Perils of the Writer: Rituals and Totems of Writing

For anyone who hasn’t reached the point where writing full time is a lifestyle they can embrace, carving out time and space in which to write can be challenging.  This is still true for me, though it’s more space than time.  For reasons involving our business (which is what actually pays the mortgage & puts food on the table), my wife and I regularly have to do minor reconfigurations of our home.  So that means I don’t have a “permanent” workplace to sit and write.

Which is fine, and while I’d love a wall where I have a giant whiteboard or corkboard to lay out projects and ideas… I can work without it.  I have up until now.

But part of what I need to do is establish a bit of ritual to make wherever I’m working at any given point– to be my space.

The main thing I need is my headphones.  I have a couple pairs of bluetooth headphones (so I can switch when one runs out of power), and that helps me zone out the rest of the world and focus in on what I’m doing.

I’ll admit, my brain is always hungry for input, which can make me easily distracted.  I have a bad habit of reading one more article or just checking one more thing and then I realize I’ve wasted an hour.  Music– especially music that stimulates that need for input without also dominating my thought process (i.e., the music itself takes all my attention)– helps alleviate that distraction.  Usually that means the poppiest of pop music (yes, I’m a 42-year-old man who listens to Taylor Swift) or intense orchestral scoring stuff (the scores of movies like Dark Knight Rises or Avengers is nicely mood setting, or this has been one of my latest).  Get that going, and I’m able to focus entirely on the Work At Hand without a need to check the Thorn reviews on Goodreads “just once more”, or some other distracting behavior.

Of course, there’s always danger with relying too much on some sort of ritual, totem or other “good luck charm” in your writing– that you end up fetishizing it and then “can’t write” without it.  That’s a thing you’ve got to avoid.  As much as I love my headphones, if I’ve forgotten them (when working in a coffee shop or such) or I’ve accidentally let them run out of power or their bluetooth connectivity is being obnoxious… then I have to do without.

Because one way or another, I need to get into that zone.  I’ve got plenty of word-mining to do, so it’s time to get to it.  See you down there.


  1. I’ve gotten to the point that I can’t write without music. The issue is it can’t be music that’s in English, it has to be something I can’t understand. So I listen to a bunch of Japanese song, just for that to slowly not work since I’m learning Japanese and can understand some of what they;re saying. I’m going to run out of languages one day!

    Writing space isn’t a problem for me, I can write anywhere and be comfortable. Probably because I just need my music and I don’t get distracted.

    What’s your favorite Taylor Swift song? Not trying to be mean about it, my Dad is your age and will bop along to some strange songs, but more because I’m naturally curious. I love Romeo and Juliet, her early stuff was the best.

    1. Look into some of the Putomayo collections of world music. I’ve got some Arabic, Turkish and Greek stuff from them that are excellent mood setters, but I have no idea what they are saying.

      Actually writing in different places isn’t a problem for me, but I wouldn’t mind having a place for notes and other hard-copy paperwork that doesn’t have to move around.

      Right now, I’ve been mostly listening to the stuff on 1989, but her older stuff works for me as well. And I will fully admit it is kind of weird, but that’s what works for my writing brain. Sometimes my son will hear it and say, “This music is TERRIBLE.” To which I respond, “Blame your generation.” 🙂

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to check out some of that stuff and hope I never understand it. It would suck if I end up learning nearly every language on earth. Of course I could listen to classical music, but I’m a sucker for hearing the beauty of the voice. It’s probably nostalgia or something, but I doubt you care too much.

    That’s right, blame us! I take full responsibility for the song Guren no Yumiya, it’s an awesome song. Though, when it comes to Taylor, the only thing I’ve listened to her lately is Shake It Off. I love that horns in that song.

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