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How Writers’ Rituals Can Support or Sabotage Our Work.


by Sarah Welch



Grab your coziest blanket, light your best candle, brew some hot tea in your favorite mug, and turn on that perfect playlist. What better time than the beginning of fall to talk about rituals? Maybe it’s the cooler weather, the back-to-school routines (and supplies!), or the holiday traditions we know are just around the corner. Whatever it is, something about fall just feels like the perfect time to really lean in to our favorite rituals. These may include sitting down with a cup of coffee and a book on Sunday morning, enjoying an after-school hot chocolate with the kiddos, making the next day’s to-do list before closing the computer each night, or taking the dogs on extra-long evening walks to take advantage of the cooler temperatures.


And, of course, there are the rituals we create around our writing. Like athletes who wear the same lucky underwear for every game or refuse to shave their beards during playoff season, writers tend to be lovers of ritual. And while these rituals can be powerful tools, I also think they tend to be a double-edged sword. Let’s look at how writing rituals can either support or sabotage our work.


Support

Many authors believe firmly in following certain routines—sometimes simple, sometimes complex—to put themselves in the right headspace to write. Charles Dickens is said to have been one of those authors:


“First, he needed absolute quiet; at one of his houses, an extra door had to be installed to his study to block out noise. And his study had to be precisely arranged, with his writing desk placed in front of a window and, on the desk itself, his writing materials—goose-quill pens and blue ink—laid out alongside several ornaments: a small vase of fresh flowers, a large paper knife, a gilt leaf with a rabbit perched upon it, and two bronze statuettes (one depicting a pair of fat toads dueling, the other a gentleman swarmed with puppies).”


And so is Haruki Murakami:


“When he is writing a novel, Murakami wakes at 4:00 A.M. and works for five to six hours straight. In the afternoons he runs or swims (or does both), runs errands, reads, and listens to music; bedtime is 9:00. ‘I keep to this routine every day without variation,’ he told The Paris Review in 2004. ‘The repetition itself becomes the most important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.’”


Prewriting can be another powerful author ritual. Whether we write Morning Pages to get our brains going every day or start with exercises to help us overcome writer’s block or hone our author voices, warming up by writing “around” or our stories can help us unlock sticky scenes and get us into productive mindsets for those long stretches of writing time.


Sabotage

There’s certainly something to be said for these rituals and dedicated writing spaces. They can help us clear our minds of whatever else is going on in our lives and gear up for the task at hand. But can writing rituals backfire, too? E.B. White certainly thinks so:


“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”


The rituals we’ve talked about are great for authors who have long stretches to time to work: those for whom writing is a full-time job or who are on writing retreats or who have schedules that permit them to carve out several hours a day to work on their craft. These support structures can become sabotage, however, when authors are relying on smaller chunks of time here and there to make progress on their manuscripts between other commitments (as so many of us are).


When we get fussy about getting ready to write or being in exactly the right place with exactly the right kind of coffee, we start to miss out on opportunities to make progress. If you’ve got forty-five minutes to write between dropping the kids off at school and heading to the office, but it takes you thirty to get through your prewriting routine—or if you find yourself with spare time on the road but can’t bear to write away from your perfectly arranged desk—you’re missing out.


I’m a big lover of writing rituals, myself, and I look forward to some candle-and-Spotify-fueled writing sessions with my favorite notebook this fall. But I also know that I frequently fall into that sabotage trap, so while I’m planning to spend the season enjoying my rituals, I’ll be working on building flexibility into my writing practice, as well.


What about you? What routines help get you in the right frame of mind to write? And how do you balance the security of routine with the flexibility that helps you stay productive under any circumstances?


Sarah Welch is the book editor and writing coach behind Inkdrop Lit. She works with independent authors to develop and perfect their stories, polishing them so they’ll move readers in all the right ways. In every engagement, Sarah strives for a collaborative, uplifting process that leaves authors feeling empowered and confident. (Website | Instagram)