The Strange and Storied Superstitions of Writers

by • June 12, 2014

rituals, traditions, patterns, writing, GrammarlyIn many ways, writers live in a world of fantasy.

Even those who are not novelists or poets – such as journalists and bloggers – shut off from reality and endeavor to construct a world of perfect phrasing that paints pictures with words. As such, writers have their own set of odd superstitions that are every bit as quirky as “step on a crack, break your mom’s back,” or those of sports fans who need to wear the same underwear every Sunday for their team to win.

Some of these superstitions are cute, some are wild, some are extreme – and every writer has their own. With Friday the Thirteenth around the corner, we wanted to share some of the more interesting and common writer superstitions:

  • The final page of the manuscript must be even (or odd) numbered. If the writer does not meet this goal, she might go to great lengths to pad the story to get just one more page out of it. But why? The answer is simple: If the manuscript doesn’t hit just the right page number, then nobody will want to read it, and the work is doomed to the slush pile or ash can forever.
  • Stay away from lucky thirteen. Any chapter that has thirteen pages in it absolutely must be revised to at least twelve or fourteen. Why? To some, thirteen is a cursed number and a single thirteen-page chapter can doom an entire manuscript to failure. Likewise, a book cannot have exactly thirteen chapters. A curse is a curse, after all.
  • “I have to have my pen!” Many writers feel that they cannot write without a specific pen. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy, monogrammed barrel pen. Some writers may have a good old-fashioned fifty-cent ball point pen that they have had for years, even going so far as to buy other pens of the same type—not to use when theirs runs out, but to cannibalize for the ink, so they can replace the guts when theirs runs out.
  • Only three pencils allowed. Along similar lines, some writers must use a specific type of pencil – and restrict themselves to only one, two, or however many pencils are needed – per manuscript. In other words, the same pencil cannot span two manuscripts. When a manuscript is finished, the writer might even break the pencil he used so that it cannot be mistakenly used again. Stephen King, in his novel The Dark Half, shows us a writer with a similar superstition.
  • Don’t forget to wear your writing jacket. Similar to some underwear-wearing football fans, a number of writers need to wear a particular piece of clothing while they write – be it a shawl, smoking jacket, specific pair of slippers, or what-have-you. Carson McCullers (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter) and John Cheevers are known to hold this superstition.
  • Review your rituals. From arranging their desks in a certain way, to drinking a specific cocktail, some writers cannot write until conditions are perfect. Some claim they cannot think without a lit pipe or cigarette between their lips. The British poet Edith Sitwell was known to lie in an open coffin before writing, claiming that it helped her to focus and clear her mind!
  • Use your senses. Famed pulp writer Robert E. Howard talked his stories out loud while writing, believing that the voice made the story flow more smoothly. Specific sensory input is important to other writers; for example, Fredrich Schiller needed the smell of rotten apples, and Joaquin Miller had a special sprinkler system installed to pour water over his home because he could not write without the sound of rain on the roof.

Almost every writer has his or her own superstitions, rituals, or habits upon which to rely when cranking out that latest manuscript. If nothing else, some of the examples above can make you and I feel like our superstitions aren’t as bizarre as we may once have thought.

What are your writing superstitions? Share in the comments below!

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