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That's Me In the Spotlight, Losing My Religion...
I've been waiting to make a R.E.M. reference for ages, so chalk that up to a daily victory. Anyway, when you hear the word "ritual," you likely imagine cloaked figures and mysterious "Secret Organizations," (though, really, how secret are they if we've all heard of them?).
As much as I'd love to ramble on about Freemason conspiracy theories or the Jonestown Effect, however, that isn't the sort of ritual we're talking about today. Or is it? If human sacrifices and rhythmic chanting get you in the mood to write, I guess we are talking about that kind of ritual. Who am I to judge?
Yes, on this fine day we'll be discussing Writing Rituals (and why you need to have them).
It's More Than a Feeling.
How many song references can I fit into the title headings of this one post? You don't want to know.
Really, though, writing is more than a feeling, and so is inspiration. They're more a series of actions you take and habits you make than a sensation you have.
To put it another way: the more you habituate yourself to the actions of writing, the more inspired you'll be. A lot of people ask me how I write so prolifically, and this is it. "That's my secret, Cap - I'm always inspired." That's because I don't sit around hoping I'll just "feel like writing" at some point. I have a ritual.
Trust me, I know all too well the allure of "waiting until inspiration strikes." I also know from experience that this is a losing game. Guess what? Inspiration is about as likely to strike you at any given moment as lightning. To be productive, you need to make inspiration your b**ch. Pick up the proverbial kite and key, and bring inspiration to you.
Disclaimer: do not, in reality, go out into a storm with a kite and key. Ben Frank was an absolute mad lad and his brand is not to be imitated by amateurs.
So, how do you attract that METAPHORICAL lightning? Well, I'm glad you asked...
All The Small Things.
As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Alternatively, you could just drive. The message still stands.
Writing, as a process, begins with a conscious, intent-driven first step. It should be a simple action that is natural for you to take on a day-to-day basis - the idea is to set off a series of other actions with the end result of you, the artiste, creating something.
Yeah. You're gonna Pavlov yourself.
Your writing ritual(s) will be one-hundred-percent your own, but here are a few examples of first steps to get your mind going:
Light a particular scented candle or type of incense
Make a specific kind of tea or coffee
Pick up a pen & journal you associate with creativity (a bullet journal kit like this one works wonders)
Put on a playlist you've crafted for the particular novel, type of writing, or story you want to work on
Move yourself to a new spot, preferably one that already has mental associations with the act of writing
Think of the first step as a signal that tells your mind, body, and soul that it's word-to-page time. As long as this initiating action isn't too challenging or demanding, it'll work. If you have to think very hard about getting up and doing it, you'll be less likely to, well, do it.
Personally, I'm a fan of engaging my senses in order to engage my mind. Emphasize whatever works for you!
You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Author...)
How many times have you had the real estate maxim "location, location, location" regurgitated at you? Is this a ritual chant of suburban culture? Well, as Gen X as it is, the concept applies to writing, too.
You should absolutely have a specific location dedicated to your craft.
What do you associate with "writing?" Is it ink pots and leather-bound journals? Sleek keyboards and blank notepads? Colored pens and spiral-bound pages? Whatever your answers are, try to bring them into the space(s) you write in. It's part of the whole conditioning theme I've got going here.
Do something over and over again, and it becomes a habit. See, feel, hear, or smell something over and over again while doing said activity? Get Pavlov'd, b**ch.
I'm no psychologist, but I'm pretty sure that's how it works, right? Your writing rituals require a ritual place and ritual implements. A sacred blood-altar, if you will. A mysterious and foreboding word-temple, perhaps.
Whatever your brand of "writerly" happens to look like, your workspace ought to reflect that. You walk in and you should already be thinking up dialogue or plotting post intros. (For a classic guide to habit formation and how to build ones that last, check out Atomic Habits by James Clear).
The rest of your steps should feel natural within this space, like paying $12 for popcorn when you're at a movie theater. Maybe the actions don't feel normal anywhere else, but they just make sense here.
