“I can’t write unless I have a cigarette, am sitting in a particular room in my house, on a particular chair, writing on a yellow legal pad with a red marker pen.”
The above sentence sounds, to me, like a funeral march, and it has nothing to do with the cancer stick. It is the death of that person’s writing career.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are some people for whom these conditions are easy to obtain reliably, but very few of us modern day writers live on a planet where they would be able to work in these conditions for more than ten minutes at a time.
I live in New York City and manage a very busy life. I work a 9-5 and have an eight-year-old boy with ADHD. I’m a wife and a person that my friends and family rely on. And, on top of all of that, I have what is ostensibly a second job. I am a writer.
I have plenty of help. For instance, if my husband wasn’t as helpful with our son or if I had a less forgiving job, the balance of my world would probably cave in. I also have an understanding support system of writers, free spirits, geeks, and athletes who rally behind my endeavors and help where they can and for that, I am eternally grateful. But even with that help, I wouldn’t be able to get more than a page written a day (if even), if I had to write in specific conditions.
I write in the morning before my son wakes up because I wake up at 5 AM. I write on the train to and from work. I write in stolen moments of very slow work days. I write on my lunch break. I write when my son goes to sleep for the night. I write in waiting rooms of doctor’s appointments and in parks when I’ve arrived somewhere early. But more importantly, I write on my laptop, my tablet, my phone, my work computer, my notebook, my desk pad. I write with music playing, in silence, and on weekends with a eight-year-old screaming “Everything is Awesome” (curse you, Lego Movie!) in my ear for the 250th time. I write with or without a cup of coffee.
Wherever. Whenever. With Whatever.
The idea that the muse will only be summoned in the proper conditions is a lie. It is the hallmark of a person who wants to feel like a writer more than they want to be a writer.
That sounds judgmental. It’s not. It’s the product of conditioning. We all grew up with the image of the starving, tortured artist chasing their muse, and the image is perpetuated by the best of us: experts in their field who tell us to find a spot, find a ritual, and write. I just read a writing book by a certain acclaimed author who claimed she could only write in specific conditions and I beg to differ. It’s not because I think little of her, but because I think MORE of her.
Rituals and superstitions are not the key to creativity. Focus is the key to creativity.
The stories are there. If they didn’t already exist in your mind, how would you be able to draw from them once you settled on THAT chair, in THAT room? You just need to be able to zero in on them and block out the rest of the world for a moment. You don’t need a place or an object to do that. You just need you.
I challenge you to break the rituals. Start small and start subverting them. If you normally work in silence, start working with low music playing and work your way to loud music. Then, the TV in the background. Train noises. Dogs barking. Your child singing. Break the ritual.
Create a new ritual that you can do anywhere. Taking 5 deep breaths or something else that is portable. Something that comes with you anywhere, under any conditions.
It’s a challenge. It’s a risk. But if it pays off, it will make you a far more prolific writer. So…are you game?
Justine Manzano is a fiction writer. You can find her online at: