Writing Rituals Ain’t Universal by Victor Giannini

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

A question that constantly goes both answered and unanswered, is “how” to write.  Specifically, how to sit the hell down and actually get to the writing part of writing.  No more head stuff, time to grab the pen or … well keyboard.  Now, everyone has his or her own little ritual.  Recently, the question came up for me, so I looked back to my ritual from 3 years ago, just to see how much I have, or haven’t, changed.  At the time I was limited to distilling the ritual to my favorite number, 3.

What follows are exactly what I wrote back then.   Thus, when I was 26, my 3 rituals to actually sit my ass down and write were:


Pic by Victor Giannini

1. Get Drunk as Hell

I do whatever it takes to make my heart spill open and pour all over the floor.  Often times this means staying up really late and chain smoking, getting drunk, or indulging in some other mind opening … thing.  Like meditation.  Sure, I can be sober for this, but sometimes I want to just jump the gun and trigger it.  I get in my narrators head and just type, type, type.  No filters, no point, just pouring everything onto the screen (page), rambling maniac.  If I’m trying to understand my characters, I pretend I’m them.  Acting out scenes and taking turns playing the scene from the point of view.

Because many of my characters are mentally unstable and violent, I often have to make sure I’m home alone.  Now this next part is essential.  When you wake up, or a few days later, when you have some distance and are in the right mind, tear this previous work apart, find the heart in it, find the action, the fun, and then grow up and  write it like a professional.  Rewriting is the key to everything, and for that, I must be beyond sober.  Super focused, maybe, caffeinated beyond doctor’s recommendations.  But I need to do this, concentrate on every word, how that word feels with the preceding and succeeding ones, the rhythm of sentences, and above all, make sure my manic stupidity did translate into some truth for the story, characters, and theme.  Because goddamn, despite what you do after midnight in your underwear with a bottle of whiskey, you are still a goddamn professional!


2. Read to Hostages

            If you have someone you can read to, do it.  Read your work out loud over and over.  Use different voices.  Read to different people.  Guilt them if you must, put a (fake) gun to their head, or … best case scenario, find a friend, fan, or lover, who wants this.

You’ll quickly find out what works and what doesn’t, both in sentence structure, pacing, mood, character.  Have someone read your work to you, see if they intuitively pick up on how to read the character’s voices just from the text.  Hear your work, and it’s like looking at a drawing upside down in a mirror.  You will “see” much more than just reading it to yourself.  Also, if you write on a computer, print it out, bring to the beach or somewhere where you can’t edit it, and read it in a new environment.  Reading out loud lets you know where a comma should be, when a sentence is too long, when dialogue is stiff or unnatural, or if transitions are needed.  Related to this… revise like all hell.  Rewrite over and over and over until you nailed it the emotion to the wall and nothing is left, not even the sticky mess left by the corpse you pulled it from.

3. Relax, Don’t Force It

       This is contrary to almost all the writing advice that I’ve ever gotten, but unless I am revising a piece, in which case I WILL force myself to regularly work on something like it’s a 9-5, I do NOT force myself to write.  If I’m not feeling something inside me that I have to write then and there, on a napkin, shaved into a  pets back, or on my own arm, then fuck it.  If my story needs to touch a reader’s heart, or disturb them, comfort them, panic or make them laugh, I don’t actually go looking for it.

I just live my stupid life, making choices that are sometimes questionable, but always recording the experience in my head for future reference.  Later, when real life becomes a memory it mutates into a story, told in a bar or recited within your head as you blast down the highway.  Maybe a person you met, a place you’ve never been to… anything, you know, that whole “write what you know” shit.

When it finally clicks, when something needs to get on the page, then sitting down and writing it will be like running to a toilet while choking back vomit.  It becomes vital, more important than anything else I’m doing.  Until that hits, I don’t beat myself up for not writing every single day.  I know some people do.  They have more adult, more regimented routines.  I save that for other aspects of my life.  For writing, art, any kind of expression, I need to let go and just … do.  If I’ve learned anything worthwhile since then, I’ll have the good sense to go back and, you guessed it, REVISE!


Okay, so we’re back.  Having read that now myself (from right over your shoulder, don’t turn around), how much has changed?  Not a hell of a lot.  I don’t need any outside force or substance to let myself go and act out a role, or just pour unhindered thoughts all over my screen, trusting that in the morning I’ll pick and choose what I need.  So … I get drunk less often for first drafts, if ever at all.

