Disclaimer: I want to say upfront that, just like everyone else, I struggle to be disciplined and organized enough to develop and stick with rituals. And just like all you other Everyday Authors, everyday life sometimes interferes. The purpose of this post isn’t to leave you feeling like a slacker. On the contrary, it’s to help you realize how developing (or keeping) rituals can help you take advantage of the limited time you have to pursue your craft. Don’t get discouraged if you have a few slip-ups — we all do. Instead of getting down on yourself, resolve to try again tomorrow.
Victor Hugo wrote nude. Hemingway and Virginia Woolf wrote standing up, James Joyce lying on his stomach in bed. Jane Austen had to play the piano first. Whether you’ve got three hours or three minutes a day to be an author, you probably find yourself going through the same basic motions every time you sit down to write. Not only is writing a ritual, but the things you do before and after you write are also rituals. Believe it or not, these little mannerisms make a big difference over the long term. Just like a couple hundred words a day can result in a manuscript, author rituals can be the thing that puts an author’s rear in the seat to start writing in the first place. In the long run, our rituals (no matter how crazy they may be) determine our success. Consistency is the name of the game. But why are writing rituals effective?
They help authors plan and stick to a schedule
Since I’ve started taking this whole author business seriously, winter has always been my best time to write. Why is that? Because, unlike summer when there’s always something going on, my days are much more monotonous in the winter. On the weekdays, I wake up at six. I’m about of bed by 6:15. Because I live on a farm, I go feed the animals and do other morning chores. When I get back from the barn, it’s usually just before seven. I shower, have breakfast and then sit down to write for thirty minutes to an hour until I have to go to my day job. Once I get home, take care of evening chores and eat dinner, I usually sit down for another hour or two to write, revise or edit. After that, if I’m lucky, I have a few hours to exercise or relax. Right before bed, I turn off my overhead lights and update my work log for the day And then I do it again.
Every weekday, I know what to expect before and after I get home from work. My mind and body are tuned in to these rituals and know what’s expected of them. There’s no guesswork about what I’ll be doing at 7:30 each morning. I’ll be writing. I don’t have to pencil it in, it’s almost always the same. It’s much easier to avoid making excuses not to write because it’s a regular, recurring task I do over and over.
As Steven Pressfield says at the beginning of The War of Art: All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got.
They help authors stay on task
Trust me, as someone who spends hours on email and social media for my day job, I know all to well how easy it is to get sucked down these rabbit holes. It’s a never-ending battle to resist checking Facebook, Twitter or your inbox. The same can be true about looking at book sales and rankings. If left unchecked, these little distractions can become rituals themselves — ones we definitely don’t want. The good news is if we can sit down in front of our computer with the same agenda day in and day out, it becomes much easier to avoid these distractions. If you think you can’t do it, start small. Promise yourself you won’t check or think about your phone, sales, book store ranking, social media updates or email inbox for five minutes. The next week, make it ten. Pretty soon these things won’t even cross your mind when you’re in “the zone.”
They help authors write with urgency.
The one thing about my morning ritual that helps me more than anything else is knowing how much time I have (or don’t have) to write. Because I have a set schedule, I know at any point in the morning I have x amount of minutes left to write. To keep myself from checking the clock, I’ll usually set a timer to go off on my phone when it’s time to stop. I’ve found I write much faster and clearer when I’m trying to get out as much of a chapter as I can in fifteen minutes. It’s also easier to dive back into a scene when I had to stop my last session right in the middle of it. We tend to fill the amount of time given to us, hence the reason I can pound out 350 words in ten minutes but more often than not take an hour to write 1,000 (almost half as fast).
Because Everyday Authors come from all backgrounds and situations, there are no one-size fits all recommendations for writing rituals. I believe one thing, however, is true across the board: no matter who we are, we all need them in one form or another. Chaos is the sign of an amateur. Rituals, no matter how short or silly they are, help us become professionals.
What are your most effective writing rituals? Tell us in the comments below!
Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.