(Zabar’s mug, circa January 2011, at the Writers Room)
The creative process is perceived as mystical, and we writers often sustain that perception. Many writers I know refuse to share details about their writing process, and several claim they “never revise,” which I think is an elusive sidestep to the real answer (they probably do), thereby perpetuating the myth that writing is a form of magic, that ideas come out of nowhere, and when they do appear, they do so in fully mature form, requiring no improvement.
In reality, art involves a lot of anguish and sweat…alongside a bit of magic that even the artist cannot explain. I do quite a bit of
banging my head against the wall thinking about my characters and story and plot, and a large part of my writing comes from my conscious.
But then there are magical writing days. For me, magical writing involves the transformation of some twisted psychic pain inside my soul into a sincere assembly of words that communicate this darkness. I can’t say I compose those words consciously–I know a good writing day when my emotional psyche drives my writing, and the words start tumbling forth.
Along with that magic comes the talisman; because magic is so inexplicable, superstition naturally enters the realm. Writers are particular about the direction their desks face (some want a window, others want complete darkness, for instance), about what they eat or do not eat as they write (I cannot write on a full stomach; I will write until I am lightheaded but I will not write if I’ve just had a mongo burger), and about a myriad variables in the universe, including figurines that sit on desks as they write (and while we’re on the topic, some prefer to not write at a desk at all, but rather on the subway, or in bed, etc.).
I? I have my Zabar’s mug.
I bought a Zabar’s mug when I was in NYC last with my friend Randa. It was in between giggling fits scaling the entirety of Manhattan that we found ourselves brunching downtown, browsing scotch at a liquor store, at the Yaddo exhibit at the NY Public Library, eating Dominican Food in Washington Heights, and finally, at Zabar’s. There, we saw them: a display of mugs, priced at $2/each. We would write the first drafts of our novels while drinking out of a Zabar mug! (We were both in NYC to do novel research).
I took the talisman to heart. My Zabar’s mug was the materialization of my vow to write and finish the first complete draft of my novel. I took that mug home with me and set it down before me each morning as I wrote, remembering that day in New York, and the vows made. And knowing that Randa would be doing the same, with her mug.
And it happened. With that mug. I completed a draft of my novel within the year. The mug sat with me, and sustained me through the entire draft, filled with decaf Blue Bottle coffee, Mariage Freres tea, juice, or just plain water.
When I got to NYC this year, with the intent of revising said novel, one of the first things I did for my writing was buy another Zabar’s mug (I left the original back in California). All across the entire country, I bought mugs as we drove to NYC, thinking I would find another to accompany my revision; I bought a mug from the awesome Waffle House, among others. But in the end, I wanted another Zabar’s mug to keep me company through revision.
The first thing I did for my writing was to secure a spot at a writing space–after scouting out the Writer’s Studio at the Center for Fiction and Paragraph, I decided upon The Writers Room. These days, I sit at the Writers Room with my Zabar’s mug, as I revise. That mug is my constant, my talisman, what I’ve designated as materialization of writing magic. Most of writing is
sweat working and wailing tears and begging waiting…but I don’t think a bit of magic hurts at all.
What is your talisman?
(Our mugs, circa January 2009)