Literary talismans and writerly superstitions

IMG_2415A close-up of my writing desk, and my bowl of Jacaranda seed pods.

Superstition is a funny thing; it creeps up on you. One moment you consider yourself a perfectly rational individual, scowling at those who read horoscopes and place their faith in the power of fate. The next moment, you find yourself adhering to pointless rituals or touching wood at the drop of a hat. I find myself collecting Jacaranda seed pods.

My first novel—the one that I’ve just started to show to people in the vain hope that someone out there will like it and want to publish it— contains an emblematic Jacaranda tree. So, I’ve started to pick up seed pods, in all sorts of condition, on my walks. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe I just like their tactile, organic shapes. Or perhaps I think that if I keep this growing collection on my writing desk something in the universe will help me to find that one person who loves my little story.

Apparently I’m in good company. Many successful writers have superstitions and talismans which help them get on with the business of writing.

Isabelle Allende, one of my favourite authors, begins every novel on the same date: January 8. This was the date she started writing her hugely successful debut novel, The House of the Spirits, so who could blame her.

Truman Capote was apparently unable to ‘think unless [he was] lying down.’ He also had superstitions about beginning or ending a work on a Friday, avoided the number 13 and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray.

Friedrich Schiller apparently kept rotten apples in his desk drawer as the aroma inspired him to write.

J K Rowling will only type the title page of a novel when the entire novel is finished.

The list goes on. For now, I think I’ll keep picking up the seed pods as I see them. As I roll them around in my hand, I’ll imagine the day when I too might be featured on one of those lists of famous authors with superstitious quirks.

By Lisa Kenway

Lisa Kenway is an Australian writer and doctor. Her debut psychological thriller, ALL YOU TOOK FROM ME, is coming in August 2024 from Transit Lounge Publishing. An early version was long-listed for the 2020 Richell Prize. A 2023 Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre fellow, her work has appeared in Island Online, the Meanjin blog, Meniscus Literary Journal and elsewhere. Find her at or on Twitter @LisaKenway.

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