The Importance of Your Writing Ritual
I have always found discipline to be an obstacle in writing, so I have tried every trick in the book. Once I had a girlfriend lock me up with nothing but a laptop that was cut off from the internet. It worked, but it was highly impractical since it wasn’t something that could be repeated daily. So, waiting for inspiration, I experimented with other methods. I wrote, “I can’t write anything,” repeatedly and read endless books on writing.
Then I stumbled upon The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a brilliant book about how you can be more effective in your writing and to get more disciplined in life in general. He describes the force that makes us procrastinate. He names it “resistance” and describes how it keeps you away from doing what you need to get done.
To fight this resistance, you need to prepare your mind for that fight. It is like the knight preparing for combat, you can’t just go in without your armor, shield and sword. Since this is a battle of the mind, then the mind is what you need to prepare. It needs to be honed and sharpened before you can fight what is stopping you from doing what you need to do.
A good way of doing this is to plan and execute a writing ritual. I wrote about this on my own blog, but it is important to make it your own. Pressfield mentions a prayer to his muse as a way of starting his ritual and I do the same: I say a prayer to the gods of poetry and runes in Bragi and Odin before I start my writing.
If you find a prayer silly or because of faith do not feel like doing it, then there are other ways as well. You could start by meditating on what you feel like writing for your session. Contemplating it and sketching it out in your mind, prepares you just as much for battle as a prayer.
The reason why you need to do this to become more productive, is because this is what we humans do. Even the smallest things we do are rituals, if you think about. Making a cup of coffee or tea, is a ritual. You might have a favorite cup to drink from or a specific order that you need to do things in before drinking, and all of those things are rituals.
Other things that you might do to prepare yourself for different situations are ritualistic. Say you’re on your way to work for an important meeting. Anything that deviates from your normal routine might throw you off enough to get you out of the mindset of being who you need to be for said meeting. It is the same thing for writing or any other creative process.
Even the clothes you wear might be part of a ritual to set you in the right mindset. Think of when you go to sleep. You put on pajamas or strip down to just your underwear, but you are preparing yourself to sleep. And then you go to the bathroom, brush your teeth and do whatever else you need to do before you attempt to sleep. If that habit is broken somehow and you have a lot on your mind, you might not be able to sleep.
Another thing you could also do to engage your writing ritual is to put on music that fits what you are writing. Often stuff without lyrics in my experience, as it makes it easier to focus on your writing ritual. A good example of music being used to put you in the right frame of mind, is music for workout. Say you are about to do yoga, as I have started doing, putting on heavy metal might not put you in the right frame of mind, but if you are doing something more aggressive, like running hills or lifting weights, it might be. So music is also something that you can use to ritualize your writing session.
Another thing that might help you is to put aside a time of the day, week or weekend simply dedicated to your writing ritual. A set time of day is important as your body and mind will get into the habit of thinking “Oh, it’s 5 pm. Time to do some writing.” This is one of the reasons why we have rituals during holidays or the weekend. We know that now is the time for church, work, celebration, dinner and so on. We are creatures of habit and if we get into a habit of treating writing in the same way it is easier for otherwise open-minded people to focus on the task ahead.
So, spend some time thinking about what you could do to set up your writing life a little better. You don’t need to do all of these things, of course. This is, however, advice that I have ignored in the past, but now find useful. Pick out a prayer, a soundtrack, a drink or a piece of clothing for your writing ritual and prepare your mind for battle. You would be surprised how much more productive you get.