Having devoted a large portion of my life to tennis, I am quite familiar with the idea of creating a ritual before a match or a serve to help me get into the mindset for the game, and as I began to become more dedicated to writing, I carried that practice over with me. One of the most difficult parts about writing that nobody mentions to you is pure mental perseverance.The truth is, sometimes we really aren’t in the mood to write, and that’s okay. There are days we feel uninspired or unworthy, and even the most seasoned writers face this challenge. But what matters is how we face that challenge, and what sets us apart is that we choose to overcome this challenge and choose to do so everyday. I have found the best way to do this is with a writer’s ritual.
When I set out to write the first draft of my novel, I figured the hardest part would be writer’s block or a lack of inspiration, but after only a week of daily writing I found the biggest challenge to be the voice inside my head telling me there was no time to write or that today just “wasn’t my day” and that “tomorrow would be better.” Somehow back then I managed to push myself each day to write without a consistent ritual, but this past year when I challenged myself even further by juggling three different writing projects, I knew I needed to get serious about my daily writing routine.
Writing rituals are important because with enough repetition they will come to trigger your mind into going into “writing mode,” sort of like Pavlov’s dog. This mode is important because as you may know, not every day is going to be a good writing day, so you must trick your mind into thinking it is. Additionally, I’ve found that when you feel you’ve hit a wall and your ritual isn’t working one day, sometimes straying from the ritual for a day opens up a world of creativity that would not exist had you floundered about between fifteen different “routines.”
While usually the idea of developing a habit seems drab and cumbersome, creating a ritual is fun! Just like in storytelling, you give meaning to the ritual and routines you choose to make your own. There doesn’t need to be a reason to why you choose certain things save that maybe you like the smell of amber or wish your stories sounded like Chopin. The possibilities are endless, and just like your writer’s voice, no routine is like your own.
Now – read on for more guidelines on finding your ritual and a free worksheet to help you solidify it!
SHUT THE DOOR
Stephen King said it and I’ll say it again – just shut the door, at least when you’re writing. Don’t get me wrong – there have been days when I can write my best work in a loud coffee shop and my worst work alone in my bedroom, but these moments are extremely rare. Shutting the door is your way of “going to work.” Other people make long commutes to office buildings that are each enclosed in their own space, and why should you be any different? But of course, if you find that reasoning to be poor, consider the fact that not only are there less interruptions with a closed door, but that when your door is shut there is no one there to judge you should you find yourself clicking through old photos of your childhood crush on Facebook for thirty minutes. Granted, I find that when I’m alone in my room, free of any tempting offers from my roommates to hang out, mindless Internet surfing happens less, especially when I incorporate turning off wi-fi into my routine.
PREPARE THE ATMOSPHERE
Though I do not organize my room according to the laws of Feng Shui, I’m a big believer in atmosphere and how it affects mood, specifically the idea that “If you want to organize your thoughts, organize your room.” While your room does not have to be spotless, especially because some people thrive in a messy room, it is a good idea to prepare the space you’re working in how you please. This idea goes along with the “shut the door” philosophy mentioned above. It’s about creating a space that’s yours and that will aid your ritual. Your ritual should be so tied to your location that should you try and execute it elsewhere, you would feel very strange.
Make your own personal writing ritual with my free worksheet!
ENGAGE THE SENSES
At its core, I believe the writer’s ritual to be about physicalizations – engaging with the material and physical world so as to prepare your mind for the creative process. While that might sound a bit quixotic to some, I have found that using queues like sound and smell really help stimulate my mind before writing. My favorite way to do this is by lighting an incense and playing classical music, then to sit at my desk. I like to create different classical playlists that evoke the different moods of the pieces I’m writing as well as attributing a certain scent to each piece. I always use incense because I tend to use candles for reading and when I have friends over, so I like to differentiate my “creative work” object from those of leisure by using something separate. It’s all in my head of course – but that’s exactly my point. Some people can only write in their bed or with a cup of coffee by their side, it makes no matter so long as it works for you!
CREATE AN ORDER
This final attribute is what solidifies your ritual. There is something magical that happens when one does the same thing in the same order over and over again. When I was writing the latest draft of my novel this past spring, I found that if I were to light an incense and then play my music just as I opened my document, I could knock out nearly 500 words in fifteen minutes without thinking. The effect was absolutely hypnotic, so that every time afterwards when it occurred, my belief in the process was further solidified. While of course it was all mental, I felt that if I were to say, play music before I lit my incense, it would be like executing the final steps of a project before I’d even purchased the necessary supplies. It is because of this experience that I put just as much emphasis on the order of your ritual as I do the items themselves.
You’ll notice I made no mention of schedules or time. As a former college student, having a consistent schedule was nearly impossible so I was forced to adapt and learn to write at all different times of the day. Therefore the purpose of this ritual is so that you may stimulate your mind into a creative place whenever you can, be it morning or night. Some people need to clock in their writing time at the same time everyday – and that’s fine. But having written a book and two screenplays at varying times every day for three months straight, I can assure you that the notion that you must write at the same time every day is absolutely mental.
And that’s just how it should be.
Nail down your ritual with my free worksheet. Just fill in the form below!
Did you create a ritual? Let me know the aspects of your ritual below? Then go set some S.M.A.R.T. goals that you can use with your new approach to organization!