When I was in college, I took 18 credits and worked 3 jobs, leaving little to no time for writing. Homework and fiction were done any chance I got: on the train, on lunch hours, at the laundromat or standing in line at the grocery store. Now that I'm out of school and only work two jobs (writer and swim instructor), my schedule is more flexible and my workspace is more ideal.
But the more time I have, the more picky I am about how, where and when I write. Before, I grabbed any free moment, no matter where I was, but now, if my workspace is not ideal, I find myself less productive. When I'm working on the first draft, in that place where I'm imagining and creating, I find myself drawn to the local cafes and diners, someplace that's quiet, but not too quiet. I prefer working on my Alphasmart or handwriting, finding that the words come more freely without the daunting blank screen or the little red squiggly lines from the spell check. When I'm editing, like now, I'm glued to my dining room table with my laptop, a pot of freshly brewed coffee by my side. Reading is done in the comfy black chair in the living room with a bowl of M&M's or trail mix. I write first thing in the morning and read in the afternoon, knowing that I become less productive as the day moves on.
Writing isn't like any other job: it works the creative part of the brain, the imagination, something that most people can't just "turn on". I've heard so many writers say that they "wait for inspiration", but if you want to make a career as a writer, you don't have time to wait. It's not really about forcing yourself to be creative, it's about training yourself to turn it on on a regular basis. To many, my need to write in a certain environment in a certain time of day is just a manifestation of my extreme neurosis or OCD tendencies. But to me, it acts as a trigger, a signal to my brain that it is time to write, time to create.
The big problem I tend to have is what happens when the work conditions aren't ideal. If I need to run an errand in the morning or go into work, I find it difficult to get my writing done later in the day. I have to remind myself that it's mostly psychological, that just because it's later doesn't mean the day is lost. The work still needs to be done. Everyone talks about how good it is to have a writing routine, but seldom do they mention how difficult it is to be effective when the routine is broken. I still sit in front of the computer or head to the cafe down the street, but the words tend to be labored and don't flow like they do when I'm on schedule.
Enough about my neurosis. What about yours? Do you have a chair, a food, a writing utensil that you absolutely "have to have" in order to write effectively? Are the rituals purely psychological or is it true that you write better when everything is just so?