Writers are a strange bunch.
And nothing is stranger than the rituals we follow to make the words come.
When I say ritual, though, I’m probably giving the acts more gravitas than they deserve. Oh, sure, you could draw your five-pointed circle, perform your incantations, and sacrifice a goat to whatever otherworldly being you choose, but for most of us, it’s a little less involved than that.
What I mean by ‘ritual’ is simply the little things we do to help us get into the headspace to write.
It can be as simple as making a cup of tea, or of sitting in a place dedicated to writing. Wearing a favorite item of clothing such as a sweater or fuzzy slippers. (Or something sexy and naughty. I know what you romance writers get up to. Don’t deny it).
I know of one writer who keeps a box of fabric scraps nearby. The act of touching various fabrics helps soothe her mind and allows her to work. It’s not such a silly thing.
As for me, I like to shuffle cards. Any kind of card works, although I have a basic worn out deck. It’s the kind you can pick up at any store. The Queen of Spades is nearly worn through, and the Ace of Hearts is bent in half so badly I’ve had to tape it back together. The Ten of Diamonds has a spot on the corner where my cockatiel chewed the end off of it. The box that holds them is held together more by tape and prayer than anything else. But it’s a comfort to my hand. I like the feel of this particular deck over others that I’ve used. My fingers are so used to the texture and weight of this particular deck that I can deal it with lightning speed like a cat flicking a fly off its ear.
Whenever I try that with another deck, you would think I had never tried to deal a deck of cards before in my life, until I play a few rounds and adjust to the new one.
The act of shuffling the cards and playing games of Solitaire allows my mind to drift. As long as my hands are busy, my mind can wander off and find new fields to play in.
For some reason, playing solitaire on the computer doesn’t work as well for me. Something about having the actual tangible deck in my hands helps me connect more with my mind. But I’m a very tactile person. Your mileage may vary, and whatever works for you is what works. There is no right or wrong way.
Such a ritual isn’t necessary to writing. You’ll find the only thing necessary to writing is actually getting words down on paper. (Or computer, but it doesn’t sound so poetic). What a ritual does is help your mind turn to the task at hand. It’s a physical signal to your brain that yes, this is the time we’re here for this particular task. Whether we like to admit it or not, people can be trained the same way dogs can, though hopefully with less piddling on the carpet.
After all, training is merely enforced repetition. A ritual is repetition marking a certain thing. Beginning your writing time with a ritual allows your mind to ease into the writing. You are, in actuality, training your mind to use this time for writing.
The trick is to keep that ritual from becoming procrastination. You know how it is. You start your writing time every morning by making a cup of tea. But oops, the cup you prefer is dirty. So, you wash it. Well, as long as your washing the cup, you might as well wash the rest of the dishes from last night. And once you finish that, you might as well wipe down the counters. After all, you’ve already gotten them wet from doing dishes. And you might as well put the dishes away, since you don’t want to leave them dripping on the rack.
Three hours later, you find yourself scrubbing the grout behind the toilet, with nary a word written. We’ve all been there.
Having a ritual means using it as it is intended, and not as a source of distraction. Believe me, unless you are one of the blessed few, your mind will take every chance given to do anything but write. You can dream of the most amazing stories, but most of the time, your brain would rather be inventing those worlds than putting them to paper.
This is where the ritual can help you.
So whether it be a cup of tea, a fuzzy sweater, a scented candle, or a box of fabric, your ritual may be the one thing that helps you keep your writing on track, especially on days when you would rather scrub grout than write.