Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rituals Rule, so sayeth Annie Solomon

by Trish Milburn

Today's guest, Annie Solomon, not only is a fantastic, RITA-winning romantic suspense novelist; she also knows how to shop for cute clothes, is rarely found without knitting needles in hand, and harbors a great love for the sci-fi TV series Farscape and its star, Ben Browder. Her book, Blackout, won the 2007 RITA for Best Romantic Suspense. Her newest release is Dead Shot, which you can conveniently purchase from Amazon by clicking on the book cover at left. She's here today to talk about how rituals help in the writing process.


Rituals Rule

Writing is a mystery. Characters “talk” to you. They do things you didn’t expect or plan. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The most mysterious thing to me are the rituals that go along with the process. Why do they work? Do you have a piece of music that you can’t write without? A special corner of the house? A chair? For me, I’ve found the weirdest thing is that I can no longer write alone.

Several years ago, I struggled with a terrible back problem that was exacerbated by the chair in my home office. I don’t quake when I go in there now, but I can’t write there. I thought I was blocked. I was tearing my hair out, deadlines looming closer and closer. I was looking for any available cliff to jump off.

Then I discovered Panera Bread Company. Free Wi-Fi. Great coffee. And they ain’t no slouch in the bread department neither. But the most important thing about Panera is the people. Not just behind the counter, but all over the place. Coming and going, eating in, taking out.

Now you’d think that would be a distraction. See, that’s where the Twilight Zone music comes in. I think the people are what allows me to write again. Maybe it’s the public humiliation of sitting there staring at the empty screen. (Gotta fill that up or people will see I’m doing nothing.). Or maybe it’s the fact that I can’t roll out of bed and pretend to work in my PJs while I’m really playing Freecell and Scrabble. I gotta get up, get showered, get dressed, and go somewhere. Since I’ve made all this effort, might as well use it. That's me at the right, writing away. Pictured below is Mimi, the friendliest Paneraperson ever.

Whatever the reason, Panera has become my new ritual. I pretend I’m going to work just like I did when I was running the copy department at Gish, Sherwood & Friends Advertising Agency. I look professional and put together. I even put on makeup. And I write. I actually accomplish something. Some days I have breakfast there, some days breakfast and lunch. Once or twice I even brought home dinner (though, okay, maybe that’s getting a little out of hand). Maybe it’s the food?

Whatever it is, it works. And that is one mystery I’m not too eager to solve.

So, I’m curious—what are your writing rituals? Or do you have rituals in other parts of your life that help you get things done?


jo robertson said...

I'm going to pretend I've brought the little fellow back to sunny California, but I realize that by the time I finish this comment, someone may have beaten me to it.

Annie, welcome to the Lair! I loved your post. Thanks for inviting her, Trish. Two thumbs up!

I think rituals are very important for writers, and whatever they are doesn't matter since it's highly individualistic. But I'm glad to find a soul-sister in the "company around you ritual." I can't write when it's quiet. I HAVE to have noise, whether it's the TV playing or music or my husband's ENDLESS sports shows.

What's surprising is I find myself able to both write and sort of, kinda pay attention to the noises going on around me. This works out well for our marriage because I can sit in my chair and PRETEND I'm paying attention to the same show as my husband while really working!

jo robertson said...

I did, I did, I did!!! I captured the GR! Na na-nah, Na na-nah!

Sorry, must've been that last Pepsi that made me want to rub it in. Tee hee.

Trish Milburn said...

I forgot to mention in the post that Annie, Beth Pattillo (who will be guesting here in May, and who incidentally is also a RITA winner) and I have known each other for years. We've critiqued each others' work, and I'm the writer I am today because of Annie and Beth.

Jo, congrats on the GR. He sure didn't stay at Keira's house long. She nabbed him on the prize post just prior to this one.

Oh, and Annie, in case you're wondering what all this GR nonsense is -- we have a little friendly game we play. Whoever posts the first comment each day gets the Golden Rooster for the day. Those gals in Australia seem to get him a lot, so it's a coup when someone here in the States nabs him. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Doggone it, I missed it again! That elusive rooster.

Donna MacMeans said...

