I laughed until I had to wipe away the tears. Really? Absolute silence? (Bear in mind, I learned to write by hauling a 200-decibel electric typewriter to my future stepfather's house and typing while three boys under age ten watched -- and re-enacted -- late-night wrestling. Either that or after school on the New York City subways: to this day, when I'm writing longhand, I look up every three minutes, checking my stop. The first time I found myself writing in a library, I had to leave.)
But during that first online conversation, I realized that I too had my writerly quirks. I liked to write my novels longhand in spiral-bound notebooks, using only one side of the page (so I could make edits on the blanks) and with all the same color covers, and using the same pen until it ran out of ink. I liked looking at a pen and thinking, "My entire book is in this pen. I just need to stretch it out."
And I dared laugh at someone who required silence?
Writing feels mystical to those of us who create, so it makes sense we'd come up with our own quirks, the things we "need" to do in order to make the magic happen. To some extent, those are fun and harmless weapons against writers block. Do you need to write in purple ink? Fine, stock up on purple pens and produce pages of purple prose. (All alliterative, as an aside.) Nothing wrong with that.
But here's a caution: writing is scary in that we can't always control it. When we manufacture these quirks, they're an attempt to control the out-of-control. When we're not writing to our own standards, it's easy to say "That's because it's not perfectly silent" but harder to look at ourselves and say, "Something is wrong today. I need to push through this anyhow."
In other words, we can develop both helpful and unhelpful quirks. Unhelpful quirks place limits on when, where, how, and with what we can write. Helpful ones channel the writing in order to keep creativity on a higher burn.
For example, one writer told me she never stopped writing at the end of a scene. Even if only three words, she would start the next scene because she didn't want to begin her writing session with nothing. Other writers say they have to write something every day, even if only one sentence, because then they don't feel they haven't made progress.
Once the quirks become truly helpful, you'll notice, they're no longer quirks. At that point, they're disciplines.
There are as many ways to write as there are writers. What quirks have you found to reinforce your urge to write rather, than frustrate it?
Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.