Perhaps you may think that athletes are a pretty superstitious bunch: a lucky golf shirt, hockey socks that don’t get washed for months, putting on one’s shoes or pant legs in a specific order, tapping the goal posts before a game. Everyone has their ritual and it isn’t always logic that rules such behaviours.
Even in my journey as a runner, I have had an inside view of all kinds of pre-race rituals including lucky running shirts, lucky socks, lucky shoes, anti-chafing products, anti-blister products, special meals, a prescribed series of stretches, a perfect playlist of music in a specific range of beats-per-minute, taping one’s nipples so that they do not bleed, and icing body parts to fend off inflammation, to name a few. To an insider they all make sense, but out of context, some might be perceived as downright weird. At the end of the day, whatever it takes to keep someone happy, engaged, comfortable and injury-free in order to go the distance and meet their goals, seems generally well-accepted.
The writing world is very much the same as some successful authors throughout history have been known to have their unique methods to achieve peak performance:
– Mark Twain and Truman Capote were reported to have written several works in bed, specifically in the horizontal position.
– Agatha Christie and Edmond Rostand were known to write in the bathtub in an effort to fend off interruptions.
– Ernest Hemingway and Albert Camus are reported to have written standing up.
– Several writers are known to have done their best work in the nude, including Victor Hugo and Benjamin Franklin.
If you have a look on the web, there is a segment of the writing world that refers to itself as “car writers”, people who seek the privacy and seclusion of their car in order to concentrate and produce their best work..
Any writer who yearns to get their words to paper is on a quest at one time or another to find the ideal conditions to make the most of their time and to not lose sight of ideas or trains of thought. I am happy to admit that I am no different in this regard. Let me take you behind the scenes…
In a perfect world, I need a calm environment. I have a spare room that I call “the studio”, a room that contains my writing desk, my library of books, my journals and a great wing chair for reading and reviewing. By day, its south western exposure make it the best lit room in the house, and by night it is the coziest room in the house with its carefully chosen soft lighting. The studio is always the first room I tidy up when I clean the house, otherwise my OCD about cleaning can sometimes overpower my creative spirit.
I recall saying about 15 years ago that “the smell of Pine-Sol spurs my creative spirit”. In fact, it is not the aroma itself that is magical, but when the aroma was in the air, it meant the house was clean and I could completely focus my attention on the writing. Let’s just say I am way less compulsive today and if I am in the studio with the door closed, there could be a tornado in the rest of the house and it wouldn’t interrupt me.
My writing desk is a treasure I found about 13 years ago when I was shopping for furniture. I recall gasping out loud when I saw it, which conjured up a salesperson with dollar signs in her eyes within seconds. It has a bit of an old world feel to it, with its genuine leather surface and a warm look and feel that evokes images of parchment, quills and ink bottles. When I sit at the desk, I am taken out of today’s reality and can project myself anywhere my creative inspiration wants to go. Looking back, I think it was a little expensive especially since I really was not in the market for one, but today I have no regrets as it has been, in every sense, the foundation of numerous creative pieces.
Before I sit down to write, I always light a few white candles to add a warm glow to the room. To set the mood, I also have several playlists set up with different styles of mellow jazz, classical and electronic tunes. The background beats help to keep my thoughts coming at a consistent pace as I find it extremely challenging to write in total silence. The most important detail is that the music absolutely needs to be instrumental as any “inbound” words to my ears tend to derail my ability to formulate “outbound” words in the form of plots and dialogue.
What tool I use is entirely decided in the moment: sometimes my thoughts get transcribed to my iPad first, sometimes to a Netbook and sometimes in good old fashioned long hand. I often surprise myself in that I don’t seem to prefer one over the other and I write successfully using all mediums, although I have noticed that the most challenging pieces seem best rendered in long hand.
The icing on the cake is either a hot cocoa, Nespresso or fine wine to sip slowly between paragraphs and to savour the calm and serenity of the moment. When all of the elements of my happy place come together, I know I produce my best work and I truly lose track of time.
I will admit that there are inopportune times when inspiration strikes and that any piece of paper, any implement that can produce a line and any available surface will instantly become a makeshift studio. In the moment, you just let the inspiration strike and capture it as quickly as you can without worrying too much about the environment. But my happy place is where the magic really happens.
While I wouldn’t consider my happy place terribly eccentric when compared to some others, the numerous steps it takes to get me there might. At the end of the day, all writers experience inspiration and motivation in different ways. The steps a writer will undertake in order to complete a marathon of words are as individual as the lengths an elite athlete will go in order to complete a running marathon, coincidentally, both in the hope of achieving a new personal best.