I am interested in writing rituals, in fact all the working habits we develop, whether it fosters our creativity or gets us through a day in the office, or factory, or wherever you earn your money. How we approach our work is fascinating to me; partly as I was raised to believe a job is something you do because you have to, and have ended up seeking work that brings me joy, in my employed and creative careers (which overlap), and partly because I am interested in people and working styles, especially in a creative context (as an arts professional and a creative writer).
Oh and I am also a workaholic that doesn’t buy into work life balance. I just believe in balance and value what we learn when we wobble. It helps that I am also a playaholic and restaholic – all my addictions wrestling for dominance creates some kind of equilibrium.
I also believe that what we do around our writing (or any other work) is important to our productivity. I feel this more so now I am working on a personal project (also known as ‘my damn book’, or the increasingly apt working title Bloody Hell That Hurt).
Writing is both really easy and incredibly hard. When you’re in the flow, it is glorious, the most natural automatic thing, transferring the energy of thoughts and ideas onto paper becomes instinctive. However getting into that mode is the tricky bit. We all hear different stories of writers that start early in the morning or late at night, who write in an allotted time frame or whenever the muse strikes them, the writers that plan and the ones that wing it.
There is no secret recipe for writing, but there are probably are finite ingredients, so reading about writing and investigating what others do can be useful if you can avoid overwhelm. Like everything in life, I believe we should each do what works for us, whether that is embarrassingly clichéd or can’t-tell-anyone-about-this weird.
Here are my current writing rules and rituals…
Write every day.
This is important, writing gets easier when it is habitual. However I don’t sit down to write X amount of words on project A or B. I keep my definition of writing loose and freewheeling. It includes: writing/doodling in my sketchbook/journal, typing a blog post on my laptop, noting down a cool sentence I just said/overheard/thought of, sitting down at a desk and drafting a chapter of my book or writing a poem on my phone. It can be a sentence or 3000 words. I like to mix it up: use a pencil on a note pad, a calligraphy pen on a postcard, a biro on the back of a receipt, keys on a laptop or a finger on a touchscreen. I try to keep it fun, although I regularly enjoy the purposeful urgency of a deadline.
Surround yourself with words.
Getting intimate with words is important if you want to write, your relationship with the written word will probably be as complicated, connecting, romantic and rewarding as your human relationships. Writers are first and foremost readers, you must be wooed by the words of others before you can use them to create worlds of your own. Read everyday – fiction, poetry, blog posts, articles, personal development books, autiobiographies (although maybe not all at once!). I also put quotes, word art and inspiring text on my walls, on my clothes, wherever I can!
Move your body.
I dance every morning before I write, I take dance breaks as I write, and I often end my day by, you guessed it, dancing! I’m talking about gentle movement rather than high energy exercise (which doesn’t work for me, but might for you). Moving my body has changed the way I live my life and the way I write, for the better. A combination of Tai Chi for Chronic Pain, the Alexander Technique and Qoya has radically changed the way I move, use and think about my body. Tai Chi showed me how to slow down and make my movements small and smooth. The Alexander Technique taught me about posture, release and surrender. Qoya has helped me find my feminine self, a wise(ish), wild(ish) creatrix, and to move through emotional pain in a way that feels damn good. Moving (in whatever way works for you) helps to get ideas circulating around your body, keeps your writing arm and typing fingers fluid, stops your legs from going numb and your shoulders hunching up, releases negative emotions and creates feel good chemicals. It is an essential and sensual part of my writing process.
Drink all the coffee.
Ok, probably not the best advice, but it is necessary for me. I can not function without it. I need my caffeine. I am working on incorporating other fluids – I usually grab a supply of water, juice and a travel mug of coffee before I install myself for an epic write-in, as I prefer to spend my break times dancing (although I do often dance while the kettle boils). I am hoping to update this writing ritual to ‘Fuel up!’, ensure you are well fed and watered, but as I am writing this about my current habits, rather than my aspirations, it is basically all about copious amounts of coffee.
It is tricky to work out if procrastination is part of the process, a ritual or a distraction, usually because all three are involved somehow. Thinking time, research, inspiration, downtime and emotion processing are all part of the writing experience for me. I often don’t know if my procrastination is purposeful until after the fact, but I tend to go with it, because mostly if I am doing it I trust it is necessary, even if it doesn’t look that way. Things that don’t get my book written, but still help include: going for a walk (with a recording device for thoughts), chatting to creative conspirators and cheerleaders, reading an inspiring book, dancing (obviously), writing something else (mostly poetry, sometimes posts like this) to process my feelings and any type of self care (naps, fetching snacks and bubble baths). Some writers light a candle and meditate, I’m more likely to take a break and watch a television programme based on a superhero franchise. I think that still counts as productive as it resets my brain, sometimes I need to switch up my moods. And as long as I don’t start binge watching and succumb to laziness, then most downtime leads to renewed enthusiasm.
Here are some links to books I have found useful/inspiring/interesting when developing my writing practice.
On Writing – Stephen King (on every list of books about writing, but for good reason)
Writing the Bones – Natalie Goldberg (lots of great exercises – thanks to John Siddique for introducing me to this book)
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert (essential reading for all creatives)
Qoya – Rochelle Schieck (not actually read this myself yet – but cannot wait as her teachings have already been transformative)
Choose Yourself – James Altucher (for his daily practice, some of which has worked wonders for me)