Earlier in this blog I posed a chunk of my “acid western,” a piece of genre fiction that I wrote for my senior thesis at the undergrad division of New School University. It takes place in the California Gold Rush, and, in it, the ostensible villain has a mouth full of gold teeth that glint every time he speaks. I can’t remember where this idea came from, but where it went is a pretty funny story, and one that pretty firmly speaks to the idea of writers and superstition.
Like most writers, I have my writing tokens. Little things that reaffirm me as a writer or that help me get through difficult deadlines or help me focus my concentration on getting the job done. They’re generally have no logical rhyme or reason, but have significance to me personally. Some in the past have been: a piece of selenite , a rubber starfish and an orange manual typewriter.
I didn’t make up this idea. In the wonderful movie about writing, Wonder Boys, Michael Douglas’ character wears a pink bathrobe every time he writes. It’s a concept akin to the sport’s fan’s lucky jersey. You wore it that time your team won. Now you have to wear it every time your team plays, or they might lose. No, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t matter! You do what you have to as a fan…and as a writer.
The Gold Grill joined my collection of writing tokens one day when I was trying to meet a deadline on my senior thesis. Instead of taking the typical course of having a faculty adviser, I had applied for and been accepted to a class called Writing for Publication. We worked with a mentor from the writing industry while, once a week, sitting in on a class where we talked about nothing but how difficult it was going to be to actually have a career as a writer. The experience was both simultaneously stimulating and daunting. And one day shortly before meeting with my adviser, I was behind on my thesis writing and daunted.
I took a break from my work to go wash my clothing at the laundromat down the block (yes, doing laundry was considered a break while working full-time and going to college). While I was there I saw it. A gumball machine that was selling my new writing token. The Gold Grill.
I had to have this grill. It would help me get in touch with the villain. The problem was, there was more than gold grills in that machine. There were also platinum grills. And my main character in the piece I was writing had a gold grill. And I was doing my laundry so I only had a limited amount of quarters and it was past last wash so they wouldn’t give me any more. But I needed that grill.
I took a chance with two quarters. I got a platinum grill.
I was so angry. I sat at my computer with the grill in my mouth thinking how much easier the writing would be if it had only come out gold. I took it out and I put it by my writing tokens–the selenite, the starfish. It sat there winking at me, platinum, not gold.
But between putting the stupid thing in and out of my mouth and onto and off of my desk, I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote.
All right, so my token wasn’t actually a gold grill. But it focused my attention through annoying the hell out of me. If I was angry that my grill was platinum and not gold, I couldn’t be angry at my story for not working out right, my characters for not writing themselves, or myself for not being the writer I wanted to be. It was like when my orange Olympiette typewriter jammed and I had to work on in spite of it. It was like when I really didn’t like the class I got my starfish in (little rubber animals were actually given out at the end of the semester by the professor as writing tokens), but I wrote for it anyway. Not every writer’s token’s work this way, and not all of mine work this way (the selenite is a healing crystal, damnit!), but that’s how the Gold Grill worked its magic.
It also made me commit to the task at hand, get over myself and it helped me get my writing done.
And that, somehow, magically, superstitiously is what all writer’s tokens do. They make you write.