That’s it.  What are your writing rituals?  Limit it to 3, and let me know below.  Maybe you’ll have something I never tried, and it might work better for me now.  Then I can steal it.  Trust me, I’ll thank you later.  And if any of my stupid advice helps you with your own daily (or not daily, in my case) ritual, then just give me 5 bucks every time you use it, and we’ll call it even.

  1. theflojomojo says:

    I’m trying my hand at local open mics again. Yeaaaah, hostage!

  2. victor says:

    That’s the best kind! And one of the bravest to take on. But I know you, you can take it 🙂

  3. Victor, I think your third ritual is the one I most often use. After all, to quote Bukowski, “if it doesn’t come bursting out of you / in spite of everything, / don’t do it.” I’ll offer two rituals of my own, since I’m “borrowing” one of yours:

    1. “Begin and Begin Again and Again” – This ritual entails writing the first line, or lines, of a poem or story, and then, writing the first line, or lines, of another poem or story, and then, writing the first line, or lines, of another poem or story, and so on, until I find one that I can continue writing straight through to the end, or at least beyond the first page. Not only does this help alleviate “writer’s block,” if and when I experience it, it also creates a cache of new projects that I can return to writing whenever that next line, stanza, scene, or ending comes to me.

    2. “The Multiverse” – This is a ritual inspired by scientific theory of the same name, which, loosely defined, describes the existence of an infinite number of universes that incorporate all that exists and could possibly exist. I implement this theory into my second writing ritual. This is most useful when I already have a character in mind, or at least one element of story that I may use as a sort of constant. I take that character and place him or her in a variety of different situations, changing certain variables and sustaining others as I go along. This, again, allows me to break through any blocked moments, imaging my character outside of the world I created, in other universes that I make up on the fly. I use the word “universes” loosely here because I don’t always have to change the entire universe that my character lives in. Sometimes, just changing small details of the immediate environment are all that is needed. Still, it is fun to take a deli clerk, from a Long Island suburb, and place him in an eatery in a universe where words are food and people are sustained by listening to long speeches and diatribes.

    Hope someone gets some use out of my rituals.

  4. victor says:

    Thanks for the Bukowski reference, I love that guy. Buying little coffins for ants, trying to steal monk ears … I might try out your number 2 for one of my stories (gosh that sounds weird). I often have characters or relatives of characters inhabit other stories, sometimes other timelines and worlds, but usually as minor or background characters.

  5. Tracy says:

    I once tried your number 1, and the next day, discovered I created a new language.

    Yes, it’s definitely said that all writing is rewriting. Your number 2 Hostage Reading I’ve been doing without quite realizing – now I know why the hubby and children break out in sweat whenever I’ve had a really good writing day. Thanks for the insight.

    Your number 3 I struggle with, more so out of the guilt that I should be writing, and not devouring my Netflix Queue. However, when I can no longer take the guilt, or stomach yet another episode of Basketball Wives, I do force myself to sit down and start writing, even when I have no idea where it’s going to lead me. For these moments I use paper and pen, so that I have the freedom to explore without feeling married to the words I put to page. During these periods I tend to explore my characters and their worlds through free-writing and character sketching. Dominick, I’ll definitely have to try your number 2 here.

    When I begin the 1st draft of a new script or project I force myself to complete at least 5 handwritten pages a day. It may not seem like a lot, but of course, there are those days that I go beyond the five pages. I don’t remember where I read it, but someone wrote that they tried to stop the day’s writing without completing their last thought/idea in order to pick it up the next day – so that they had something to look forward to, to drive them. Some days this works for me, and on others the words on the page suck so bad I have no idea where to pick up. By writing just 5 pages a day I find that I’m less anxious about getting the writing done, and that 5 pages do add up rather quickly.

    Once the 1st draft is completed, I try my darnedest to put it away, maybe even pull out a previous project and begin revising that. Once I’ve put a bit of emotional distance between me and the script/project, I take it out and begin typing it up on the computer, where I find that I change quite a bit – sometimes because I can’t quite read my handwriting. As all writing is rewriting, again I let it sit and then attack.

  6. Flush says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Poker. Regards

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