I used to work as a union gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and makeup artist. The entertainment field is full of superstitious people. I remember all the superstitions associated with stage work like don’t whistle on stage. Actors telling each other to “break a leg” before a performance supposedly leads to good luck and a fine performance. Leaving a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty is meant to ward off mischievous spirits. Anything associated with Macbeth, especially saying the word “Macbeth” in a theater, will lead to disaster. It’s the curse of Macbeth. Don’t leave peacock feathers or real money on stage or actors will forget their lines and set pieces will break.
So I wondered, what kinds of superstitions do writers have?
I don’t have any myself. I have a schedule I like to adhere to but if I miss a day or don’t start at a specific time each day I don’t panic over not being able to write. I don’t have a lucky pen or statuette or piece of clothing I must wear. Some famous writers had some downright bizarre superstitions. The closest I come to a superstition was keeping the cats away from my laptop because I was afraid they’d delete my files. That’s not really a superstition. That’s being practical.
Here are a few examples of famous writers and their superstitions:
Isabelle Allande – Always starts a new novel on January 8 because that’s the date she began her first novel, The House Of The Spirits.
John Steinbeck wrote his drafts in pencil. He kept 12 pencils on his desk, all perfectly sharpened.
John Cheever put on a suit, took the elevator with other men who were on their way to their office jobs, and he would get off in the basement. Then, he’d take off his pants and write. He said it was more comfortable.
Truman Capote refused to begin or end a work on a Friday. He also wrote lying down.
Mark Twain, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, and Marcel Proust also wrote lying down.
Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Philip Roth, and Charles Dickens wrote standing up.
Alexandre Dumas wrote his poetry on yellow paper, his fiction on blue paper, and his articles on pink paper
J. K. Rowling refused to title a story until after it was finished.
Carson McCullers wore her lucky sweater whenever she wrote.
Friedrich Schiller, friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, couldn’t write without the smell of rotten apples around him. I have no idea why. That one is just weird.
Superstitions have always struck me as a bit foolish, but sometimes I fall prey to them. For instance, I won’t walk beneath a ladder not so much because I believe it’s bad luck but because I’m afraid a full paint can will fall on my head and crack my skull in two. That sounds like very bad luck to me. When I was a kid and mad at my parents I would step on every crack in the sidewalk, but no one’s back ever broke. I knock on wood because I think it’s a great way to accentuate a point.
Then again, a ladybug just flew into my hair. I’m at a writer’s retreat in central Massachusetts, and I’m working on this article in a bedroom with a beautiful view of the snowy outdoors. I’ve attached a picture of my view to this blog post. How a ladybug survived the winter is beyond me, but I know they’re good luck. I’ll take whatever good luck I can get. Ah, wait, another one flew by! I feel especially lucky right now
Rather than superstitions related to writing I have rituals. I always must have something to drink nearby – most often coffee, hot tea, seltzer water, red wine, or especially champagne. I sometimes must have music on or I can’t concentrate. Other times, I need quiet.
Are you a superstitious writer? If you are, what quirks do you have that help you express your creativity? What do you do to keep disaster or writer’s block from happening?