In the wee hours of the morning before the birds and the bees are at ‘it,’ I sit at my desk (the kitchen table) to write. But before I do, my wrist watch comes off, my tea is made and placed in its rightful spot beside the computer mouse, and if my fingernails I so desperately wish looked like that of magazine ads are too long, out come the nail clippers. Typing with glamorous long finger nails doesn’t work for me.
I don’t know when all this started, but when I recently realized I did these three things ALL the time, I wondered – is this a ritual, a routine, or obsession? And am I like many of the notable writers who are sometimes known more for their quirky rituals than their writing? Not that I dare put my lowly, amateur self at their esteemed level, but.....will having weird little writing habits make me famous one day?
Am I strange, weird, and losing my marbles like a ‘tortured artist’ because when it comes time to write, I feel I can write better if I have completed these certain ‘rituals’?
It doesn’t mean that without any of these things I simply CANNOT write. I’m not a diva. I would love, however, to be able to insist that my assistant (the cat) have the finest chocolates (chocolate chips) shipped in from across the globe (try the grocery store across the street) for my intense daily writing sessions (surfing Pinterest when I should be writing). But I am not a diva; I CAN write anywhere.
I can write with paper and pen on a bus, on the couch – anywhere. When an idea comes, I have to get it down. Even if it means a few pages hastily scribbled while holed up in the bathroom. But there’s something about sitting down for my daily writing session in the early mornings that requires my little rituals. I didn’t plan them, they just happened over time.
The removed watch and clipped fingernails are necessary for comfort and for being able to type on my laptop. The long nails get in the way of the keys, and the watchband catches on the edge of the laptop. Both can hamper my productivity, and are just plain annoying. But as soon as my watch comes off, it’s like my body knows it’s time to work. Without it, I can work more freely, and not feel weighed down.
And added to that, the superstitious side of me kicks in. Without these little oddities performed, I worry/wonder if my writing would be jinxed, thereby casting bad luck FOREVER on my being.
When psycho-analyzing my weird little ‘traditions,’ I realized the concept of rituals, routines and obsessions can be sometimes blurred.
So like any good writer, I pulled out the dictionary. An ACTUAL paper, feel-it-in-my-hand dictionary. I’m ‘old fashioned’ like that.
According to the Paperback Oxford Canadian Dictionary (Copyright Oxford University Press Canada 2000), the words ‘ritual,’ ‘routine,’ and ‘obsession’ are defined as follows:
ritual (n): 1. A prescribed order of performing rites. 2. A procedure regularly followed.
routine (n): 1. A regular course or procedure, an unvarying performance or certain acts. 2. A set sequence in a performance of certain acts.
obsession (n): 1. The act of obsessing or the state of being obsessed. 2. A persistent idea or thought dominating a person’s mind. 2. A condition in which such ideas are present.
Okay, the first two definitions seemed to make sense, but the obsession? Hmmm...I can honestly say I’m not ‘obsessed’ with these pre-writing procedures I do. I can write without them, but during my daily scheduled writing session, I much, MUCH prefer them.
But then, right below the word ‘obsession’ was this:
obsessive-compulsive (adj): Of or designating a disorder in which a person has an obsessive compulsion to perform meaningless acts repeatedly.
I nearly threw-up on the dictionary I was holding. Is something wrong with me? I hadn’t even thought of it, but upon reading the definition I panicked: what if that’s me?!
After putting the vomit-free dictionary away, chewing the cuticles on my freshly trimmed fingernails to obliteration, and removing my watch as I was sure my arm was swelling in reaction to my instant stress, I realized, so what? In the great scheme of things, having these three little rituals, or whatever they are called that make me feel comfortable, stable and ready to write, is really no big deal. It could be A LOT worse (I live across the street from a liquor store).
So whether I could be classed as ritualistic, obsessive compulsive or neurotic, I don’t care. To be considered a writer with quirky rituals like the great many writers of our time is an honour. I am fortunate to have the freedom to write, when I want and how I want. Having little rituals, or whatever they are called, isn’t hurting anyone.
Excuse me, I gotta run. The liquor store closes in five minutes.