wardrobe. When I find one I like and it fits, I have been known to acquire four or five at a time. When I complain about the prices my husband tells me, “This is your writing uniform. It doesn’t matter.” If I am lucky, he will give me a box of them, each wrapped in soft tissue, for Christmas or my birthday.
4:30, 5:00, sometimes 6:00, if I am writing hard, is my stop time. It’s then that I head for the shower. As the water pours down over me, I mull over what I have written that day and make little mind-notes of things I want to revise. Then I blow dry my hair, put a little make-up on, dress in street clothes—maybe slacks and a crisply starched shirt—a necklace, a bracelet, my complicated thirty-year-old watch with a dark turquoise strap, which even I sometimes can’t decipher, and a squirt of Bal a Versailles. Then I head downstairs and carefully merge into the world.
As I said, this ritual didn’t just materialize for me. It devised itself, little by little, day by day. And it can’t go on for more than a month at a time. There has to be a break in it, as there must be in everything, if you are to stay in your right mind.
What writing (or non-writing) rituals do you have? I would love to know!