I move through rituals. The routine movements coaxe the muse from the nether regions and help the lines of words unspool my thoughts, travel the length of my arm, cross my wrist, tickle my fingers and draw along the page of my notebook.
I light two candles to begin. This is supposed to symbolise an activation, but really mimic the action of lighting a fire under my bum. Though I love the glow illuminating the page, I love the sound of the match flaring, the scent of sulfur and smoke most. I love the sandpaper drag of the match head against the striker, the deep hollow shake of the matchbox with wooden sticks clicking away inside. I love the white magnesium ignition and the brief ripping sound in the air that quickly silences into a steady flame. I love the way the heat travels closer to my fingers in the long pause before the wick accepts the fire.
I crave the smell of melting bee’s wax with its hint of meadow flowers and honey. Sometimes I remind myself about the work it takes the bees to make a candle’s worth of wax. This is a comfort. Also, a reminder that writing a small amount each day will grow and build into something…not necessarily something bigger, but I do hope sweeter. At least, something formed.
I listen to music while I write. (Though, through these summer months I prefer the bird’s morning chorus, the subtle intensification of song that follows the waking dawn). Listening, a part of my brain becomes occupied – a cognitive necessity—and the muse tip toes out less fearfully.
Here’s a small selection of recent artist favourites:
- Garth Stevenson albums Flying and Voyage (the deep and haunting sounds of his double bass are so beautiful)
- Nils Frahm – albums Music For The Motion Picture Victoria, Empty, All Encores, Trance Frendz…others
- Hilary Woods – album Colt
Over the years, I’ve collected writing tricks. Writing is trial and error. Trial and error. Trial and Error. Process.
It’s the magic I doggedly pursue. The magic = words and phrases that drop together on the page…that work together perfectly…that surprise me so much I don’t believe I wrote them, instead, some creative spirit breathed through me for a moment I was lucky enough to have a pen in my hand and paper before me to catch them.
The magic happens rarely. Like a gambling addict, I show up each day and try not to lose more than I have to spend. Of my self.
Writing tricks get to the magic reliably…sometimes faster.
I write questions on little squares of paper. I use red paper because it’s my favourite colour. The questions relate to the piece or project I’m working on. Some of them could be a prompt to dig into sensorial aspects of the piece e.g., what does a bed sheet smell like? Some questions are meant to dive deeper into character: why would my character believe in an afterlife? Some questions are conceptually abstract or even philosophical: Is education culture?
All the squares are tumbled into a small cloth bag and shaken vigorously.
Each morning I pull one out at random—it’s important I don’t know what’s coming—and set a timer for 30 minutes and write. The rule is to write without second guessing, without cross-outs, for the full 30 minutes. A writing sprint. I am often surprised by what’s uncovered using this technique.
If I’m disciplined, I’ll transcribe the handwriting into a digital file on the computer Often, I’m not disciplined. The writings pile up. Sigh. Process. But 30 minutes of writing regularly generate 700-1000 words. And usually one phrase or word or sentence that is magic, that I’ll use when the pruning happens later.