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Back in the day, before we had kids, when I was writing my most productively (if not my most skillfully) I had a writing ritual. Every day after lunch I would cut two small slices of lime. I would squeeze the juice from one slice into a tall glass, fill the glass three-quarters of the way full of ice, drop the second slice of lime on top of the ice, and then fill the glass with Diet Coke. I’d carry my glass up to my attic office, set it on the coaster next to my monitor, and pull my three-pound box of Swedish Fish from the second drawer of my desk. Then I would write. And chew and sip.
Ten years later, I know that Diet Coke is the devil, and that the combination of acid and sugar was destroying my teeth, and that artificial sweeteners are terrible for your liver and your metabolism, and that Swedish Fish, as much as I love them, are not my friends. Particularly if I’m going to spend all afternoon sitting.
But I miss my Diet Coke with lime and Swedish Fish. A lot.
I understand the psychology of the habit. The caffeine kept me alert and focused, the sugar and the sipping and the chewing sedated my anxiety so I could relax enough to write. The ritual signaled to my brain that is was time to write. Those aren’t bad things. So I’ve been searching for a new ritual that won’t rot my teeth, make me fat, or kill me.
The search is not going well.
I tried sugar-free gum for a while, but not only did it not work, but it turns out the artificial sweeteners in sugar-free gum have some unpleasant side effects for people who are susceptible, and I’m susceptible. I tried iced tea. It’s just not the same. Hot tea. Slightly better, but that attic is hot May through October, so hot tea is not very appealing. A walk down the block to the coffee shop to get Chai tea lattes with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice. Those were wonderful. And ridiculously fattening, and ridiculously expensive, and I did the math—at five bucks a pop I’m going to need to sell a lot of books to make that habit break even. And I’ll need a gym membership, too. I went healthy and smart: cashews and almonds and green tea. Just no.
I know this isn’t just me. I’ve known a writer who worked with Pepsi and Sour Patch Kids by her side. I know another with a Goldfish Cracker habit. Hemingway drank, right? Elmore Leonard called smoking part of his “habit of writing.” He was a more productive writer when he smoked, so he smoked. And I think Elmore Leonard rocked, but I’d like to live another sixty years or so in this body, so I am putting down the sugar and aspartame.
I’m picking up a new healthy writing ritual this year, like Jude Deveraux, who I once read spent her mornings hiking and plotting and her afternoons writing. I would totally do that. Except there are dogs. I’ve mentioned my thing about dogs before, right? And every time I think I’m overreacting, another story pops up of someone getting eaten by dogs or bears or coyotes, and we have coyotes now, they’ve been eating the neighborhood cats. And I’m short. It’s best to be cautious.
See? This is why I need sugar. And caffeine. And why I really kind of miss aspartame. And those little wedges of lime, that made the Coke just the right amount of tart, and looked so pretty in the drink. And the frosty glass. And the clinking ice cubes. And the big yellow box of chewy red swedish fish hidden in my desk drawer, which totally lasted me a week or two. (It’s not like I pigged out on them or anything.) But I’m going to be smart. I’m going to be healthy. I’m going to be a new me this fall, with a new writing ritual, and a manuscript that totally gets finished.
I miss my Diet Coke with lime and my Swedish Fish.