I visited Lucy Maud Montgomery’s bedroom on Prince Edward Island to research my forthcoming novel Marilla of Green Gables. Standing before Maud’s vanity mirror, I tried to see the world through her reflection: single bed, gabled ceiling, flower wallpaper, writing desk, lamp, chair, and window looking out to the Lake of Shining Waters. The morning light twinkled golden peach over everything in the room, and I understood why she protected her hours in it.
Montgomery wrote in the mornings, so the myth goes, and she always began with her journal. On February 11, 1910 she wrote, “… the worst as well as the best must be written out.” She had to first write herself out before she could begin the day’s fiction.
Was this a decisive routine to clear the deck for her characters? An unconscious habit born of her youth? Or a writing spell that she feared breaking? I can’t say for certain, but it got me thinking about the superstitious patterns of our writer tribe. Some we admit. Many we keep secret. But Writer Unboxed is a safe space of honesty and acceptance, so I’ll crack open my nut first…
I wear a cape when I write. Technically, it’s a red tartan robe that my mother gave me. My husband refers to it as the “get-off-my-lawn” old man robe. But he’s of a medical mind and doesn’t comprehend the magical realms of our craft. It’s a cape, endowed with super powers. I have a hard time concentrating when it isn’t on. I’ve tried to supplement with a sweatshirt or shawl, but I spend the whole time yearning for it without a single word produced. Also, when I’m not robed, it usually means that I’m in public attire. I.e. The public (my husband, mailman, dentist, doctor, friends and neighbors) feels within its right to interrupt me. My cape protects me from this—a kind of warm, invisible cloak allowing me to slip into the imaginary without distraction. Sure, one of the pockets ripped off and hangs to the side; the cuffs are permanently ink stained; the sash was knotted some time ago and with subsequent washings has become untie-able. It’s a homely thing. I’m a realist in that regard. But I’ve worn it every writing day of my last two books, and it has made the impossible happen many times. I fully intend to wear it until the seams come undone and the hem tatters.
I am not alone in my wardrobe particulars. Caroline Leavitt says she writes better when wearing a specific set of red earrings. Carson McCullers has a lucky sweater, and Francine Prose wears her husband’s red and black checked flannel pajamas. Then we have John Cheever who preferred nothing at all and wrote best in his underwear. Garments aside, there are many other superstitions to be claimed.
Isabelle Allende begins all her novels on the same day: January 8th. Truman Capote, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton insisted on writing lying down. Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, and Hemingway had to be standing up. While A.J. Jacobs walks on a treadmill and Dan Brown hangs upside down to cure his writer’s block. Poet Edith Sitwell gets inside a coffin to focus her mind, and Friedrich Schiller said he couldn’t write without a rotten apple smelling up the room. Someone could pen a treatise on the varied and extensive list of author superstitions.
Curious, I posed the question to a forum of contemporary writers: 60 percent said they do not have superstitious writing habits and 40 percent said they do. Here are a few willing to share their charms. Who knows, maybe they’ll work for you, too. At the very least, they prove that the writing community is a methodically creative bunch. [Read more…]