My Pre-Writing Ritual

Authors are a strange lot. Sure, some may be completely normal-looking on the outside, but there’s something about a person who’s willing to spend hours upon hours plinking away on a keyboard (or writing with pen and paper) that makes them…eccentric. Yes, eccentric. That’s a polite way of putting it.

I’m no exception. In fact, I revel in the knowledge that I’m just a little off. Always have been, always will be. Let me give you an example of the madness to my method. What follows is the ritual I go through before a writing session.

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Brace Yourself – Weirdness is Coming.

1.) The Encounter Suit

Do you know someone (or are someone) who has a game-day jersey, lucky hat or something similar? You know, it’s that article of clothing that can magically make the difference between victory and defeat for a favorite team? Well, I have a similar deal with what I put on before I settle in at my keyboard.

I’ve been known to wear pajama pants when I’m writing, the really eye-blistering plaid kind that look like golf pants gone horribly wrong. Or, it could be jeans or cargos, just so long as they’re comfortable. The real focal point of the garb, however, is the shirt. Most often it’s a printed T-shirt from a band, movie, TV show or something else that I really enjoy. It could be themed after Superman, House Baratheon, or the Official Stirlingites – just so long as it’s a physical representation of something that inspires me.

At times I even don what I refer to as my lumberjack shirt. It’s a black, beige and brick-red plaid shirt with a corduroy collar (yes, you heard that right) that I wear unbuttoned like a labcoat.  It’s a hideous throw-back to the coffee house culture of the 90s, but it also happens to be one of the most comfortable and durable shirts I’ve ever owned. It is, however, quite warm, so it doesn’t come out as much in the warmer months of Texas.

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Remember, you’re never fully dressed without a smile.

Once I’m properly attired, I look sufficiently bizarre to ensure that I spend my time writing and don’t pop out to the grocery store. Although, even in that state, I’m sure I could get away with a trip to Walmart.

2.) Downstairs Pre-flight Checklist

Once I’m ‘in garb,’ it’s time to get all my stuff together for the trip up to my office upstairs. I may grab a light snack just to tide me over or something for an in-flight treat. Generally this takes the form of sliced apples, bananas and perhaps even a few of those individually wrapped wheels of cheese. If I have any reference books downstairs that I might need, I gather them up as well.

That’s when I reach for my cobalt blue U.S.S. Constitution mug, which I bought when I went to go see Old Ironsides in Boston.  I fill it with something hot to drink, either hot chocolate or Earl Grey (the drink of choice for all the best French starship captains!).  I then stir the drink with my TuxedoSam spoon from Yogurtland.  Don’t ask me why I do that; it is simply the way of things.  Iced drinks can sometimes replace this in the mug during the Summer months.

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Onwards and upwards, Mr. Carson. Carry on.

If it sounds like I’m packing for a journey, you’re not far off. My writing sessions run about 3 to 5 hours at a stretch, so I need to make sure that I have everything I’ll need along the way. This is a non-stop flight.

So, once I have all that, I’m ready to make the walk upstairs – balancing all this stuff. I use that slow progression to mentally prepare myself for the scenes I’m about to write. I play them out across the movie screen in my head, trying to get inside the hearts and minds of the characters.

At this point I’m almost ready.

3.) Taking My Station

My office is sometimes known as “The Museum of Matt.” It has a host of my model ships, my reference library and a bunch of toys that somehow survived my childhood mixed in with the new ones I’ve picked up along the way. On my desk alone I have such things as: a model of the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a replica of the famous Egyptian sphinx, the Adam West-era Batmobile and a Warthog from Halo manned by the robots from Real Steel. (Long story). On one side of my monitor I have my autographed copy of Lindsey Stirling’s self-titled album. On the other side, I have my Masterpiece Optimus Prime holding up the Matrix of Leadership.

So, I set everything I’m carrying down on my desk, and I close the door. If you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, you’ll recognize the significance of that last act. Unless the house catches fire or there’s an alien invasion, the next few hours will be spent in service to the story. Closing the door is a symbolic gesture as well as a practical one.

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You’ve got the touch! You’ve got the power!

I sit down and boot up my computer, then remove anything in my line of sight that doesn’t need to be there. Bill stubs, printouts, past edits – all of that goes away. When I’m nicely settled in, I switch on a brass banker’s lamp. Aside from the light from the monitor, this will be the only light in the office. Like closing the door, pulling the lamp chain is a signal that I’m getting down to the business.

Next, I pull up my playlists and select some appropriate music for what I’m about to write. The lists have names such as “Fleet Action”, “Loss and Sorrow”, “Heroes in Uniform” and so on. Sometimes it’s a single song that really calls to me. Just like a movie soundtrack, my musical selection sets the mood for the emotional states I will attempt to capture.

I take a few minutes to let the music soak in while I continue to visualize the scenes to come. At this point, I’ve taken my station as surely as Sulu sits at the helm or Uhura at the comm panel of the Enterprise. Everything’s in place.

My hands settle on the keyboard. It’s time to write.

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Epilogue:

Do I follow this regimen each and every time I sit down to write? No, of course not. Sometimes there isn’t time to do it all. I’ve found, however, that the closer I get to what I’ve described here, the better and more productive the results. I don’t know why it works, but it does.

I’m not sure what, exactly, this says about me, but I’d like to think it means that I’m a sentimentalist  in my heart of hearts, that I like to surround myself from every angle with those things which hold special significance to me. At that moment, when I’m in my own little microcosm, I can more easily enter the worlds of my imagination.

I guess I’m just weird that way.

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What a strange person.

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