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The Rituals of Writing

Lately, I've gotten hopelessly hooked, via the series DVDs, on Showtime's fabulous Dexter series, which was based on Jeff Lindsay's novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter. In case you're unfamiliar with it, Dexter is a friendly, wryly-funny serial killer -- a forensic blood spatter expert who only kills other serial killers. I love how the author/series writers get the reader/viewer rooting for this antihero. (Michael C. Hall's brilliant portrayal -- and handsomeness -- don't hurt a bit, either!)

When he goes about his grisly business, Dexter Morgan has his rituals, patterns of behavior that make the act "feel right" and help him get into the zone. Which got me thinking about my own evolving rituals to help me fall down the rabbit hole of writing and achieve a state some psychologists call "flow." This is where the effort (be it writing, art, or serial kills, I suppose) shifts into that effortless overtime where the doer loses track of time. Flow is a pleasurable, powerfully-addictive sensation. What writer doesn't love "coming up for air" to find she's spent hours upon hours happily and completely immersed in the story she's creating?

My own rituals for descending into flow include or have included scented candles (vanilla or cinnamon are best), wordless, ethereal music (Phillip Glass and Anonymous 4 are a couple of favorites), and playing a mesmerizing computer game (Bejeweled, Scrabble, etc.) for about fifteen minutes while I focus my thoughts (or just plain stall). Then I reread and edit the prior day's work before beginning The Descent. Any interruption (a ringing phone or one of my husband's "Are you really writing or just playing with the computer? I have one quick question. Are you listening to me? Hey, there's no need to give me that look" jerks me out of my twilight, which often takes me another twenty minutes to recover. (Grrr)

So how do you get going and achieve flow in your work? Do you have a ritual, or are you blessed with special "anytime, anyplace" skills? I'd love to do an article on this topic, and I'm looking for some great quotes (for which I'll be sure to ask permission).


Dorothy Hagan said…
Hi, Colleen.

I have been thinking about your post all day. While thus far I have not had the discipline of rituals, I took stock of my writing habits. In the midst of a very hectic life (I am 49 with kids aged 22, 14 and 10, one husband, five cats, one get the picture) I seem to launch into what I call fits of creative brilliance. Then I submit, submit, submit. Without giving enough time, I wander away from my calling, and do something like school teaching, directing plays, or leading vacation bible school. I understand that this business is about tenacity, but mine has failed to be consistent.

At this time in my life I am determined to get the job done. I have great story lines for my current project, plots worked out and absolutely spilling out of my head. So I guess I am preparing for my "flow." Let the river run.
Hi, Dorothy,
Thanks for dropping by. I think a lot of us start out working in fits and starts until we finally get serious and dig in for the fight. Sounds to me as if you're right at that point.

Welcome to the fray.

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