For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing Rituals

'Rituals demarcate sacred spaces and times. They set our actions apart from the normal course of everyday life. They help us to slow down and focus, to be mindful of what we are doing.'
Jill Jepson, Writing as a Sacred Path

The days between Christmas and New Year are strange ones, almost outside of time, as if the clock has paused and the days stood still. Yet throughout this year time has been flying faster and faster, the pace of life becoming unbearable for many, with simmering anxieties turning into outright panic. But now with this sudden halt, it is difficult to know how to relax. I feel listless and lethargic, with a hint of anxiety, as if there is something I need to be doing but I don't know what. Behind this anxiety there is a welcome sense of peace and completion. It is the end of one year and the beginning of the next, a time of closures and a time of new beginnings, a time to reflect on the past and form resolutions for the future. A time outside of time in which to contemplate. In ancient Celtic culture the calendar revolved around the solstices and equinoxes, 360 days in total, leaving five days of festivity around these punctuation points in which to celebrate and revere the cycles of nature.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is also a good time to clear out our spaces, whether they be physical, mental or emotional: and this is what I am doing. A few weeks ago I wrote that I was 'still walking around the fringes of my new novel, testing its boundaries and understanding its depths'. This has changed. Now I am walking around the physical space of my writing life, making room and clearing debris. I'm also seeking a way of carving a time to write during those crucial and daunting first weeks of a novel when it is easy to be frightened away from the task, to lose concentration and to lose faith. In the past year I have been caught up with editing my novel Flight, which will be published in a month, and my PhD exegesis. Aside from the posts on this recent blog, I have written very little. During this time my writing study has gradually filled with junk and now needs to be purged, so I put on old clothes and begin carrying out boxes, an ironing board, my son's saxophone, a shopping trolley, an eski and the picnic basket. I return them to their rightful places, find a garbage bag and fill it with unwanted papers, then sort through my books, making space on my shelves. I wipe down the blinds, dust the surfaces and vacuum the floor. It takes all day but it's an important ritual, a reclamation of my space and a statement that I am about to begin.

In our contemporary and secular society we have become uncomfortable with rituals, associating them with religion or with primitive peoples. The few rituals that are left have become (for many) hollow, empty customs that we connect with only superficially. Yet rituals can be positive markers of passing time, ways of connecting with each other, with the cycles of life and with the numinous. Now that I am ready to begin my novel I want a ritual, something to mark the movement from one thing to another, to say yes, you've started, you are now writing a novel. The act of writing is in itself a form of ritual. As Jill Jepson explains in Writing as a Sacred Path, 'sitting down to write requires us to still our bodies and minds and shift our attention away from the activity going on around us. Setting up small rituals is an important way to segue into your writing, to honor your sacred work and to bolster your courage.' Rituals helps us to train our mind to recognise the signs and slip more easily into a writing state, almost a self-hypnosis.

Each writer will find their own ritual/s. Isabelle Allende begins writing each book on a particular day - January 8th, I believe. In this way she makes a date with the creative process. Maya Angelou writes in a hotel room away from her house. She takes everything off the walls and leaves a Roget's Thesaurus, a dictionary, a Bible and a deck of playing cards on the bed. I'm not so specific and find it hard to pin a starting point to a day, or at least to a date that I will keep, but over the years I have become more astute at reading and interpreting my own behaviour as I circle closer to a date with my writing. At first I distract myself by cleaning the entire house, catching up with old friends, answering long forgotten emails. . . until slowly I box myself in a corner. That's when I turn my attention to my writing room, which I spring clean as I have been doing this week. Once the room is ready and I have removed any traces of other work, I burn some essential oils, ask the muses for inspiration and a safe journey, make a cup of tea and sit at my computer, hoping that this is ritual enough and wondering if there isn't something more powerful, some invocation that will set the words flowing. Then I begin typing. If I'm lucky the magic comes, shifting me into a waking dreamlike state. My tea cools. Hours pass without my knowledge and I am excited by the words on the page. If I'm not so lucky, I struggle; forcing words into awkward sentences and sentences into jolty paragraphs. I drink my tea, check the clock, stare aimlessly out the window, then eventually finish with relief. Either way, I have begun.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

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