First you get used to eating a pebble a day.
What I mean by this is that in writing, and in a lot of other things, ritual is important – ritual and routine and establishing an habit of doing something.
Charlie and I [This is Sarah!] were talking about this in the opposite and upside down of this – how and when do you break ritual and does breaking ritual liberate creative fire, or not?
I will leave that part of the argument to my partner in crime [Waves at Charlie] but for now, I’ll discuss the uses and importance of ritual.
There is a – perhaps apocryphal — story that goes around the science fiction community. It is attached to one particular author and it is used to explain a prolonged dry spell of his. I’m not going to use his name because I heard this story second, third and sixteenth hand (at least) but never close enough to be sure.
However the story keeps getting told, because all of us, professional writers, identify with it and can understand it.
It is said that a young and hopeful writer turned on his lamp by the desk before he started to write. Maybe he started out because his desk was in a dark corner, or he wrote only at night. As he started selling, he noticed that stories he wrote while the lamp was on sold, while stories he wrote while the lamp was off didn’t. Then he realized this light bulb never seemed to burn out. Year after year he turned on the lamp and the magic light bulb cast its light on his work as he rose up the ranks to bestseller.
Which is when he got divorced. And his wife told him that for years she’s been replacing the light bulb every week, to make sure it was always fresh and wouldn’t burn out.
And he didn’t write for years.
This story illustrates both ritual and superstition – and their dangers.
That they are dangerous goes without saying, and I’ll let Charlie explain why. But they are useful, too, because they are what humans use to tame the unknown, and to try to reliably harness forces they can’t quite understand.