Building a Writing Ritual

Set Yourself Up for Success

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

My friend and former classmate, Kim Purcell, recently wrote a terrific piece on building a writing habit. I highly recommend it.

Kim’s article got me thinking about my writing ritual, one I developed after reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Pressfield encourages artists to have a set of behaviors that tell your brain and creative muse, “Let’s do this.”

These days, we can’t go write at our favorite library carrell or cafe. Depending on your life and work circumstances, you also may not be able to write in the same place at the same time every day, as many writers will advise. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create an environment that will allow us to tap into our imagination on a consistent basis.

First of all, think of writing time as a ritual, as goofy as that may sound to you. It really does make a huge difference, and the more seriously you take this process and the more consistent you are, the better it will work. Recall a preparation scene in a movie — just before a battle or a sports event or performance. Be solemn and superstitious about it. Don your armor. Put on those lucky socks.

Theoden dons his armor in Tolkien’s The Two Towers

It’s important to involve as many of your senses as possible in your ritual. It’s good if those specific sensory cues are linked only to your writing process.

Taste: Find a new type of herbal tea that you love, and make yourself a cup to savor while you write. Or buy a really great candy, gum, or other treat that you’ll only sample during your writing sessions. Be strict about this.

Smell: Buy and put on a great cologne or lotion that you’ll only wear when writing. Or burn a special candle or incense. Close your eyes, sniff, and think to yourself, “This is the smell of creativity.” Smell creates some of the strongest associations in the brain, so don’t skip this step.

Hearing: Create and put on a playlist that’s exclusively for writing. Mine has to be ambient and not have words — or at least not have words in a language I understand. I’ve done a lot of experimenting to find music that will encourage my brain to get into the writing groove but won’t distract me.

My father’s medallion is my lucky necklace.

Touch: Choose a piece of jewelry or clothing that you’ll only wear while writing. It could be a hat, a sweater, or a bracelet. I wear a medallion of my father’s. It’s satisfying to rub it between my fingers while I’m thinking. It also has emotional significance for me, because while my father was immensely talented, he was also much more of a dreamer than a doer, and most of his best ideas were never realized. I don’t want that to be me.

Sight: Look at an image that inspires you. Maybe it’s a great painting or other piece of art. Maybe it’s a photograph of your favorite writer. Maybe it’s the scene outside your window. Gaze at your image and think or say out loud, “It’s time to work.” Or, “It’s time to play.” Or, “It’s time to create.” Whatever you choose, make it motivating and encouraging for you personally.

Hildegard of Bingen (middle) writing under heavenly inspiration

Finally, once I’ve involved all my senses and before I begin writing, I say a brief prayer asking for help and guidance. Here’s a list of several patron saints of writing, if that works for you. You could also start with a few minutes of meditation or reading a favorite poem or energizing quote.

Then I open my laptop, click on my work in progress, and begin.

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Novelist, foodie, francophile. Top Writer in Books. My Patronus is our corgi, Moneypenny.

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