Friday the 13th is nearly upon us. We’ve got a special group post lined up for tomorrow to celebrate, but — as a writer with a(n un)healthy fondness for the macabre — I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk a bit about superstition.
Though my work often dabbles in the supernatural, I’m something of a skeptic in real life. That’s what I tell myself, at least. But if you were to watch a Pats game with me, you’d come away with another impression entirely. If my cat’s on my lap when we find the endzone, she’s not allowed to leave. If we fumble while I’m drinking my beer, the remainder of it will sit untouched. And on the rare occasion the announcers deign to compliment our play, I knock wood in an effort to undo the jinx.
Do I really believe I’m impacting the game in any way? Nah. (Half the time, I’m not even watching live.) But on the other hand, why chance it?
The fact is, superstition’s baked into our DNA. Our brains are designed to recognize patterns, and evolution has selected for a hair trigger. If a warm wind’s blowing from the east and every animal in the forest is headed west, the caveman who fails to recognize a fire’s coming doesn’t last long enough to pass along his (blissfully carefree) genes. Wash, rinse, repeat… and a few thousand generations later, we’re seeing Jesus in old pictures and blaming bad days on the movements of the planets.
While I enjoy recreationally indulging my superstitious side*, I try not to let it alter my behavior in real life. I cultivate good writing habits, but push back whenever I sense they’re ossifying into rituals. I don’t buy into lucky hats or socks or pens or chairs, and I sure as hell don’t wait around for my muse. Writing isn’t magic. It isn’t luck. It’s work. (Fun work, but work nonetheless.) So, at every turn, I endeavor to treat it as such.
Although, okay, I’ll confess: if my prior day’s writing was like pulling teeth, I’ll usually swap out my coffee mug. That’s not superstition, though; it’s psychology. I’m making a symbolic change to my environment to signal to my subconscious that OH, WHO AM I KIDDING? OF COURSE IT’S SUPERSTITION.
So… where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you a believer or a skeptic? What silly writing rituals do you adhere to? IRRATIONAL MINDS WANT TO KNOW!
*If you’re fond of recreationally indulging your superstitious side, too, allow me to point you toward two of my current obsessions: TANIS and The Black Tapes. Both are podcasts produced by Pacific Northwest Stories. Both are free to download on iTunes. Both are works of fiction, although they work hard to sound as if they’re nonfiction (and do a remarkable job at it, too). The Black Tapes is best described as Serial meets The X-Files. TANIS is a little harder to pin down. But if, like me, you’re a fan of the creepy, the supernatural, the unexplained, give the first episode of each a try. (I listen while I run, but I’m told they’re also great for commutes.) My guess is, you’ll wind up hooked.