Congrats Jo on the GR. Is it sunny there? It's cold here in Ohio, lots of snow squalls. The Rooster is quite glad that I wasn't as quick on the draw as you. *g*

Hi Annie - I'm afraid I'd weigh a ton if I wrote at Panera. I've not been too good with temptation and Panera...it would be hard to say no.

I have lots of rituals/routines. I write on my laptop, not my desk top which would probably be more available. I like to burn candles when I write and I try to fit the scent to a character in the story. If possible, I find I write better outside on my back porch - it's easier to slip into the zone there because it's away from the phone, the washer/dryer, people etc.

Donna MacMeans said...

Oh - and Trish didn't say it, so I will -

VOTE FOR TRISH on this the final round of the American Title contest. I believe there's a convenient button on the scroll that will take you right there.

Go Trish!!

Trish Milburn said...

Thanks for the plug, Donna. :) And I hear you on Panera. In fact, I went there and had lunch and worked for about an hour today.

Christine Wells said...

Annie, welcome to the lair! Trish might have already told you, but we have a ritual in the bandit lair that the first one to comment gets the elusive golden rooster:) It's a very sought-after bird.

Thanks so much for your post, Annie. You made me feel less alone because I can't write just anywhere. I found a cafe I was comfortable in--then the owners sold it and now it's a pizza place that doesn't open during the day. Found somewhere else, went there today to find it's closed for renovations. I think I'm sensing a pattern, here!

Congrats on winning the GR, Jo:)

Tawny said...

YAY Jo on nabbing the GR ;-) California is lovely right now, bet he's having a great time!

Ooooh, I love rituals. I live for rituals, actually. And they seem to be a little different for each book. Always, they include the iPod and a playlist. Always they included large amounts of self-doubt and insane pouting. But the rest is up for grabs. For instance, my current wip doesn't want to be written here at my PC (must be the visa bill reminder lurking in my head... just had to replace that blue-screened laptop, now I'd better use it) so I'm moving around a lot to write.

And as much as I looooove Panera, I don't think I could write there. Those souffle things they make? To die for. Unlimited access to them? My fingers would be too fat to type with!!!

Vote for Trish!!!!

Christie Kelley said...

Hi Annie,

Welcome to the lair. I lost all my rituals when we started our house reconstruction. But I will agree with you about Panera. I wrote the majority of my next book, Every Time We Kiss at Panera and Atlanta Bread Co. I started at Atlanta Bread but then discovered a really important thing, Panera had cushioned seats. Extremely important!

Hopefully in another month, my new office will be finished and I can start some new rituals. I'm very much a routine person. I like to know that my kids are on the bus by 8:40 and I can start writing as soon as I get my second cup of coffee and check my emails. Next fall, that will change to 7:30 when my youngest starts middle school. Yay! An extra hour of writing!

Buffie said...

Hey Annie! Well, I am not a writer, but I am a very organized person, so I have many routines. One in particular is that I do my grocery shopping every Thursday morning after dropping the boys off at school. Well, a couple weeks ago the hubby got laid off from his job and now he JOINS me on all the errands. The first Thursday he went to the store with me, I had to explain to him my routine. I go in this door, I go look at books first, then I go to the clearance aisle, then I look at the kids clothes for deals, and then I start my grocery shopping on a particular aisle. It is all routine. And I have to say . . . I love the man to death, but I like to do my grocery shopping alone :-)

Buffie said...

Forgot to ask all you ladies (and p226) to pray that my hubby gets a job quick -- really quick!

Susan Seyfarth said...

Hi, Annie! Welcome to the lair!

I love my routines, too. And I think I'm going to start calling them all rituals, because that sounds far more interesting than routines. Unfortunately, I have small kids at home, which means my day is mostly about their routines rather than mine. Bummer.

But when they go down for nap/quiet time, I get to have a cold drink & a little snack (in peace! All to myself!) while I sit down to write. I get anywhere between half an hour to two hours, so the hardest part is being disciplined. Writing first, email/internet second.

It works for me, but I write slowly as a result. No more than a book a year. But since I haven't sold yet, that isn't a problem. :-)

Annie said...

Well, howdy all you bandits! Thanks for the warm welcome to your lair. I loved hearing about all your rituals, writing and otherwise. Also glad to know I'm not the only Paneraholic out there. As for the weight gain, yeah, I guess it's a problem. Our store always has samples (even of those souffle things once in a while) and I often grab one instead of buying something. It's not the dinero its the poundage... But to get this thing written, I'll do just about anything.

