Writing Rituals

write3To write you have to sit and…write. That’s it. But for some of us, staying at that desk and writing is hard. There are a multitude of distractions: family, TV, a sunny day. So I’ve created a list of writing rituals that make it easier to develop a writing habit.

1. Find a spot where you can work. Return to it.
Habits are easier to adopt when they involve repetition. If you can, find a corner or closet in your house where you find writing is easier. Maybe away from the TV or your children. Go there! Every day. And write. Eventually your brain will say, “Ah, this is the writing spot. Must write now.”

2. Set yourself a daily goal.
I set time limits. Some days it’s three hours. Some days it’s twenty minutes. To keep myself honest, I have a kitchen timer on my desk. I set it to my time goal and — here’s the secret — every time I get up from my desk for a pee break or snack, I pause the clock. Eating brownies is not writing. When I return to the desk, I restart the timer. In this way, three hours of writing may be more like five hours of real time. But it keeps me on task to meet my goal. If you’re more a 750 words per day person, then stick to that.

3. Add scent.
Scent interacts with our limbic system, a brain area associated with memory and emotion. I like to light a scented candle just before writing and let it burn for the first ten minutes. This is another signal to my brain that says, “Time to write. Sit down. Now. Write.” Do yourself a favor: try to find an inexpensive/easy to find scent. Nothing like finding a perfect scent you can never locate or afford again.

4. Make yourself accountable.
If you don’t meet your writing goal, sacrifice something. Money. Dessert. A shower. If you do meet your goal you get a treat. Dessert. A shower. Bragging rights. I know an author who had a writing group and they held each other accountable. If she didn’t make her writing goal she wasn’t allowed to have wine that night. She rarely missed her goals.

5. Be firm.
One day you will sit at your designated writing spot and discover words and thoughts have abandoned you. They’ve probably gone walking down the road to visit some other writer. And so you will sit and stare at your notebook or computer, feeling very down. You will be tempted to get up and walk away. Don’t. Start writing about how you can’t write. Make a list of all the other things you’d rather be doing and explain why. Write a letter to someone who injured your feelings in second grade. See that? You’re writing! It might not be what you set out to write, but, if you’re putting words down, you’re working. High five for you!

6. Be flexible.
Some days your writing spot will be overrun with other people or inaccessible because you’re traveling. Life happens. You have a choice: you can try to adapt and write where you are, or if things are too difficult, you can say I’ll write twice as much tomorrow. Or I will study all the people around me and write in my head. That’s okay. You can do that. And you might find that your time away makes you want to return to your designated writing spot even more.

Those are some rituals I’ve created to help make writing a habit. Now share: what writing habits have you adopted? What helps you power through procrastination?

5 comments

  1. Carol Gray

    I love “add scent.” Hadn’t thought of that one but can see how it would be very helpful. I’m heading to CVS right now!

  2. I like to have different places to write for each project. For example, I work on my new YA novel at a particular library. I write creative nonfiction at Barnes & Nobles cafe. This way, my brain associates the specific place with the project and I am less distracted and more productive.

  3. Lisa Birk

    Great tips, Stephanie! Pavlovian “must-write” instinct kicks in when I am at Diesel Cafe. Other places work, but none so well as Diesel. As you say, it’s the habit. Also, a word count is essential for me. It forces me to overcome my hatred of less than Fabulous prose. Otherwise, I’d get maybe a sentence per session. p.s. What?! Eating brownies does not count as writing time? I am destroyed.

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