20 Apr

Writing Rituals

Posted in Creativity, DIY MFA, Process, Writing

Today, I’d like to talk about writing rituals–you know, those little things we all do to get us in that writing mood.

What are writing rituals?  They can be anything, as long is it sets the mood for writing.  I read once about a writer who literally wears different hats when she’s writing or editing.  Another writer I’ve heard of lights a candle when it’s writing time.  The writing rituals can be as simple as a turning on your iPod or using a specific pen or notebook.

My writing ritual is that I always use an unlined notebook and a fountain pen.  Something about writing with a fountain pen makes me feel like I’m channeling the great women writers of old, like Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters.  I also have certain playlists I listen to for different projects.  Right now I’m listening to the GLEE soundtracks because I can always use more glee in my life.

Why are rituals important?  Rituals signal to your brain “OK it’s writing time now.”  Just like having a bedtime routine can help kids get in the mindset of going to sleep, writing rituals tell your inner writer that it’s time to get in that writing frame of mind.  Writing rituals are also a great way to pamper your inner writer a little bit.  Scented lotion can be soothing, a pretty potted plant on the window sill can make you smile, a favorite poem or reading passage can inspire the writer within.  Whatever you choose, having a small writing ritual can help set the mood for writing.

What if your ritual becomes too routine?  Every so often, it’s good to shake things up.  Break your routines and do the exact opposite of your writing ritual.  This can be a challenge, because stepping outside our comfort zones can be uncomfortable and scary.  But a healthy dose of fear can be energizing–exciting even–so don’t shy away from breaking your rituals now and again.  Take a risk!

Why it works:  All writing is the act of making rules, then shaking them up.  When we write, we establish rules for our readers and the reader gets lulled into a comfort zone with the story.  When we shake up those rules (give the story structure a twist, introduce a new character, add a new plot element) it gets the readers’ attention.  They sit up and start listening again.  The same is true for our inner writers.  When we shake up our writing “rules” it grabs our inner writer’s attention and helps it engage with the work again.

Homework: If you don’t already have a writing ritual, think of something that would help get you in the writing mood and do it today.  Establish a ritual so that in a couple of weeks, when you break it, your writer will respond.

If you do have a ritual already, I want you to break it today.  Do something outside your routine, something exciting and maybe a little bit daring.  (I know some of you already did this for the first writing sprint, but that was weeks ago and it’s time to shake things up again.)  Remember, it doesn’t have to be a huge change; it can be just one small, meaningful thing.

Please share in the comments because I’m dying to know: Do you have a writing ritual? What is it?  What small thing did you do to break out of your comfort zone today?


Comments on this post

  1. Susannah says:

    I don't have a writing ritual for my WIP, but think I definitely need one. You are right it tells your brain "now we begin." It's rather ironic that I do have rituals for other things – when it's spinning time (yarn, not muscles), I always make a cup of tea and listen to my traditional music playlists. Knitting = tea & a book on tape. At my p/t publicist job, a pot of tea (tea is a big part of my life) and just putting my headphones on is my ritual (the headphones repel coworkers).

    So, this week I'm going to try as my ritual wearing my favorite shawl and a playlist specific to my project. Okay, and perhaps a cup of tea. 😀

    1. Gabriela Pereira says:

      Susannah–Love it! As an avid knitter and tea drinker I can totally relate to those rituals. I never thought of making a favorite shawl a part of my writing ritual but the more I think about it, the more I like that idea!

      Weird knitting fact about Gabi: I have been known to knit things for my characters. Not huge things like sweaters or shawls, but a quick scarf or a hat or something like that. I know this might seem a little bit strange since they aren't real people, but it helps me get into their heads and is a fun thing to do during writing breaks that still keeps me connected to my character on some level.

      1. Alicia Gregoire says:

        I have to sit in the same spot during each session until I develop writer's block, then I move to another place. No matter where I sit though, I have to have a candle lit and a specific playlist going. Oh, and there should always be caffeine, tea, or Focus Vitamin Water.

        1. K.V. Briar says:

          Interesting question. My first thought was that I don't have a ritual. Then I thought some more and realized when its time for serious writing I always scrape my hair back into a tight ponytail (I *always* wear it down and long when I'm not writing) then pull my favorite blanket over my lap and tuck my legs under me indian style. Weird. I guess its so ingrained that I honestly didn't think of it as a ritual.

          1. Kerryn Angell says:

            I don't have a ritual but I do have trouble giving myself writing space without distractions. Perhaps a writing ritual is just what I need to show myself I mean business and this is Writing Time.

            The other great things about writing rituals is that they are portable. You can take some of them out into the big wide world if you're writing outside home and when you need to be flexible with where you work in the home they can sill come along.

            1. Gabriela Pereira says:

              Kerryn — You've definitely got a point about portability, at least for most rituals. (Though, I guess if my ritual was a special writing desk or a specific park bench, I would have a hard time toting that around with me 🙂

              The great thing about writing ritual is that they can be personalized to each writer's needs. A writing ritual can be an object or even just a small action that signals to us that it's time to write.

              K.V. — Love how you discovered the ponytail as your ritual! That's a great example of a small action that sets the tone for writing.

              Great comments everyone! Keep 'em coming!

              1. Ghenet Myrthil says:

                My ritual lately has been to look over my outline to see what's next in my WIP, and read the last few pages I wrote to get myself back into the story. I also put in my headphones, open iTunes/Pandora and turn on Pomodoro!

                1. Samantha Blackwell says:

                  My rituals change with each of my books, but one that stays true for everyone is that I always I make sure that I've check my email and make sure all of my on-line commitments are met. Since I've already checked email for today, I'll break that ritual tomorrow.

                  1. J.C. Martin says:

                    It's not so much a ritual but I tend to work in the same place: with the door shut in the kitchen. And I always work on my notebook because it's got such low specs I can't do anything more than use Word and Google. Any Facebook or Twitter and it starts hanging!

                    Not quite an attempt at shaking things up, but I thought once that I could try and get some writing done on the commute to work, and then 'steal time' by writing during lulls at work. With the time constraints, I was surprisingly productive!

                    1. The Red Angel says:

                      When I write, it's usually way past my bedtime. For some odd reason, I get a lot of my inspiration at night time and am able to scribble down a lot that actually is not nonsense. Perhaps it's the rush of staying up when I'm supposed to be lying down. 😛

                      I also always have to have music on and my quotes book by my side when I write.



                      1. Selena Wolff says:

                        Cup of coffee, lock the door, play some Runestone. Today I took the laptop outside. It does shake things up and it also requires some additional discipline!

                        1. writersedge says:

                          I light an apple spice, gold canyon candle, music is optional, a pen from computers to go along with a spiral bound lined journal for now. I write literally all over, all day. But mainly at my desk, quietly. I have sacrificed playing computer games. I just wish I wasn't so critical and could free-write. Anyone have ideas on how to heal wounds on people crossing your boundaries?

                          1. Paul Anthony Shortt says:

                            I'll sit down at my pc with coffee or a glass of wine (depending on time of day) and light some incense or a scented candle. Then I open up Media Player and select one of my playlists for mood music. I usually assign a few specific theme songs for the book I'm writing and I'll make sure to listen to at least one of those first.

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