Annie said...

Oh, I forgot to say that it's just after 8 am here and I can't believe there are already comments posted!!! That GR must be pretty darn golden...

Kirsten said...

Hi Annie and Trish! I laughed hard when I saw the post--my husband, kids, and I visited our first Panera this weekend and I mentioned when we were there that a lot of the Banditas seem to write at Panera. It seems like it would be a great place to write--noise, but not too noisy; coffee (absolute must); soft music; cushy chairs; and bread!

I don't have too many writing routines, because I fit it in whenever I can get it. I do write early Saturday mornings at a coffee shop somewhere. I think I'd go to Panera, but it's 15 minutes from the house, whereas I have two Starbucks and about five other coffeeshops within a mile of my house. None are quite perfect -- Starbucks can be too loud, especially if the manager is the type to crank the music. The other coffee shops don't open until 7AM, and I usually start writing at 5 or 6.

And I think it would be BAD to write somewhere that has WiFi. I'm just not that disciplined! ;-)

Thanks for visiting, Annie!

Kirsten said...

Oh, Buffie, hugs to you and your husband. I will be sending good thoughts for him to find a new job SOON! (if only so you go grocery shopping by yourself again!)

Trish Milburn said...

You know, I think it's a plot by Panera to lure us in with that free WiFi and a nice place to write, and we'll just stay there all day and eat all our meals there. :)

Buffie, I totally agree about grocery shopping. I can't remember the last time hubby went with me, and that's okay. He is a meanderer (not sure that's a real word), and it takes much longer when he goes. I know exactly where I need to go and can do it pretty quickly.

Trish Milburn said...

Buffie, here's hoping the hubby gets a great job pronto.

Kirsten, you write at 5 or 6 on Saturday? I'm not even sure it's daylight then.

Kate Carlisle said...

Annie, welcome to the Lair and congratulations on the Rita!! Your pics are great. You're lucky you've found the perfect place to write -- and Mimi looks like a sweetheart! I'm sure it helps to have nice people around you when you're writing out in public. You can just let go and be creative without having to watch your back. ;-)

I'm not sure I have any rituals--at least, none that I know about. I've just recently sold and I'm still trying to get into a productive routine. It's so odd to have a real deadline after all these years. Now that I've read your post, I'm thinking it would be a good idea to find some rituals that'll help anchor me to the work. Does that make sense? Hope so! :-)

Yay, Jo! Great job snagging the GR!

Buffie, sending good vibes that your husband finds a job really fast!!

Vote for Trish!!!!!

Gillian Layne said...

Go Jo!! :)

I only write in public with my always-carry notebook in between 'life'. This town is too small, and I'm constantly running into people I know. The interruptions would be endless.

But at home, I have to have my hot/cold tea, the curtains on the French doors pulled half open, the tv on low, or I love the sound of the dryer or dishwasher running.

Sheesh. That looks a tad compulsive. :)

Annie said...

Hey, Kirsten, Kate, and Gillian. Thanks for the RITA congrats, Kate. And I don't know if you NEED rituals. I think they find you rather than the other way around. You discover them as you work, I guess.

Interesting to hear about all the folks who need noise to write--even if it's the dryer (which, by the way, I enjoy sleeping to...). I have a friend, Jenny Fields, who writes literary fiction (she's much more cultured than I) and she was appalled that anyone could write in public with all the distractions. Especially music. She needs to hear the "music of her words." Maybe that's the difference between mass market and lit fic? Or is it just different strokes for different folks? I do listen to music, too, btw, but only to drown out a loud conversation or someone on a cell phone. But it has to be music only--no words or singing. I can't work with the TV on, like Jo, because the words distract me.

p226 said...

Well, I haven't developed any book writing rituals yet. I'm only 60 pages into my first attempt, and am kind of stalled there. Not because of writer's block mind you. The story's pouring like beer from a tap. I'm just going slowly because of other distractions and because I've been sick as a dog. (excuses excuses)

But when it comes to writing in general, I've historically been able to do it in any setting. Any environment. You have no idea how powerful my sense of focus can be. I can tune out anything or anyone, anywhere.

The one place I cannot write, is in a moving car. Anywhere else and I'm good to go.

