Thursday, 23 October 2008

Strange little rituals

I sent my revised manuscript to an independent publishing house today. If one can be a fan of a publisher then I definately am; if I see a new book that they have put out then I will be swayed towards buying it as I have enjoyed so many of theirs.

As I sealed the envelope I blew inside for luck... and then realised this was silly and superstitious and it was a good thing I didn't have a cold or they would have got some free virus with their manuscript. But don't writers thrive on strange rituals and habits, much like sports people or actors?
I heard of a writer (please remind me who it is if you know) who only writes on a specific type on A4 paper with two holes in it. When the company changed the paper to having four holes the writer bought hundreds of little circles of paper and painstakingly stuck them over the extra holes.
Writing a novel takes dedication and most writers recommend having a set ritual, generally starting at the same time every day and having a particular work environment, whether it is a noisy cafe, a silent study or a shed at the bottom of the garden (Roald Dahl).
Rituals can easily turn into obsessions, for the most part harmless, but sometimes to the detriment of family life or their social life. Roald Dahl used to sit down with five newly-sharpened HB pencils every day. Some writers have to have a certain mug or a particular type of coffee. Some write in their pyjamas in bed (quite often to save on bills, I imagine) while others always wear the same set of clothes. It is certainly important for someone who is managing their own time at home (like any home workers) to be in the right mindset before they can begin to work.

But working at home with no colleagues can make you a little crazy. Writers are notoriously difficult people to live with. Over the summer I got addicted to fresh peas, which are wonderful to snack on as there is the satisfaction of shelling them and then the crunchy, fresh pleasure of eating them. However, when I ran out I had to run and buy more before I could contemplate writing another sentence.

This is, of course, a mild case and nothing as destructive as alcoholism or drug-taking, but the glass of red wine habit can quickly get unhealthy, as I found last winter.
Then there is talking to your plants, your cat (I wish I had a cat but then again they are not very keyboard-friendly: it becomes irresistably comfortable to them when you are working), yourself or your imaginary friends. My characters and I went for a Christmas lunch last year because I was jealous of all my friends going out to celebrate with colleauges. You can only imagine what an office party would be like.

But it is pleasurable to wear jeans to work, drink as much tea as I like and work odd hours. I generally find midnight is a very productive time, although working much later than that can mean 500 words of utter drivel.
It's a strange life and I hope blowing into that envelope brings me luck: it's a life I would very much like to continue.

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