What are your rituals before you write?

When I sit down to write the first thing I do is panic.  “What am I going to write?”  I’ll stress over that for a few minutes. Then I’ll check my email, look at Facebook, the news and reread my last post or two.

Then to focus I’ll often listen to a song on YouTube.  Simon and Garfunkel brings out the poet in my mind so I often start there.  Paul Simon had a way with words that has inspired the poetic side of my mind for years.  Often when I am writing I’ll listen to The Sounds of Silence and my mind slips away from the reality surrounding me and into that place were words swirl and reform.  On a good day these words flow through my fingers into the keyboard to land here on this blog.

There is something timeless in Paul Simon’s words, “Hello Darkness, my old friend,” and onto the end “And whispered in the sounds of silence.”  There is a truth in his narrative and images around light and silence.  It’s a classic use of images – “… turned my collar to the cold …” and steady progression building from darkness to silence.

Recently I stumbled across a cover of this song by the heavy metal band, Disturbed.  Normally I’m not a fan of metal music.  I’ve listened to it, but it’s never something I click on to listen to.  But this time they had a song I loved and I was curious.

I’ve love the original 1964 vision with Simon and Garfunkel’s vocals.  Sung with simple guitars, the haunting song has inspired me for decades.

Disturbed’s version of the song does a number of musical things to the song, but doesn’t change the words.  David Draiman is the lead vocal and sings an octave lower than the original and they added more instruments to the mix – drums, keyboard, more guitars.

Draiman also adds more vocal power to the middle of the song with his voice turning raspy and nearly yelling by the time he gets to “Hear my words that I might teach you.”  His vocal control and range is amazing.  His sensitivity to the needs of the song take the timeless words Simon wrote to a new level of importance.  Disturbed does something great here – taking a classic song to a new level.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been starting my poetry writing sessions with Simon’s words as sung by Draiman.

and that’s how habits shift and new rituals are formed.



Link to both versions:


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Friday Wisdom – Fatherly Talk

Father: What are you going to do today?

Me: I was thinking of getting a haircut.

Father: Why don’t you get them all cut?

More wisdom next week,


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Another Past – Another Future

“Sitting among the remnants of the future.”

That phrase hit my brain and won’t leave.  I wrote about it a couple of months ago (see, when-i-write )

It won’t leave. It hangs in the air, to disturb my fingers on the keyboard and comes unbidden to my thoughts.

Now on my screen are two open editing windows – a poem and a story.  I’ve rewritten the story three times, the poem twice.  Neither are good enough for me, but …

… such is the doubt of a writer – is it good enough?  Perhaps one more edit.  Perhaps a change of voice or shift the point of view.

I wanted to write something else today, but there they are – laying open on the screen, refusing to close.  What keeps my hand from clicking save and close?  In my brain is a picture of a lonely figure in a spacesuit, collapsed against a rock outcropping on an alien world who is looking past the wreckage of a ship to the stars on the horizon.

A picture from my youth and the covers of the old science fiction novels I used to read.  There are times that I wish drawing was my gift.  I’d like to show you this picture. I’d like to commit it to paper, but words are my artist’s tools and I struggle with the right words to show my picture.

Sometimes I use poetry to create an image, a feeling, an emotion.  It seems natural there.  After I wrote the above post, I opened an editor and a poem flowed out.  I’ve cut words, added words – rewritten, but still it’s not exactly the picture in my brain.

Here is the poem as it is today:


Sitting Among the Remnants of the Future

A school year book
A picture from that date
A bridal magazine
A real estate magazine
Those words
That last letter

All in a box, in the shed
What could have been
What should have been

The gift of the past –
the remnant of a future


As a writer, I want these words to form a certain picture in your mind.  I want them to communicate something.  But it doesn’t work that way – not even a picture or a video of the box will say to you what it says to me.  That is the weakness of words.

and there is the dilemma of a writer – is it done? Are my words enough to paint the picture that my brush cannot?

And yet the theme plays there is something just out of reach – just at the edge of my imagination that needs to come out.  The poem isn’t just right.

Approaching the picture from prose, in this case flash fiction, doesn’t change the basic problem.  My ship wrecked traveler comes out sounding like this:


Sitting Among the Remnants of the Future

Captain Troy released the hatch on the burning escape pod, but before she could step back to let the others out she felt a hard shove on her back that sent her tumbling out.  She felt the concussion from the exploding escape pod and started to run.

After two steps she collapsed and started crawling through the red sand to a rock outcropping.  The pain was blinding and she was sweating in her pressure suit.  Reaching the rocks, she let her weight settle on them and the pain subsided enough for her to see the burning escape pod.  The flames were dying down as fuel and oxygen were consumed.  Now Commander Gupta’s last words replayed in her ears.

“Cap, move!”  She could still feel where he punched her in the back.  Looking at her leg, she knew it was broken.  He hadn’t followed her out and the helmeted suit in the hatchway wasn’t moving.  The best shuttle pilot in the Martian Space Corps just died saving his captain.  Troy thought the others must have died in the explosion and fire.

Now she was alone on Proxima Centauri b, looking up at the shooting stars that were once her ship, the MSS Explorer, pride of Mars and the hope for a fresh start on a new world.  4.2 lightyears traveled by 149 scientists, engineers, and adventurers looking to build a new society free from the corruption and despair of Sol.

Was it the Quantum drive shutdown or the orbit entry burn that started breaking up the ship?

“Pressure warning, oxygen warning” came the voice from the suit’s computer.  Looking down at her leg Troy could see blood bubbling through her suit as her remaining air slowly bled into the thin atmosphere.

She felt ground shake as a chunk of Explorer impacted nearby.  Troy watched as the remnants of her future crashed into the dust.


Do you see the same stars as I do?  Do you see the streaks of light in the darkening sky?  Does it tell you what it tells me?

Is it good writing?  Does it say to you what I want you to hear?

In art, in writing, sometimes we never finish.  We just stop working on something and let it go.

Until it disturbs our creativity and the scene shifts.



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Happy Holidays

It’s time for the Christmas break.  I’ll be taking some time with family and won’t be posting for a couple of weeks.

I’m wishing all of you a merry Christmas and all the best for the new year.

Peace to you and yours,


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