Nancy said...

Jo snags the rooster! Way to go, Jo.

Hi, Annie--

Welcome to the lair! I relate to the humiliation of a blank screen. For me, that happens at home, whenTetris is available as a temptation. I try to turn it into a reward instead. If I went out to write, I'd be too tempted to eat too much, and I wouldn't want to get my AlphaSmart sticky with all those pastries. *g*

I don't really have writing rituals, but my morning ritual, which the dh and I were discussing earlier today, is working the crossword puzzle in the morning paper. I also have to at least attempt the jumble, or my day isn't off to a solid start.

I edit hard copy, at least in the first pass. I don't see things as well on the screen. That's probably more a quirk than a ritual.

Cassondra said...

(Waving madly from Kentucky)

I'm so glad you're here! Welcome to our humble lair. (grin)

I also write at Panera. I've found I cannot write at home much at all. If the tv's on, it drives me nuts. If the radio is on, I'm into the music and the lyrics--I guess because I wrote songs for a long time. AND there's the craziness of the unfinished house, the piles everywhere. Honestly I think it makes me depressed.

I think Panera is the perfect combination of light noise but no recognizable lyric or music, and having living souls around me.

So I get up, check email and stop by the lair, then I clean up and I'm out of here. I got my first laptop in October and I've written more since then than I've written in two years. Writing out has become my ritual, I guess.

I go to Panera because they have free wifi. But I try to hit their slow times so I'm not hogging a table during their rush.

I write at Barnes & Noble sometimes too if it's early or late in the day.

The thing about our Panera is they have these easy chairs right by the fireplace. I can put my drink on the chair-side table, my feet up on the hearth, and that's where I write best. I swear. I'm not quite certain why that works. I always figured I'd need a table and a desk-type surface, but I don't. I write best in that wing chair with my feet near the fire.

Hmmm...Maybe I'm literally holding my feet to the fire--and metaphorically too!

Congrats Jo on the GR. Take him to the coast will ya? Maybe I can watch waves crashing vicariously through him.

jo robertson said...

Yes, Donna, we've been having great weather, cold but sunny -- forties and fifties, although today the sun's been teasing us a little.

Buffie, that's too funny about your husband joining you in your shopping ritual! Hoping he gets that job :-D.

I love hearing all about the writing rituals. I really like the flexibility my laptop gives me.

Susan, you are so disciplined! I CANNOT write until I get the email taken care of -- too tantalizing.

I used to tell my students they couldn't POSSIBLY do homework with the TV or music on because the brain tracks only one or the other. LOL -- they pulled me over to the dark side -- and now I do it too!

Cassondra, our northern California coasts would be chilly right now. Hmmm, wonder if we can nab him for nationals in SF?

Okay, I gotta try this Panera thing. Where can I find one up here, AC?

Cassondra said...

JOmama said:

Cassondra, our northern California coasts would be chilly right now.

That's okay Jo. Don't you have all those nice cliffs and such???? The coasts in Scotland are chilly nearly always! And I love it there. I'm not after the beach--just waves ashing.....have the need to see the ocean. Gotta do it vicariously through the rooster, since he travels WAY more than I do.

Cassondra said...

OOps, that'd be waves CRASHING, not ashing. (evil grin)

Esri Rose said...

Great post, Annie!
I'm sort of an anti-ritualist. I move my laptop around, I work at home, I work at the library. I get out of the house mostly to get away from chores and the cat, who distracts me by her adorableness. But unless I'm someplace quiet, I find myself eavesdropping and not working. And now that there's wifi everywhere, I can spend as much time on the internet as at home. It still looks like work.

Buffie, I hope your hubby gets a job soon!

Eva, hope your surgery goes well tomorrow. I believe certain vitamins can help people recover from surgery more quickly. A quick search would bring it up. I won't be specific, in case I'm wrong or find incorrect info.

Aunty Cindy said...

Welcome to the Lair, Annie! Thanx a bunch for hanging out with us today and thank you Trish for inviting her!

I'm one of those who does NOT like to try and write with music or the TV or talking going on. I can DO IT, esp. if I'm reviewing/ revising/critiquing but I don't like to. Worst case of all is trying to write with the DH underfoot. If he loses his day job (a distinct possibility with looming budget cuts)our relationship might not survive! So my extreme sympathies to you, Buffie and good thoughts that some smart employer will snap your DH off the job market SOON!

