I don’t need no stinking writing ritual!
I was a firm believer in the free-spirited artist ideal. I would write when inspiration struck. I would produce great works with my freedom. I would live the dream. I would be…
That didn’t work out so well.
I admit, I still harbor a small fantasy of being a free-spirited artist who doesn’t need such things. But when I wrangle my irrational monkey brain and rope her to a chair, I see the truth. I do need a writing ritual, stinking or otherwise.
Why a Ritual?
When I decided to set a writing schedule, I researched other writers’ routines. I lost myself at the Writing Routines website for hours. While doing that I noticed most writers had pre-writing routines or rituals. I discovered Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. Add to this all the exploration I already did to set up my morning routine (maybe one day I’ll finish a blog on that), and I was convinced I needed a writing ritual.
After some inner debate, I decided to call this routine a ritual.
A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
I like the weight of it. Routine is for the morning when I’m still evolving from sleep. A ritual is for something important.
I could fill the rest of this blog post with links about the science of habits, with many focused on morning routines. I particularly love Tiny Habits® from BJ Fogg, PhD and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. Too often, I discounted the importance of baby steps. What’s the use, right? Turns out, tiny progress is still progress. Those proverbs about eating elephants and moving mountains weren’t so dumb after all.
Years of pilots performing pre-flight checklists to reduce error also shows routines work, particularly those written in checklist form. Space flight, doctors, hospitals, and the military all use routines. While my writing isn’t as important as a plane full of passengers, I can still use the tried and true methods of success used by these important industries.
Building A Ritual
When I map out a routine, I start with the basics. The experts say triggers or cues are the foundation for building habits,
so I picked something I do every day at about the same time–walk the dog.
- Walk Dog – Tiko has an internal clock that demands a walk every day at 1:00. This will have to change as we experience our first South Carolina summer, but as I establish this new ritual, the dog walk works as my trigger.
- Lunch – Next is lunch, because I’m not so good at eating it, which you wouldn’t guess by looking at me. When I skip lunch, I am ravenous about halfway through my writing time. No good, so lunch goes on the list.
- Bathroom – To avoid interruptions of the biological kind, bathroom is on the list too.
- Water/Coffee/Tea – If you’re as undisciplined as I am, you’ll use thirst or tiredness as an excuse to take a break from writing and go get a drink.
- Clean Desk – As I addressed in my Minimalism Helps Writing post, a clean space opens me up for creativity. If I have a desk full of distraction, my monkey brain will use it.
- Gather Materials – Nothing keeps the “butt in chair” better than having everything I need at the ready.
- Background Sound – I love that the kids in my neighborhood play outside every day, but I do get easily distracted, so background sound takes care of that. It can also set a mood when I’m imagining scenes. I love the Naturespace app so much, I made it one of my writing rewards. I also love David Darling’s Dark Wood album and any other moody cello music.
- Review ToDos/Goals – Good for keeping myself on track.
- Light Candle – Since scent is strongly associated with emotion and memory, I chose a particular candle to kick off my writing time. I figured adding a little Pavlovian influence to this routine couldn’t hurt. I consider this the most ritualistic and important part of the routine.
- Meditate – In my perfect ritual, I would do this. I have yet to do this.
Since finalizing this ritual to a point where I would write on a card to tape in my bullet journal, I have completed it exactly zero times. That’s even if I pretend “meditate” isn’t there. The scope of the list is probably too great, I admit. Like everything in life, it’s a work in progress. I’ll keep walking my dog and lighting my candle. For now, that’s enough.