Hephaestus lives

There is something magical about fire. It destroys. It cleanses. It rejuventates.

Few other media seems so alive and yet have no life. It has an almost palpable need to fight for its existence.

A few years ago, I was awoken by bright light through my bedroom window, which would have been fine, but the clock said it was only 4 a.m. Rising from my bed, I drew back the blinds and the room was suffused by the yellow-orange glow of a fire that raged in the next building. The rooftop patio of the club across the alley was aflame.

I was transfixed by the flames that shot higher and higher, dancing across the wooden frame and sending its embers out in search of new sustenance, dancing on the breeze the fire itself created.

Luckily, no one but the club owner’s bank account was injured.

Game face

Visit any professional sports locker room before a competition and you will see all kinds of rituals being performed. In some cases, music blares and bodies rock side-to-side as the players psych up for combat. Or the room will be deafeningly quiet as players turn inward to find a source of personal strength. Some pray. Some pound each other on their gear. Some attempt speeches that would make Henry V blush.

It’s about getting your head into the game. Putting on your game face.

I do the same thing with my writing. Well, perhaps not the same thing, but similar things. For me, writing is about being in the moment and being ready to accept what comes.

Writing takes training. Writing takes practice. But most of all, writing takes preparation.

If I know I want to explore a certain mood in my writing, I may listen to music that stimulates that mood in me. Right now, as I write this, I am listening to Division Bell by Pink Floyd.

Or I may watch a movie or two (perhaps just scenes) from which to take emotive and cosmic inspiration.

Other times, I may simply require quiet. Time to channel my energies completely to the task, without distraction.

Unfortunately, as much as I can do to control external distractions, I can only do so much about internal distractions. One way I accomplish this, however, is through practices that I describe as mental Etch-a-Sketch, activities that allow me to shake my mental landscape enough to erase the noise.

My predominant method is the card game Solitaire. The game does not tax me mentally, but requires just enough synaptic pattern-matching activity that it clears the slate of the noise. (I also like Mah-jongg, but find this takes too much focus to clear my head for anything else, so it remains a hobby.)

Using solitaire was something I learned as a child when I wanted to avoid thinking about things that were going on around me—a way to disappear physically and mentally from my world. But where it was a crutch for several decades of my life, it has now become a useful tool to help me prepare for my artistic efforts.

Once my mind is clear, the energy flows and ideas arrive like so many lightning bugs in the dwindling light. Fleeting inspirations ready to be tapped.

So, now that I have shared my secrets, how do you prepare to write? What is your pre-game ritual?

Let’s talk.

PS These are my stats essentially since the start of 2013…and yes, I live alone.