Jo-Mama, they just opened a Panera in the shopping center across the street from the Chevy's where we took the GR for Valentine's lunch. Used to be a Walden's bookstore in that space. How's that for irony?


terrio said...

Congrats Jo on the GR and job getting vibes headed in Buffie's direction. Oh, and VOTE FOR TRISH!

Now I have all that out of the way, I love this blog. Growing up Catholic, life is all about rituals. Odd that I'm a person who loves change but I still cling to traditions. I've never tried to write in public since I'm either at work or at home with the muchkin. Single mom means no hubby to take over while I get out.

But not long ago I did some editing at a restaurant on my lunch hour. I was surprised how much I got done and how quickly the time went. I do have a Panera Bread here so I think I might try that over the summer while the little one is gone. Or maybe just take her with me since her Nintendo DS would probably keep her totally focused.

For some reason I don't feel much inspiration at my little desk at home. I think I need to try moving around a bit to find a better place to work. Especially since I don't have wireless at home. Eliminating the Net distractions would probably be a very good idea. LOL!

Jennifer Y. said...


I don't really have any rituals that I can think of...hmmm.

And Jo, take care of the GR...I miss him already!

Jane said...

Hi Annie,
I don't have any writing rituals, but I'm anal about other things. Before I go to bed, I have to pick out my outfit for tomorrow and figure out what kind of breakfast I want to make in the morning. I'm not going to admit any more of my anal habits. Oh, I wanted to say that Finn is one of my favorite heroes.

doglady said...

Congrats on the GR, Jo!!! Way to go! Hey there, Annie. I live in the boonies, but when I go to my Mom's my BFF and I definitely hit Panera. I don't think I could write there because I manage a bakery and the smell of baking bread makes me think of the DDJ (dreaded day job!)

I do have to have music to write. Very British, very "classical" to use the universal term. Ralph Vaughan Williams is a favorite. Another part of my writing ritual is the presence of Frodo (chihuahua who thinks he's a rottweiler) and Adelaide (Half dachshund / half basset hound) on my feet as I sit at the computer.

doglady said...

Oh and Buffie, honey, all my prayers and good wishes for your husband to find a really great job ASAP!


Helen said...

Congrats Jo on the GR

Hi Annie great post Ladies I don't think I have any real rituals but I am a creature of habit like things to be in routine and if things don't go that way everything seems to go wrong. This Panera sounds wonderful don't think we have them here in Australia maybe one day I will get there and be able to go there.

Buffie I have everything crossed for you.

Trish I have already voted you go girl.

Have Fun

Annie said...

You bandits are all so friendly! Hey there, Cassondra! Waving back at ya from TN!! And what fun to think about how we work, and how come we have no idea why. Aren't we an odd bunch... Or worse, perfectly normal.

jo robertson said...

Yikes, AC, I just checked out the calories on Panera's stuff. Do we dare try it? And I remember when that was a book store.

Cassondra, you're right. GR would LOVE the coast; he's got feathers to keep him warm and it's beautiful in a wild sort of way.

Okay, turning TV on now so I can complete my writing ritual. LOL

Trish Milburn said...

I like to write in different places, but it's the oddest thing that I don't write on my manuscripts at my desk. I write on my laptop -- sitting in a recliner, sitting in bed, at the dining room table, at Panera, at the library (like today). I tend to write freelance articles, do e-mail and Internet stuff on the desktop computer, just not write.

Thanks so much for all the AT votes! You all are a great bunch of cheerleaders.

So, Annie, what did you get done at Panera today? :)

Annie said...

Ha ha, Trish. Bet you thought the answer would be...nothing. But lo and behold my ritual worked. At least for an hour or two. I completed a scene I'd been haveing trouble with! Unfortunately, I have no idea what I'll be doing tomorrow. Probably staring at that screen, hoping no one notices there's nothing on it...

Anyway, I'm off to bed. Us old farts need our sleep. Thanks for inviting me to post. It was great fun entering the lair and hanging out with you guys. Hope you'll invite me again one of these days. And in the meantime, stop by my website and say howdy.

Take care one and all, and good luck with the writing. And the rituals.

See you in a few days, Trish!