Some writers like to have music playing as they write. James Scott Bell speaks of listening to sound tracks from movies of the same genre as the story he’s working on – Hitchcock for suspense, Star Wars for sci fi, etc.
As a musician I find this extremely difficult. For me there’s no such thing as ‘background’ music – if music is playing anywhere near me it demands my undivided attention. I start analyzing the work, the artist’s skill, their stylistic interpretation, etc.
(If you’re a writer and think this strange, ask yourself: Didn’t the way you read books alter radically after you started writing them?)
So as much as I might like to have music playing while I write, I’ve had to forgo that option and look to another: My creative stimulus of choice is scent.
Every day when I sit down to write I either light a scented candle (currently burning: Yankee Candles’ Pumpkin Gingerbark) or fire up the essential oil burner (my favorite blend: orange, bergamot and rosewood.)
I believe that over time this simple ritual has created a functional association for me – a mental link between the act of setting match to wick and that of writing. An action that ‘primes the pump’ so to speak, the creative version of Pavlov’s dog.
(One reason it was a mistake to drink coffee when I write as that has now become fused to my process as well. Chocoholics beware!)
So this ritual of burning a scented candle helps me prepare to write. But could it actually help the writing itself?
As I’m currently reading in Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease, our perceptions of both music and fragrance are functions of the temporal lobe, the same part of the brain that deals largely with the act of writing. By stimulating this area with scents am I firing up the writer part as well?
Like music, fragrance has an affect on mood. Some scents stimulate, others relax. Some particular scents I associate with different seasons and holidays (the very reason Yankee Candles has seasonal blends) and burning them conjures the feelings I have around those occasions.
So like Bell playing his Star Wars sound track, burning one of these seasonal candles might certainly help if I were writing a scene set at that time of year.
As to whether my ritual has any effect on the quality of my work I can’t really say. I only know that pausing to light a candle gets me in the mood to write and seems to enhance the overall experience.
And some days you need all the help you can get.
I'd love to hear from other authors what writing rituals you find helpful.