Friday, August 28, 2020

My Best Writing Ritual of All

Most writers I know love rituals that summon the muses for the act of creation.

My main one is writing for an hour a day, timed with my beautiful, hand-crafted, cherrywood hourglass, while drinking Swiss Miss hot chocolate in a mug given to me years ago by a writer friend. Every once in a while, I amp up the ritual by lighting one of the deliciously scented candles that a high school friend sells in her Etsy shop, and plopping a dollop of Cool Whip into my mug of Swiss Miss. This is pretty much the system that has allowed me to write sixty books over the past forty years. It's an excellent system. I recommend it highly!

But writing the VERY FIRST LINE of a new book, in my view, is such a momentous occasion that it calls for something more. So in recent years I've developed the practice of writing the first line of each new book someplace special - not just lying on the little couch in my upstairs study, but at a cafe with a writer friend, or sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, or in a friend's sunroom (yes, I'm talking about you, dearest Jeannie!).

For the past few weeks I've been groping toward another verse novel, as I loved the writing of the last one (my first attempt at the form) so much that I'm yearning to try a second one. I have over 20 pages of closely written handwritten notes on every aspect of the story. Groping - and note-taking - and outlining - and planning - only go far, however. Sooner or later comes the fateful moment when I have to start the actual writing itself: facing the first page, which means the first paragraph, which means the very first line.

So this morning I drove myself to the Denver Botanic Gardens, one of my favorite places on earth. It's now reopened from its COVID closure, with timed-entry tickets to be ordered in advance online, masks worn constantly unless eating or drinking, social distancing maintained. Would it still be fun, I asked myself, with all these restrictions? The answer: YES!

The gardens are so beautiful! The weather was cool and sunny after weeks of heat and smoky skies. I found a bench where I'd be undisturbed.

There I pulled out my ancient clipboard-without-a-clip, pad of narrow-ruled white paper, and Pilot P-500 pen.

Then I wrote the title of the first poem. And the first line of the first poem. And the rest of the first poem, and then the whole poem after that.

I won't share these here. They are too new and tender for sharing, and there is no guarantee they will survive all the future rounds of revision to make their way into the final, published book (if there even is a final, published book - one never knows). 

Pleased with my progress, I wandered over to a second bench.

I wrote another few poems, for a few more pages.

Time for lunch! I treated myself to a sandwich and salad at the charming bistro by the Monet's Water Lilies pond (just about all the tables and chairs have been removed for COVID precautions, but it was easy to find a solitary, shaded bench with a good view. I was in the mood for celebrating. 

Even though I've only written a few pages so far, the book is BEGUN. Now I can go back to writing on my couch with my hourglass and mug of Swiss Miss. One by one, pages will accumulate. Characters will surprise me. Storylines will unfold. 

Whenever I look back at that first page, I will remember: I wrote this in the Denver Botanic Gardens on a perfect late-August day.... And that is a memory to cherish. 

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