(For a helpful post about designing a pleasant workspace, check out this post I wrote on my other blog, Bougie on a Budget).
Baby Got Back (Support).
One thing you can't neglect as an integral part of your writing ritual is physical health. Seriously. Why are so many writers utter goblins when it comes to basic things like posture, hydration, and peeing before our bladders explode?
Don't ask me. I'm not getting paid to answer that kind of question (wait, am I getting paid at all?).
Simple steps like putting on motivating music, using your favorite pens to write scenes, using a particular font to type in, etc. are certainly important. However, I'd venture to say that these kinds of steps ultimately depend upon your corporeal form. My apologies to any disembodied spirit-authors reading this - I'm not trying to be exclusionary.
Do I really need to point out that you're more likely to be productive if you're not dying of thirst? That you'll probably get more done if your face doesn't slam into the keyboard at 10,000 MPH because you only got 3 hours of sleep last night?
Health is a part of the writing process, people - don't let our collective sins in this area fool you.
Your writing ritual begins the second you think, "hMmM, I think I want to write at x time on x day. That would be a Fun Time™." In that precise moment, you should also be thinking, "how can I support the ultimate accomplishment of this Fun Time™?"
Making sure that you aren't going to be writing at 3AM, your laptop screen at full brightness and you folded into your sofa like some kind of demented, nocturnal origami swan, is probably a good start.
Putting a list of reminders on your desk to do things like drink water and eat while you write? Good! Keeping a timer on your phone so you take breaks every hour or so? Also good! Delving full force into a caffeine-fueled nightmare session in which you pop out thousands of words while displaying a callous disregard for human life? NOT GOOD.
I feel strongly enough about this to include this whole section in my post, so that means it must be serious.
Take care of yourselves, people.
It's the End Of the World As We Know It (And That's Why You Need Routines).
Yeah, 2020 is a s**tshow. That hardly needs to be said. And for creatives of all types, this fact has become pretty exhausting.
Sure, some of us thrive on alone time and isolation - to a point. A sad reality of the creative process, however, is that we need actual, real-life experiences to fuel our work. Ew.
It's sort of difficult to have many of these experiences in a studio apartment, or even in a normally-sized family home. Couple that with quarantining alongside family members, working our day jobs from home, and everything else that's come with this 'new normal,' and you can see why the whole thing might take a toll on us.
To remain functional and write during these trying times, we need routines like we need air to breathe. Writing Rituals have never been more important. The Ritual is more than a way to motivate you or get the ball rolling, it's also a way to rejuvenate you while you write.
Whatever your personal rituals are, they should be comforting, pleasant, dependable, and healing. Only you can define the meaning of those things for your own self. When developing your ritual, you should place your purpose and joy at the very center.
Even productivity itself takes a back seat to your happiness as an artist - don't sit there and force your words to have more meaning than you really want them to. It's okay to just write, or even to decide not to write, for your own private reasons.
My 30 minutes of pilates and the phone reminders I've set to eat breakfast, lunch, and snacks may not seem like they're part of my writing ritual, but they keep my mind stable. My weekly epsom-salt baths and morning planner color-coding sessions are part of it too! Anything that makes me feel happy, centered, and alive is a part of my writing, because my writing comes from me.
So go ahead. Celebrate yourself, my friend. That's where the magic will start to happen.
Writing Rituals are intensely personal and varied. Some of us are more high maintenance about them than others, and that's fine! Be extra, or chill, or eccentric - whatever sets your frame of mind for writing is what will ultimately become the heart of your ritual.
These rituals can last a lifetime, and they're going to be an anchor point for who you are as an artist. Get to know yourself through them. Get to know your art. Treat each step as sacred.
And if you want to wear a black hooded cloak and read from an ancient tome before you sit down to type up a chapter? Well I say go for it. Just make sure you dispose of the bodies properly after your full-moon sacrifice is done.
What are your writing rituals? Let me know in the comments! For another relevant post about building good habits and routines as a writer, check out my previous post, "From Messy to Methodical: How Writers Stay Organized."
Until next time, you crazy kids.