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How Rituals Keep Writers On Track – Pt 1

stephen king

In her book, “The Creative Habit,” choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about her daily ritual; she wakes up at 5:30 A.M., puts on her workout clothes, goes outside and hails a cab. She tells the driver to take her to the gym where she workout for two hours.

She writes, “The ritual is not the workout; it’s the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.”

Tharp is a choreographer whose works include the Broadway musical versions of Singin In The Rain, Movin’ Out and The Times They are A Changing. She collaborated on the films Hair, Ragtime, White Knights, and James Brooks’ I’ll Do Anything. She’s won a Tony, two Emmys, and a Kennedy Center Honor.

In her book, The Creative Habit : Learn It and Use it for Life (2003), she writes about how successful creative people develop rituals that create a direction, a prompt, a reminder, a motive, and a mental framework that encourages creativity.

She feels that starting out the same way each day eliminates questions, for example, “Why am I doing this?” Once she’s in the cab, it’s too late, the wheels are rolling.  It also eliminates having to deal with “do I really want to do this now?” Again, it’s too late, she’s doing it.

What routines do other well-known creative individuals use to get them going? What specifically, do writers do?

Stephen King is known as perhaps the most prolific author of our time, having written Carrie (1973), The Shining (1973), and The Green Mile (1996), many of which have been made into successful films.

King has won many awards, including the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and the National Medal of Arts.

During the period when he wrote his first four novels, Carrie, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, and Christine, King started with a different ritual than his current ritual. He worked from late at night, and continued through the morning, fueled by cocaine and a twelve-pack of beer.

Since then there have been family interventions, rehab, and recovery.

King’s current ritual is different; he always makes sure his desk in the corner, not in the middle of the room – which reminds him that life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

The new ritual involves making a cup of tea, first thing, at around 8:00 A.M. Then before he sits down to write, he takes vitamins, plays his favorite music and sits in the same seat, with papers scattered around his desk, the same desk –just so.

“The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day,” he’s explained, “seems to be a way of saying you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

Joan Didion is probably best known for writing Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968), and The Year of Magical Thinking (2004). She’s won The National Book Award, a Writer’s Guild Award, and The National Medal of Arts and Humanities.

She writes during the day, then has dinner and then has a drink and reviews the pages from that afternoon. She needs dinner and a stiff drink, time to give her space away from the pages. She uses that time in the evening to make notes on her work.

When she starts writing the next day, she knows just where to start, integrating her notes, which is much easier than facing a blank screen. Once she’s on a roll, it’s easier for her to move on to new territory.

Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road (1951) and Dharma Bums (1958) was perhaps the most famous writer of the Beat Generation.

On the Road was apparently based on his travels with Neal Cassady, during which they immersed themselves completely into a lifestyle of sex, drugs and jazz. The novel is on pretty much every list of the Top One Hundred American Novels.

Kerouac’s routine involved lighting a candle around midnight, and writing by its light, then blowing it out when he was finished, writing close to dawn. He’s quoted as saying he wrote On the Road in a week, on a single scroll of paper. It’s rumored drugs were involved, as well.

Some of his rituals were kind of out there, hardly surprising for a man who lived so close to the edge. One involved taking breaks during which he’d do headstands, then stayed balanced while bringing his feet down to touch the floor nine times.

Some of his other projects he started off by “praying to Jesus to preserve my sanity and my energy so I can help my family…” which included a cat, his wife and his paralyzed mother.

Next week more famous writer’s creative rituals.

Image credit: Creative Commons Stephen King, 2009 by John Robinson is licensed under CC By 2.0

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How Rituals Keep Writers On Track – Pt 1

David Silverman, MA, LMFT

A lot of careers can really knock you around. The compettiion is fierce, in graphic design, architecture, you name it -- especially in creative careers in Hollywood. Writers and performers get slammed with rejection constantly. If you're going through something -- anxiety, addiction or depression -- I help people like you get through it. And thrive. Let me help you get your dream back on track.

Please check out my website: My story: my brother grew up with a severe case of OCD, and while I just a kid --- in family therapy with him, I witnessed a miracle as he was transformed, and now is enjoying the life he deserves. I went to Stanford University to study Psychology, and USC Film. I've worked in FIlm/TV and experienced high levels of anxiety, and got slammed with rejection myself. I learned how to get through it. Today, I love to help people to regain the lifestyle they deserve.

David Silverman Psychotherapy

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APA Reference
Silverman, D. (2016). How Rituals Keep Writers On Track – Pt 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Oct 2016
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