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Earlier this week, one of my kiddos broke one of my favorite mugs while unloading the dishwasher. Not just my favorite mug, but the one I like to drink green tea out of when I sit down to write. When I discovered which mug he broke, I stayed (mostly) calm and reassured him that sometimes we all break things, although he could probably avoid such an accident in the future by not attempting to carry four mugs at once. Meanwhile, I felt a very illogical panic rising inside me about how hard it would be to get any writing done until I had a replacement mug. It’s not that I think I can’t write without this mug. And yet I also know that when I’m at home and settling in for a day of writing, I need to have this mug next to me. Need to? Yes. Need to.

All this neurotic nonsense made me wonder (a) what rituals other writers employ and (b) why rituals feel so important. From my informal poll on Facebook I learned that most of my writer friends have their own writing rituals. Most have a specific time of day they like to write; mornings seemed to be the most popular. Sometimes what’s consumed while writing is important (café con leche with buttered toast, a Red Bull, iced tea), sometimes where the writing occurs is important (in a coffee shop, in a secret library, in bed next to the dog, etc.) One friend needs silence to write, another prefers instrumental music in the background. And it seems the rituals change depending on where in the writing process you might beone ritual for the creative work, one for the editing process. One friend edits his work in a bar, one edits while reading aloud, another has to write standing up.

It’s not only writers who have rituals, of course. Athletes are famous for pre-game rituals. Michael Jordan wore his college basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts, Serena Williams has to tie her shoe laces a specific way before every game, baseball player Turk Wendell would draw three crosses in the dirt on the pitcher’s mound. There was a recent article in Scientific American called “Why Rituals Work” and  the authors argued that rituals enhance a person’s confidence in their abilities and this confidence can lead to a better performance. And repetitively doing something that has contributed to success in the past gives us hope (or the illusion) that we can control, in some small way, a future outcome. So if the first time we sit down to work on a new novel we drink green tea out of a certain mug and turn on classical music, and we produce fifteen pages that day, it doesn’t seem all that crazy to try to recreate whatever it was we did the day before. Why not drink green tea out of that mug again? Why not listen to Vivaldi again?

And so it begins, a ritual that we can depend on to help us influence a possible outcome. One of the commenters on the aforementioned article also argued that most of our decisions occur pre-consciously, that is we aren’t quite aware of why do what we do, and it’s up to our conscious mind to understand and explain our behavior. This is an interesting idea to understand writing rituals especially because rituals seem to speak to the right side of our brains, as a way to corral all the left brain stuff we need to tap into in order to write creatively.

And all these rituals are no crazier than the act of writing itself which is a rather crazy thing to do, attempting to communicate with a larger audience the ideas and thoughts and words floating around in your head. And yet not writing seems even crazier.


The mug in question. And yes, a replacement has been ordered.

Want to read more about rituals? Click on the article below.