It probably won’t surprise you to learn that some of the most creative people also have had some of the most creative rituals and routines—but their specific practices just might astonish you. For instance, Agatha Christie, who wrote more than 60 detective novels, ate apples in the bathtub while envisioning her murder mysteries.
When Dan Brown feels stuck or blocked, he uses inversion therapy—he hangs upside down—to give him a fresh perspective. When Dr. Seuss felt stuck, he’d simply go to his secret closet, and put on one of (almost) 300 hats he owned. Eventually, he’d feel inspired.
Flannery O’Connor kept peacocks inside her home and backyard—at one point she had as many as 40. She described their cry in her short story “The King of Birds,” writing: “To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.”
Mary Shelley had a unique writing companion: a boa constrictor. And, supposedly, Shelley let the snake determine when she’d take a break, depending on the boa’s squeezes. In her last published work, Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843, she wrote that the weather was “rain[ing] boa-constrictors.”
These interesting tidbits come from the new book Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals and Practices of Extraordinary People, which is written and wonderfully illustrated by Ellen Weinstein, a New York-based illustrator and instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design.
I love learning about the quirky habits of writers (and people in all sorts of professions). I love it because it reminds me of the importance of play and of feeling inspired. It reminds me of the power of honoring my individual preferences and tendencies. Because different things will work for different people. (Personally, I’m terrified of snakes!)
That’s really the key.
I don’t think we need to adopt any one writer’s practice in order to be super creative—or successful. Rather, we need to figure out who we are, what we like, and what ignites the spark in each of us (which can be just as fun and fascinating as discovering the habits of others).
Maybe for you that’s writing first thing in the morning on the couch while listening to classical music. Maybe it’s writing right after running. Maybe it’s sketching your surroundings for ten minutes, and then refocusing on your words.
Maybe it’s reading the first few sentences of your favorite book, and then sitting down to explore your own work. Maybe it’s playing with your pet (which isn’t of the reptile variety). Maybe it’s always writing at home—or writing in different places, such as the beach, the library, an art gallery, or a history museum. Because, for you, variety is the spice of life.
Either way, the exciting thing is that it’s really up to you.
So consider taking some time to reflect on precisely that: How do you work best? When are you most creative and most inspired? When are you not? What gets you excited about writing, so excited that you need to write right now?
Consider taking some time to get to know yourself better. Because it just might be the secret to your creativity.