Some writers can glide right into their story world at a moment’s notice. No warm up. No worrying about pulling a muscle. No “opening myself up to the Muse” bullshit. Just straight in there like a thief in the night.
But other writers (probably 95% of us) need a pre-game ritual. Much the same way that Usain Bolt will have some chicken nuggets and jog on the spot before making the other contenders eat his dust, many writers need to get in the zone before they write. Even the ones who say they write whenever and wherever seem to have their little perks to ease themselves into creation mode.
- David Mitchell spends time carefully choosing and brewing tea.
- Aaron Sorkin goes for long drives and listens to classic rock and roll.
- Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4:00am and swims or runs in the evening.
- Ray Bradbury makes lists of his childhood loves and hates, then rushes to the typewriter.
Funnily enough, the best writing ritual advice I’ve heard comes from a man who made his reputation primarily as a filmmaker rather than a writer: Werner Herzog.
Werner Herzog Writing Advice
“I read and read and read and I get into this fury of language, and it’s… the highest calibre of language. And I know when I start to write, I’m not gonna step down below this.” – Werner Herzog.
Integral to Werner Herzog’s insane writing productivity (e.g. rarely taking longer than 5 days to write a script and writing Aguirre in 2 days while on a coach full of drunken footballers) is his ability to psych himself up.
Herzog psychs himself up to write in 2 ways:
- Listening to insanely high calibre music
- Reading insanely high calibre literature
He will read a big mix of incredible literature before a writing session. Stuff like Virgil, Old Icelandic Edda, Tung Poets from China 8th and 9th century. He then tells himself that he is going to meet that same standard of language and story in his own writing.
When it comes to writing, he blasts Wagner, Beethoven, and Schumann throughout the house (much to his wife’s chagrin). The music sweeps him up and the rhythm and grandeur carries him along in the story.
I gave myself an extra 30 minutes before I sat down to write each morning and devoured a mixture of high calibre literature from the following:
Dante and Baker particularly ramped me up. Dante because of the vast mythological story, Baker because of the minute attention to linguistic detail.
After the reading, I stuck on a pair of high quality surround sound headphones and listened to a combination of:
- Hans Zimmer soundtracks (particularly Inception and Interstellar)
- Holst’s Planets (particularly Neptune)
I wrote quicker, with more excitement, and produced more quality. The words poured out of me and I was able to see grand thematic structures and play on them to great effect.
I followed this routine for a few weeks (and still follow it today) and it has reinvigorated my writing. It made me look forward to leaping out of bed and whipping myself up into a fury of language in story.