Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Rituals

I had a colleague come by to see the typewriter collection and we started talking about what makes typewriters so appealing to students and how, proven by some data that I have collected, it can be that student writing improves? We came up with and idea that I'm calling writing rituals.

Ernest Hemingway standing at a typewriter.
1960, Life Magazine
Great authors have rituals in their own writing. Ernest Hemingway (the most famous Royal man) stood at a bookshelf when typing. Roald Dahl, although using Ticonderoga pencils (the best) and yellow legal pads, would write for a set amount of time before and after lunch. Graham Greene had to write a certain number of words per day. Each of these authors assigned a ritual to their writing and students of writing should incorporate rituals as part of being a successful writer. These rituals can serve to center the thoughts and allow the user of the ritual to enter a mind-space that is preparing them for what they will encounter. I see it as akin to a purification ceremony or a rite of passage. The ritual user must physically make themselves able to create and understand. The typewriter, with all its knobs and buttons and processes, assigns a ritual to the process of writing.

When a student sits down to type at a typewriter he is met met with a horror vaccuii. The blank page sits there longing for words. The ritual begins with this blank page. The paper needs to be inserted, the margins need to be adjusted; things need to be set in order. As the user types there is a constant audio reminder of the writing ritual in which the writer is engaged. Listening to the sound of pressing the keys and anticipating the margin bell focuses the writer in his process rather than being focused on ancillary distractions.

I have heart tell of French school children being taught to mimic the writing style of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Flaubert. This may be anecdotal but it makes sense. To become like those writers you would need to write like them. To become successful you would need to adopt the habits of successful people. Writing rituals are a habit of successful writers.