Weekly Musing: Habitual Ritual

I found inspiration for this week’s musing as I took a break from writing and was looking for articles to read. On Women on Writing I found an interesting article talking about the value of getting into a writing ritual. It also related the writing rituals of famous authors past and present. Needless to say, some of the rituals of the greats were eye-opening. From writing in the nude, I’m assuming from the friendly confines of their home, to writing standing up and even in different colors of ink, the article provides insight into the weird mind of a writer.

The bulk of the article, though, does focus on the value of the writing ritual. That need to have just the right atmosphere to get into the most productive frame of mind. To have a ritual is actually good for the brain as it allows for the transition from everyday life into the creative area. Of course not all writers need a ritual to get into the groove but it is reassuring to read being particular about my own writing environment is not uncommon.

When composing rough drafts, I have to not be at home. Too many distractions. Two dogs, a whiny cat, and people who have the nerve to call or ring the doorbell. I just can’t concentrate. So I pack up my computer, my writing journals, pens, and head out the door.

The cliché of the writer in a coffee shop applies to me. It started with when I first began writing for fun. I worked full-time so during my lunch hour, I would usually head to the nearest coffee shop and write in my journal. As I began enjoying and craving writing, I started writing on the weekends and the coffee shop thing stuck.

Which one I go to is up to my mood and the weather. If the weather is crummy or I’m just feeling a bit lazy, I stay closer to home. If the weather is nicer and I want more physical distance from the house, I pick a spot in another town. Different scenery, different demographic of people seems to energize my creativity.

But the physical location of the spot is just the beginning of my ritual. Once inside, I pick an appropriate place to set up shop. Usually I want to be in the back with a clear view of the front so I can people watch while I’m thinking. Hopefully they don’t notice my facial expressions as I think and stare.

So now I’ve got my spot staked at, coffee is ordered, computer is set up, writing journal is ready, and now the fun begins. I fire up Rhapsody and select the classical music station. I absolutely MUST listen to classical music. Classical music helps me think and provides the perfect way to block the noise. I think the complex structure and the absences of vocals is the key to the doorway of the creative part of my brain. I turn that key and it feels like the words and ideas flow out. If I listen to contemporary music, I’m way too tempted to sing and no one needs to suffer through that caterwauling. It’s also incredibly distracting since I’m too busy thinking about the song rather than the writing.

Now that I have settled into music land, I put on my headphones. My headphones have to be at the precise pressure on my head. I wear glasses so the correct pressure points between where my glasses rest behind my ears and on my nose must be in line with the pressure exerted by the headphones on my head. Whenever any of those shift, I take off my glasses and headphones and start over. My feng shui is thrown off. The axis of the Earth is temporarily thrown off its course. Armageddon could erupt in my mind.

Ahhh but I’m still completely settled in. I take off my watch because I’m such a slave to time that I found myself constantly looking at my watch which agitated me. That and it just physically bothers me to wear it while writing. After removing my watch, I then proceed to spread out my stuff. I failed to mention I also try to pick a spot that has a large enough table or two tables I can put together. I take up a lot of space with the computer, the journal, and any research materials I’ve printed out. It’s a great way to ensure people won’t bother me. Don’t wake the dragon.

By now, I’m almost ready to begin writing. I close my laptop because it is a huge diversion with the screensaver and free Wi-Fi. I limit actually touching the laptop to skipping an opera piece, researching something I’m hung up on in a story, or when taking a break. If I’m not doing any of that, the laptop stays closed.

The last step is to arrange the space. Everything that isn’t a journal, a pen, and a dictionary/thesaurus, gets pushed as far away as possible.

And now I’m ready to write.

Oddly enough, when it comes to rewrites, I’m pretty flexible. I can work at home or out and I can actually tolerate non-classical music. As I grow and evolve as a writer, I can see changing my ritual. People get older. Move to some place new. Want and need new sources of inspiration. Plus, in the words of Moriarty on the series Sherlock, “I’m just sooooo changeable!”

Weekly Musing: And Your Name Is?

People and places need a name of some sort; it’s the first identity marker for the reader. For the writer, it depends on the character. Some writers believe a character’s name should mean something. A trait or quality the character already possesses or, in the course of the story, becomes or attains. Others just view it as a name and nothing more. I guess I fall more into the camp of ‘it’s just a name’ although in an effort to make my own writing a bit deeper, I have started to pick names with some kind of meaning.

But naming these people is just so hard. Every once in a while, I get lucky and a character will pop into my head pre-named. Like a Cabbage Patch kid. For the most part, I struggle massively with names. Not just people but places, too.

So how do I pick names? The most obvious and easiest place to start is with people I know. I also have a list of names that pop into my head. I keep the list on my computer but I do have a small notebook I keep in my purse just in case I see, hear, or think of a name.

Athletes are a great source of names, especially last names. Hockey in particular is a multi-national field of names. I actually got an inspiration for a character and a story through taking the last name of one player and combining it with the first name of a player on the opposing team. I also got the last name for the character’s best friend from the last name of a different player on the same team. Oddly enough, those character names will actually mean something once I get around to writing the story they inspired.

I also like to pluck names from TV shows or movies I enjoy. Sometimes it’s a particular character or an actor’s or actress’s name. This helps because it is a wide, multi-national pool to draw from.

Various websites are also helpful. If I’m looking for a name for a particular time period and the story is set in America, the Social Security website has databases of most popular baby names stretching back to the 1880s. When looking outside the States, I have turned to BabyName World because I can search names by ethnic groups in Europe, Asia, Africa, and all of the Americas. What’s also is nice about this website is it also gives you the meanings so if you want to add some more depth to your story, you can. Other than those two websites, I can also just enter into a search engine what I’m looking for if it is really specific. For example, if I’m looking for common last names during the late medieval period in England. And if I’m absolutely stuck, I use the name generator on Critique Circle‘s website.

Coming up with names of places is even more of a challenge for me. So far, I’ve picked place names based on looking around whatever coffee shop I happen to be in. I have a city names Tazos after the teas they carry in Starbucks. I used Macchiato as an inspiration for a crime family’s last name. I used another product sold in a coffee shop as the basis for the name of a made-up virus. I think this is why I sometimes shy away from referencing any place at all.

Even with all these resources, I still find names difficult. I have spent countless hours searching for just the perfect name, a part of my perfectionist nature to have things just right. And as I transition more into striving for that extra depth in my writing, the search for just the perfect name gets longer. But this can open up so many doors to get to know the character more for both the writer and the reader.