Writing Superstitions

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Many famous authors have been ruled by strange superstitions.

John Steinbeck needed to have twelve sharpened pencils on his desk, as he wrote his drafts in pencil. Edith Sitwell claimed that laying in an open coffin before she started writing, helped to clear her mind and give her focus—it would certainly be a good way of reminding her of the passing of time and to get on with writing her poetry!

Truman Capote avoided beginning or ending a manuscript on a Friday. Carson McCullers, author of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, needed to wear her favourite jumper when she wrote, as she believed that it brought her luck. Isabel Allende, the Chilean-American novelist, always begins writing a new work on January 8th.

Some authors are fearful of the number 13, taking care to avoid have thirteen words in a sentence or thirteen pages in a chapter. Other writers refuse to give a title to their new book, until they've typed The End. J. K. Rowling claims that this is her only writing superstition.

It's a wonder that I'm not burdened with superstitions, for when I was growing up, my older relatives believed the whole gamut of superstitions about black cats, peacock feathers in the house, walking under ladders and spilling salt—to name but a few. Some of this belief may have derived from having gypsy ancestors of the Parsee community and the Romany people.

There's a fine line between superstition and the quirky writing habits that assist us. For instance, I never do any creative activities connected to my WIP on a Thursday, which I treat as my weekend, for it's when I get paid and I go out to the shops and library. I work every other day on my writing, and having one day a week off helps me to contemplate my progress.

Also, when actually writing new material, I don't push myself beyond a point where I'm starting to run out of ideas of where to go next. I certainly could, but I don't see writing as an endurance race, with a 'wall' to push through. But, I've never been in thrall to chasing a large daily word count. I once wrote 6,666 words in a day, which looked a bit demonic (perhaps I'm more superstitious than I thought! :eek:), but I ditched 2,000 words as rubbish and it took so long to rework the remainder, that I determined to write in a more considered way in the future.

Anthony Trollope claimed that: 'Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.' I'm finding this to be the case, with my WIP, though, I also do a couple of hours of editing and fact checking. I'm always more creative from 6:00 pm onwards, though that's not a superstition, just me being owlish.

Do you have any superstitions that you're prepared to admit to?

Do any of your family or friends have superstitious beliefs?


Not sure if this qualifies as a superstition, but I never, ever discuss a WIP until it is pretty much done and dusted. Talking about it makes it go away in a huff, so you have to trap it on paper before mentioning it.

Peacock feathers -- in India, I think they are considered lucky. Bit like black cats I suppose -- some say they are lucky, some the converse.
I like black cats but won't keep a peacock feather. Arabic friends certainly viewed these as bad, not good luck. A looney teacher in a college once left one of my mam's windscreen. She was on to him about hitting young students, female ones, police cadets, hitting them on the backside with a rounders bat, and he meant it as a threat, to shut her up pending an investigation. They got rid of him though. The feather did not avail to protect him, so perhaps need not be feared.
No superstitions. Some writing habits, though--my collection of rocks for helping me focus (the caveman's fidget spinner). If I have to write away from my office, I take a few rocks with me. And I never try to start any creative projects after 9pm--doomed to failure at that hour, because I'm a lark (the opposite of @Paul Whybrow).
Um .....

Do you have any superstitions that you're prepared to admit to?

I think I have more superstitions than I personally admit to. Yeah. So, still don't want to admit to them. But, I think, they could be summed up with this phrase -- Leave it be.

Do any of your family or friends have superstitious beliefs?

Well. My brother has so many, I don't bother keeping track. He's competitive and likes to make bets. I believe that's the source of a lot of superstition -- the belief that there's a force which is arbitrating your winning and losing in life, at work, in a football game.

I know writers who write on loose paper, who smoke cigars, who drink while they write.

No one I'm close to has any superstitions except maybe, I suspect, a version of -- don't open the oven too many times, don't over beat the egg whites, don't cut the roast before it rests. Things like that -- maybe.
Peacock feathers are associated with death in the U.K., which may be down to the evil eye on them.

Simply having a bird fly into the house is considered to be a harbinger of someone dying. I wrote a novella featuring a Native American, who knew someone had died by sighting an owl flying over his house.

I've done the double for bad luck, for I once had a peacock stray into my farmhouse. I shouldn't have left the front door open, when I went to the car, for getting the irascible peacock out took several minutes of struggling, during which it broke several ornaments with its flapping wings and raked slashes into the sofa. I eventually controlled it by throwing a blanket over its body. It shat everywhere...and peacocks are big birds!

For all of their beauty, they're also surprisingly aggressive, hunting for small birds, rodents and amphibians. I once saw one stomping the life out of a frog, using its talons and scaly feet, before ripping it apart with a sabre of a beak.

I am stunned to learn that peacocks and their feathers are seen as bad luck. When I was little, I had imaginary peacocks as my imaginary friends. I've been known to put peacock feathers in a vase or basket to add a bit of color to a room. Good thing I'm not superstitious.
Thinking about this thread, I recalled a superstition taught to me as a child, about money spiders.

These are of various species, and are tiny lightweights who get carried on the wind from one place to another. If one lands on you, it's a sign that you're going to come into money—the likelihood is increased by placing the spider on your hand and circling it around the top of your head seven times, chanting "I wish I had money" for each revolution. It's not unusual for the spider to drop into your hair, which leads to baboon-like grooming by a friend trying to find it.

Money Spider

It made me wonder what creature we writers could use to captivate a literary agent or publisher? It would have to be an elusive beast, hard to find due to its camouflage, difficult to keep in captivity and one that rarely spoke...a pygmy chameleon, perhaps!


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Parts of speech walk into a bar