writing talisman

comfy at the WR
(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?

Zabar's mugs

(Our mugs, circa January 2009)


Filed under Revision, Writing

12 responses to “writing talisman

  1. Krys

    I don’t have one but am determined to find one by the end of the month. I’m desperate to do anything that will get me writing again.

    Thanks again for your blog. I love the voice in all the entries–better than the voice in most novels!

    • my writing talisman helps me! by just being there and sending good vibes. it is a memory of a wonderful day with a wonderful friend with a promise made good. i know you will find one for yourself. 🙂

  2. YouKnowWho

    I don’t have one , at least not in the same capacity that you do.

    For X-Mas Sylvia bought me a stuffed mouse to place next to my keyboard in my corner of the house where I do a lot of my writing. The next day it had been dragged by a cat into the hallway where I have no doubt unspeakable things were done to it.

    I write in three different places in the house. There is the bedroom where my good computer is. It is always warm there and it makes a nice place to write when nobody else is home. I also have a corner in our guest room where I write when Sylvia is home. It is much less comfortable but for some reason I am able to focus the best there.

    The third place I write is at work, which is usually only for editing and the occasional inspired moment. I don’t do a ton of writing there because I cannot consume alcohol at work.

    The only thing all three of these places have in common is my keychain. Why my keychain? It’s because I keep all my writing projects on a USB drive which I keep on said keychain.

    Does that count as a talisman? What happens when you upgrade your talisman to one with a larger capacity?

    I suppose the keychain itself is the closest thing I have to a talisman. I would certainly be screwed on multiple levels if I lost it, mysticism notwithstanding.

  3. i love this post! i can’t write without pictures of tori amos near my bed and octavia butler near my desk. i also have pictures of places and quotes from admired artists, depending on my mood. but most of all, i MUST have blue pens at my disposal. it all started when i had an awesome writing day, and i attributed my triumph to writing in blue ink. *sigh* sad, i know.

  4. Wait. There are writers out there who say they never revise? Really? Maybe it’s still too early in the morning for me, but that kind of blew my mind. I’m guessing they are either lying or aren’t trying to publish anything. 🙂

    I write in a lot of different places and don’t have a talisman or anything I carry around with me. Sadly, I think snacks sometimes end up filling that role…

    • @YouKnowWho: A talisman is something that you believe in, and that you think brings you power. IF that’s your keychain, so be it!

      @Stephanie: I’m all for those blue pens!

      @Laura: I sh*t you not–more than a few writers (at least a couple Very Established and Famous) have told me they do not revise. That if they don’t like their short story or novel, they throw it away and start over. (Which to me is a form of revision).

      • YouKnowWho

        That is totally a form of revision. Just because you don’t keep your rough draft doesn’t mean you aren’t revising the ideas, the wording etc. If I start with “It was a dark and stormy night” then delete it and start again with “It was dark out. The rain drenched my overcoat.” I am revising.

        It could also be that they write a few sentences and then delete those and start over, going from sentence to sentence until it is perfect. I cannot imagine writing like that. More power to them, I suppose. It makes for good bragging rights.

  5. chrisd

    The closest I have ever come had to be a combination of the depth of the room (3rd floor underground), the position of the desk, the proximity of pure isolation, and of course the pen/pencil I used to draft my notes. All I have are the memories of such a fine place.

  6. Nate

    A $2 souvenir of a great memory wrapped in a cherished friendship which offers unconditional personal and professional support?

    I don’t think it’s the feather, Dumbo.

  7. Pingback: Talisman, Transformed | 80,000 words

  8. Eric

    I have never been to Zabar’s! After how many years of visiting NYC, I’ve never been. Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods, Gourmet Garage, Trader Joe’s etc, sure. But never Zabar’s.

    My only talisman is more of a self sustained obsession with only writing my notes in Moleskine notebooks and only with black pens. I think it started as more of a snobbery trait of mine but now its nearly obsession. Blue ink just won’t do it for me…

  9. Pingback: Talisman, part II: Revision | 80,000 words

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