Do you get superstitious, as a writer?
Do you pay attention to signs that reflect how things are going to go or suggest the universe’s intent for you? I suspect that when an artist is working on something they care very much about, sooner or later they become a little mystical, whether pouring their personal energy into their work or reading deeper meaning into events that may or may not correlate with what kind of day they’re having. And once you think you’ve tapped into that particular existential telephony line, one suspects one can transmit as well as receive, at least in some small way. A game of percentages, like World of Warcraft: a little influence here, a little nudge there, tipping the scales ever so slightly to our favor.
Does that sound right? I’m just freestyling over here.
So let’s say you’re settling down to work on something, to open your mind and your spirit and manifest your visions into a concrete form on this plane of existence. A story you’re going to elucidate on the page, an illustration that’s been haunting you, rendered for other people to see, appreciate, and think about. Some people wait until they’re “in the mood,” and others try to invite the muse. This is actually a time-honored and ancient tradition, but how we go about it is inconsistent.
What I want to talk about right now is one aspect of setting the stage to invite our muse, our floating genius, our itinerant daemon. You can do this with preparing your body with mind-altering substances, most commonly the “writer’s friend,” whiskey, or simply a nice cup of tea. You can set up colored lights and inspirational posters and candles. Or you can simply put on a certain outfit.
Who else does this? Who else gets dressed up to put themselves into the writerly mood? What does that outfit look like for you?
For me, if I’m just going to work on another installment in one of my many, many series, for example, I’ll throw on a black T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Black is a little austere, it’s the color of mysteries and the students of these; blue jeans, those are just the nigh-unanimously agreed-upon uniform for Americans (and the uniform of US-envy abroad, yes, even in North Korea where teens will risk imprisonment for a fashion statement). A casual outfit that I don’t have to think about too hard. If it’s cold in my writing room, I’ll wear a waffle-weave thermal long sleeve shirt instead. I don’t want to think about my clothes when I’m writing: I don’t want tight jeans or long johns pinching my crotch. I don’t want long sleeves that need futzing with, folding now, rolling tight, letting out again.
Once, my wife asked me to dress up like my vision of a writer. I just pulled on some clothes like described above. I have a few editor-themed T-shirts, some of which are even in black. My American Society of Editors shirt. My Edit or Die shirt. If that’s not inspirational, what could be? But she insisted, no, I had to really put on a costume and dress up like my internal ideal of the archetypal writer. What did a writer look like to me? Did I even have those clothes?
One thing that endeared my wife to me was, before we started dating, one thing we had in common was a love for dressing up. Dressing up nice or dressing up in costume, something we both loved. One night she showed up at my apartment and I was taking goofy photos for whatever project I thought I was working on. I greeted her in a starchy haori, black with a metallic gold dragon winding around it. She grinned, happy that we had this instinct in common.
So when she nailed me to the wall on this, I went into the closet and sifted through a rack of clothes to pull out the right components. I found some baggy, vintage trousers. I pulled on a sleeveless undershirt and a white dress shirt, sleeves rolled loosely to the elbows. I retrieved a black vest and let it hang unbuttoned from my shoulders. “There,” I said, “what do you think? This is my writer outfit.”
Her jaw dropped and she struggled to reconcile with a new revelation from me. I asked her if she thought I looked stupid or ridiculous. “No, not at all. I just… have to wrap my mind around this part of you. I had no idea this was something you had locked up in your head.” My writer archetype was something like an Art Spiegelman self-portrait, a little grizzled and muzzy, rumpled, dressy in a Lower Manhattan kind of way. Something that said “look, I have nice clothes, I just haven’t slept in three days.” That’s a writer to me, and I guess we’d never talked about that.
So, what do you do? Do you have a special sweater or slanket for writing? Do you need an afghan and a kitty on your lap? Do you have an office shirt that screams determination and creativity to you? What does your casual, I-don’t-care outfit look like, when you sit down to write, and how do you dress up when it’s important, it matters, and you really want to call down the creative spirits to help you with this?